The Chinese name paradox

There are two very legitimate reasons that make me hate being Chinese sometimes.

1. My legal English name is ALWAYS messed up by Westerners in documents.

2. My legal name sound nothing like how it sounds in Cantonese when it’s said in English.

Like many Hong Kongers, I have a two-word first name, and my last name is supposed to go first. Okay, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. I can do with placing my last name “last”, but I can’t accept being forced upon a middle name. Us Chinese people don’t have middle names! When I was in the States, I stylized my two-word first name with a hyphen to avoid confusion, but I dare not do it if a form specially asks for my name to be written in the same way as shown in my passport.

If you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about, let me illustrate with a fake example.

Last name: Chan

First name: Dai Man

The way Chinese people write it: Chan Dai Man

The way Westerners write it:  Dai Man Chan

The way I’d style it: Dai-man Chan

The way people screw it up: Dai Chan (they just take away Man assuming it’s a middle name)

The way retards screw it up: Dan Chen (I swear it happens more often than you can believe)

This university I’m applying to right now also screwed up my name by dropping part of my first name. I’ve just written to them for the second time asking them to fix it. I don’t want them to send me an acceptance with a partial name instead of my full legal name, so I’d have trouble getting my visa and stuff.

The silly thing is, I don’t even go by my legal name in my daily life. Like many Asians, I have a “Western” name, like Cathy, Pete, Jonathan. All my friends know me by that name. No one knows me by my very Asian name. I’ve thought of changing my name legally, but all my diplomas and transcripts have stuff have my legal name on them. Changing it means more paperwork and reapplication of many documentations means more money wasted and more headaches.

I guess I’ll just have suck it up and continue hating my stupid name. Why couldn’t I be Nicky English? This name freaking rocks.


About Nicky

Nicky English is a journalist, an educator, a podcaster, a couch potato, a dreamer, and a child at heart. Learning is her passion, so is the English language, which she believes is the tool to unlock the door of knowledge. Born in Hong Kong, she received intensive writing training at The University of Iowa, where she double-majored in journalism and political science. Apart from the Hawkeye State, she’s lived in Chicago and Philadelphia. When she was a guest student at Georgetown University, she fell in love with Washington, D.C. She also has a Master of Arts in Communication. A little side note—she cannot imagine a world without her Mac and iDevices. Like many crazy ones, she hopes to change the world one day at a time.
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2 Responses to The Chinese name paradox

  1. Pingback: Choosing my own name | Half an ABC: Nicky English's blog

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