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Language, Culture and Curriculum
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What's in a Name? Chinese Learners and the Practice of Adopting ‘English’ Names
English Language Centre, Lipman Building, University of Northumbria, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 8ST, UK Available online: 22 Dec 2008
To cite this article: Rachel Edwards (2006): What's in a Name? Chinese Learners and the Practice of Adopting ‘English’ Names, Language, Culture and Curriculum, 19:1, 90-103 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07908310608668756
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as does 0790-8318/06/01 090-14 $20. With this in mind. Blum’s (1997: 365) assertion that in China ‘people are accustomed to being addressed and referred to by an assortment of names. I also set out to examine why it should be Chinese students who tend to adopt English1 names for the purposes of learning in Britain. at a basic level. University of Northumbria. and how this affects their experience in the classroom. as do Scollon and Scollon (1995: 124) when referring to businessmen. The paper concludes by suggesting that China’s unique relationship to ELT is fundamental to Chinese learners adopting ‘English’ names. and they do not necessarily retain any of them as their “real” name or as the one that they feel reﬂects their identity’. Lipman Building. their own culture. teachers’ attitudes to students’ names will be seen to highlight. and through the exchange of names between lecturers and students. strategies which may well be evident in other areas of their studies. It is my contention that the tensions experienced with regard to names and their use in the classroom is an example. and their experience of learning English. Data collected from questionnaires and interviews with both students and teachers are analysed in order to arrive at an understanding of why such a practice has arisen and continues to be perpetuated throughout institutions of higher education. that it ‘ﬁts within the Chinese pattern of adopting new names as situations change’. Keywords: names. I set about discovering how and why mainland Chinese students change (or indeed keep) their names.What’s in a Name? Chinese Learners and the Practice of Adopting ‘English’ Names Rachel Edwards English Language Centre. power Downloaded by [University of New England] at 23:35 28 March 2012 One of the ways in which the difﬁculties encountered when East meets West in the classroom is played out is through the names students choose to be addressed by for the purposes of learning.2 It seems to me insufﬁcient to say simply. Edwards Vol. Equally.00/0 LANGUAGE. Evidence will suggest that this practice cannot be divorced from Chinese learners’ perceptions of themselves. resistance. 2006 90 . UK This paper examines the widespread practice of Chinese learners choosing (and sometimes refusing) to adopt English and Anglicised names. 1. CULTURE AND CURRICULUM # 2006 R. some of the difﬁculties encountered when East meets West in the classroom. 19. It will highlight strategies of both compliance and resistance employed by students when they adopt and exchange names: strategies which say much about their attitudes to British culture and learning English in particular. of strategies of compliance and resistance ` adopted by students vis-a-vis British culture and learning English. at a fundamental level. compliance. fails to do justice to the complexity of the phenomenon. At the same time. identity. or at least not to the same degree. when other Asian nationalities do not do so. Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 8ST. No. what this says about them and the construction of their own identities.
There are indeed an inﬁnite number of Chinese personal names. Alleton (1993: 8). amongst whom there are four Peters. however. China was the ﬁrst nation to have family names. This also means that Chinese personal names have a current meaning rather than a simply etymological one. in fact. 14 had been given their English names by teachers (12 of whom were native English speakers and two were Chinese). family names did not appear in Europe until the 10th century in Italy and were not in common use in Britain until the end of the 14th century (Woo Louie. In contrast. who has written a most comprehensive study of Chinese names. Records indicate that names were certainly being used by 1000 to 400 BC in China. in the English Language Centre at Northumbria there are 39 members of staff. Naming in China In order to understand the relationship between a Chinese student’s adopted English name and his or her sense of self. 1998: 16). For the sake of comparison. ﬁve had been given their names by either friends or classmates. Chinese names can be made up of any morpheme in the Chinese language and this makes it impossible to compile an exhaustive list. Twenty of these students were also interviewed as were 10 members of staff. In China family names precede personal names. Out of the 80 students in this study. and belonged to the aristocracy of the Zhou dynasty. Eighty questionnaires were distributed to students aged between 18 and 25. 1989: 275). two Gillians.4 and all but one expressed surprise that the majority of Chinese students had adopted English names. it was illegal until 1992 to give a child a name which was not included in an ofﬁcial list of names). and 15 had retained their Chinese names. the Chinese have relatively few family names (between 6000 and 8000 according to one estimate (Lu & Milward. ﬁve Davids. and it was with a view to discovering just what the dynamics behind the changes were that this research was carried out. Eighty-one percent of these students. None of the members of staff had ever taught in China. Personal names usually consist of two characters. However. Unlike Europeans. explains that unlike European personal names which usually come from an existing body of recognised names (in France. as is the case of many European names. the opposite is true when it comes to personal names. 46 had chosen an English name themselves.Chinese Learners and Practice of Adopting ‘English’ Names 91 Downloaded by [University of New England] at 23:35 28 March 2012 the claim that in China personal names are rarely used by anyone who is not a family member or an intimate. two Carolines and two Grahams. had adopted English names. Of the students. 1989: 265)). therefore. The study itself took place at Northumbria University during the academic year 2003 – 2004 and was informed by student questionnaires and formal interviews and informal discussions with both students and lecturers who were learners and teachers on the pre-sessional English language programme. we ﬁrst of all need to look at the naming process within the student’s home culture. It was during the Qing dynasty 221 – 207 BC that all Chinese were required to have surnames or xing.3 Name changing on the part of Chinese students appears to involve much more than these statements imply. although one character personal names are becoming more common (Lu & Milward. no two students had the same .
There is therefore a sense in China in which the personal name is indeed very personal. sometimes out of a sense of self-preservation) in favour of a name which reﬂected revolutionary vigour. One of the reasons for acquiring a new name can be because of political upheavals. or between the ages of 16 and 25 (when the name is usually chosen by the individual him or herself). For example. or calls us by the wrong name.92 Language. Alleton has found that changes in name are likely to occur at the following times: between the ages of seven and nine when a child ﬁrst goes to school (and the name is then usually given by the parents). Personal names are usually conferred in the ﬁrst instance by the parents or grandparents and a great deal of care and attention is paid to choosing a name. Downloaded by [University of New England] at 23:35 28 March 2012 Names and Identity The relationship. It is also interesting to note that the lecturers I interviewed said that if they studied or worked in a different . according to Alleton (1993). they may reﬂect changes in naming styles resulting from various political and intellectual trends. It is very unusual for a British person to change their personal name. between a name and a person’s identity is very different in Chinese culture than it is in British culture. the signiﬁcant change is that any new personal name tends to replace the old name. of the child’s birth. They are very much bound up with an individual’s personal history in one way or another. they may be female names which typically come from a much reduced and stereotypical stock. or in some instances mispronounces our name to appreciate the truth of this statement. It is obvious therefore that personal names play a far more dynamic role in Chinese culture than they do in British culture. in the past it was usual for individuals to receive a new name every 10 to 20 years. We only have to think how uncomfortable we feel when someone forgets our name. they should harmonize with the time. Many examples from my own students pay testimony to the validity of this. therefore. They usually have very interesting stories about how their names were chosen. compared to that of male names. A number of factors may be taken into account as Blum (1997: 364) summing up Alleton’s ﬁndings demonstrates. We seem to be very attached to our names and they are very much connected to our sense of self. However. Political situations aside. Today a number of Chinese do not have the same personal name that they were given at birth. and often the place. Names should be auspicious. A point worth dwelling on is that. which shifts and grows as the individual matures. they may be changed if. during the Cultural Revolution names which were considered reactionary were changed (sometimes willingly. through illness or misfortune a diagnosis of mismatch with the name is made. which would be used in addition to the names they had already received and would be employed in different circumstances. What this seems to suggest is that personal names are therefore connected to an individual’s identity. they may indicate membership in a generation in a family of intellectuals. Culture and Curriculum name. they are viewed as governing the child’s fate in some ways.
the conferring or withholding of face by others impacts on our sense of who we are. and in sociological and sociolinguistic studies is generally seen as Scollon and Scollon (1995: 34) point out as: ‘the negotiated public image. This point is also made by Scollon and Scollon (1995: 37) who analyse the exchange of names in a business context. Since we cannot conceive of ourselves as who we are at any given moment outside our relationships with others. meaning teacher. The communicative approach in ELT methodology. it cannot be divorced from the interactions which take place with others on a daily basis: a person’s concept of him or herself is intimately bound up with how he or she is viewed by other people. as Blum (1997: 372) asserts. Again it is important to remember however. however. It is my contention. and I am indebted here to Norton (1997. that identity is closely connected to the concept of face. mutually granted each other by participants in a communicative event’. that how we are positioned by others can change from interaction to interaction. Face. is through the use of names. on the other hand. certainly after the primary stage of education. This indicates a hierarchical relationship. Students. who we are in relation to the world around us. One of the ways in which face is negotiated. naming practices in Britain seem to reﬂect a more humanist view of identity. In the classroom in China. On the one hand. teachers refer to students in most instances by their full names – both their family names and their personal names. it seems to me. is based on the concept of honour. 2000). tells us much about the construction of identity within our respective cultures. All this places language at the very centre of identity construction and names. It is important to add. call their teachers by their family name and the title Laoshi. are part of how our identities are structured by others and by ourselves. with the teacher in the more powerful position. or the Chinese term mianzi. On the other hand. that a person’s identity does in fact change across time and space and according to the role one plays at any given moment. Since a person’s sense of identity is ﬂuid and depends on context. naming practices in China have much in common with an approach to the self which has only recently surfaced in contemporary studies of identity: that is a postmodern concept of identity whereby the subject is conceived of as a ﬂuid entity which can change in different situations at different times depending on the role an individual is required to play. fosters what Scollon and Scollon (1995: 202) refer Downloaded by [University of New England] at 23:35 28 March 2012 . in that they are central to communication. that roles themselves are continually in a state of ﬂux and Norton has indeed been criticised for implying that roles are static. there is a difference between how face and power are negotiated through the use of names in an intercultural business context between equals as opposed to an educational context. However. whereby the subject retains an essential self across time and space: psychological tests which determine whether a person is either a type A personality or a type B personality ﬁx the individual in a similar way. In changing their names Chinese students are therefore modifying their identities in relation to the classroom situation. however. The ways in which our names reﬂect our sense of identity.Chinese Learners and Practice of Adopting ‘English’ Names 93 country they would not feel happy with changing their names because their names are very much a part of who they are. Furthermore.
what actually happens can be a far cry from good practice as student accounts can testify. it is generally on the part of teachers. Thus. One of the lecturers I interviewed explained that when she took her CELTA (Certiﬁcate in English Language Teaching to Adults) she was told that it was a good idea for students to adopt English names because ‘it made the classroom more English and made the students get into their roles more easily and take on an English persona more easily’. . Classroom practices However. and one of the ways in which this is played out is through the names that students adopt. It is not the purpose of this study to determine the validity of this belief. Sufﬁce it to say that not only native English speaking teachers but also Chinese teachers of English sometimes encourage the use of English names because they believe it is good practice.94 Language. to deal with the inherent difference between their cultural expectations of a hierarchical system and the communicative classroom expectations of symmetrical solidarity’ (Scollon & Scollon. not students. If there is blindness here as to the reality of this. with little distance between them and power is shared equally. By symmetrical solidarity they mean that participants in a communicative event use involvement strategies of politeness whereby participants are viewed as social equals. Some students I interviewed had simply been Downloaded by [University of New England] at 23:35 28 March 2012 . . either in their own country or in England and within the conﬁnes of the English language classroom. The EFL classroom therefore becomes a site of struggle in which the student has to negotiate identity and face in a contradictory situation. Most of the students’ ﬁrst experience of radically changing their personal names (apart from pet names within the family) came about when they came into contact with English. In reality power is always negotiated through the teacher who ‘expects’ symmetrical solidarity and runs the class accordingly. and it would seem that the communicative approach to English language teaching plays no small part in this. . when native speakers of English come into contact with Chinese learners. Students can feel very vulnerable because the problem is compounded (and here I fundamentally disagree with Scollon and Scollon). 1995: 202). . English language teachers are therefore instrumental in bringing about name changes. it was assumed that adopting an English name would somehow facilitate language learning. either in China or in Britain. One of the ways in which this difﬁculty manifests itself is through having to address teachers by their personal names. ﬁnd it difﬁcult . The majority of the students I questioned found out about using an English name through their teacher. only one student in my study had changed the personal name that they had been given at birth. They have pointed out the difﬁculties which Chinese and other Asian students can experience when they ﬁrst enter a communicative classroom: ‘Chinese students . if I do not have to show respect to my teachers in this way. Despite the fact that name changing is not unusual in Chinese culture. Culture and Curriculum to as ‘symmetrical solidarity’ both between teachers and teachers and between teachers and students. what value are they as teachers?). by the fact that the communicative classroom only masquerades as symmetrical. which students instinctively feel must show a lack of respect on their part (this of course begs the question.
‘beauty and sweetness’. The most common reason given by students as to why they are given or asked to choose English names by their English teachers is that their Chinese names are too difﬁcult for teachers. he explained that Helen was the name of Helen of Troy who was very beautiful. chose her name because it means. although most of them said that they did not ﬁnd Chinese names difﬁcult to pronounce. When this happens students can experience name changes as exciting. a change in name particularly involves a negative change in identity in that her new name acts as a reminder that to the new culture she is deemed unattractive. which. This difﬁculty is seen both in terms of pronunciation and in terms of memorability. The ways in which this choice is instigated reﬂects. Another student was coerced into choosing an English name by her American teacher in China. it would be inappropriate for her to have the name Helen. I hasten to add. It is interesting that eight of the 10 lecturers I interviewed freely admitted that they found the English names of their students far easier to remember than their Chinese names. What is certainly apparent from students’ responses. This can be seen in the following examples. is that students are nevertheless aware that native English speaking teachers are at best uneasy with. for example. He said that his teacher told him that his Chinese name was too difﬁcult to remember and that he should choose an English name from an A –Z book of names which his teacher gave him. Other teachers of course approach the matter differently and use a far more collaborative approach. This is especially signiﬁcant because many female names in China are suggestive of physical beauty and other traditionally feminine characteristics. using their Chinese names. Some had kept these and others had substituted them for another name with which they felt they had more afﬁnity.Chinese Learners and Practice of Adopting ‘English’ Names 95 given an English name whether they wanted one or not. As for Downloaded by [University of New England] at 23:35 28 March 2012 . She initially decided on Helen. to quote her. These examples seem to me to be particularly disturbing in that the message that these teachers are giving students in insisting that they adopt English names is that who they are and their culture is not important. Claire chose her name because it means. did not take place at Northumbria. ‘brightness. the one is disempowering the other empowering. When she informed the teacher of her choice. One student told me that when he ﬁrst came to Britain he had no idea that he should have an English name before he started learning English. In the case of Ellen. Because he could not be bothered to look through the whole book. Iris chose hers because it means ‘rainbow goddess’. He suggested Ellen instead and so she adopted Ellen as her name. and at worst incapable of. fun and empowering. either coercive or collaborative relations of power. beautiful and intelligence’. he chose the name Andy simply because it was near the beginning and seemed to him easy to remember. Bonnie. to use Cummins’ (1996) terms. Most students said that they were told by their teachers that they needed an English name and were allowed to choose their own name. This allows the student to be more creative with regard to their new name and at times to forge a new identity in terms of how they would like to be viewed by others. and they can both impact signiﬁcantly on a student’s sense of identity. Derrick. however. chose his because it means ‘strength’. and since she was not beautiful.
along with being passive rote learners. For the lecturer. students are repositioning themselves in relation to what they perceive is expected of them. the hazard is that the Chinese learner is constructed as an Other who does not have a strong sense of identity. . The teacher is being constructed by students as a stereotypical Other who is incapable of getting to grips with even the most basic aspects of Chinese culture. Indeed. it is not only teachers who perpetuate the adoption and use of English names by students. In this sense. acquiring an English name means that they remain memorable and if they are memorable. therefore. Thus an investment in the target language is also an investment in a learner’s own identity. adopting an English name becomes a strategy of compliance on their part with regard to British culture and learning English in particular. As one lecturer pointed out: ‘it shows that they are positive about the culture they are embracing. Many students who arrive in this country without an English name are encouraged to adopt one by their peers for the reasons given above. (Norton.96 Language. 2000) term. who sees that Chinese learners are so willing to adopt English names and forgo their own names. they are of value. and often with a positive slant. who are unoriginal. The problem created here for native speakers of the EFL profession is obvious. have amply demonstrated. on the discourses of colonialism. they are not only exchanging information with target language speakers. as Pennycook (1998) and others. an ‘investment’ in the target language. but they are also organizing and reorganizing a sense of who they are and how they relate to the world. To them. An extension of Norton’s views can be found in Bourdieu’s (1991) work on language and symbolic power and Bourdieu and Passeron’s (1977) study of reproduction in education in which different types of ‘capital’ are examined. following Said (1978). Culture and Curriculum Downloaded by [University of New England] at 23:35 28 March 2012 the students. The notion presupposes that when language learners speak. lecturers can certainly interpret it this way. Investment and Compliance For the Chinese student the adoption of an English name is undoubtedly. an identity which is constantly changing across time and space. She is at pains to distinguish investment from motivation. 2000: 10 –11) In choosing English names therefore. Chinese students tell other Chinese students that they need an English name to study in Britain. the term investment conceives of the language learner as having a complex social history and multiple desires. to use Norton’s (1995. illogical and insincere. It’s their attempt to integrate somehow and not be different’. This then runs the danger of becoming another characteristic that can be added to the list of negative stereotypical traits that Chinese learners are supposed to have. they believed that if their names were forgotten they too would be forgotten. One of the lecturers I interviewed said that he thought that Chinese students chose English names because ‘they have a very weak sense of identity’. In contrast to motivation. However.
An example of both is the name ‘Fanny’ – ﬁne in Jane Austen’s time. David. They feel that this will distinguish them not only from native speakers but also from their classmates who adopt English names: my students Zane. at least in the ﬁrst instance. However. They are recognised in both senses of the word through their names: they are at once remembered and are given recognition in that they now have access to communication. which raises the question: how are we as lecturers responding to Chinese students who have chosen an ‘inappropriate’ name? Furthermore. Jennifer and the like. Downloaded by [University of New England] at 23:35 28 March 2012 Compliance. This can sometimes result in them choosing either outmoded names or what have often been termed ‘inappropriate’ names (all 10 lecturers that I interviewed referred to what they considered to be ‘inappropriate’ names). The need to be remembered clearly informs many students’ actual choice of name. There can obviously be many reasons for this. or vice versa. or for our purposes. Tasha and Miles being a case in point. Resistance and Relations of Power What this seems to suggest for the most part so far. face) in that it opens the doors of communication at a very basic level in that students can be addressed and therefore can be invited to reply with relative ease. At a very basic level students come to the UK with economic capital in that they are fee paying. Within this market the students (at least when they ﬁrst arrive). Such a picture would be to misrepresent the full extent . A recent broadcast on names on the radio. is that the student is a passive agent who is the victim of a kind of linguistic imperialism operating at the level of names. these ideas can give a very different insight into the dynamics involved when Chinese learners in Britain adopt English names.Chinese Learners and Practice of Adopting ‘English’ Names 97 When applied to the EFL classroom. Many students go to great pains to ﬁnd a name which is less common than those frequently used in English. Economic capital. what responsibility do we have towards them to make them aware of the implications of their choice of name. so that they are not disadvantaged because of this in the future? Lecturers can ﬁnd this a sensitive issue. the Charlottes and the Sarahs of this world were likely to do better than the Kylies and the Dwaynes. Peter. is not sufﬁcient in the linguistic market (Bourdieu uses the term market to refer to any cultural ﬁeld). what the broadcast demonstrated was that teachers unconsciously respond to their students. in which the students ﬁnd themselves because economic capital is extra-linguistic and the currency of exchange within the EFL classroom is linguistic. it seems therefore. What acquiring an English name does is to confer a kind of symbolic capital (a kind of status. and if language learning were simply an economic transaction one might imagine that this would be sufﬁcient to provide them with adequate status so that more effort would be made on the part of lecturers to get to grips with their Chinese names. showed that in schools. class and access to culture not being the least. such as John. but causing schoolboy type sniggers in both the US and Britain today. given that the students will have to operate in the wider English speaking world. according to their names. either elsewhere or within our own institutions. have low cultural capital (by which Bourdieu means qualiﬁcations and skills). especially when a male student has inadvertently chosen a female name.
Andy Richardson. addresses Chu as Hon-fai. he asked her if he could call her by her Chinese name and was fully expecting her acquiescence since they had been on personal name terms the previous evening. rather than using his English name. In fact. For Foucault (1976) power is everywhere and operates at all levels of the various relationships which are found in society. for in using the name David. A useful tool for examining relations of power can be found in the work of Michel Foucault. the ways in which power is negotiated in the classroom in terms of names and identity is far more complex than initially meets the eye. Culture and Curriculum of the dynamics involved between teachers and students when Chinese learners take on a new name. the name David acts as a kind of ‘screen’ between Chu and Richardson. David. Chu has taken on the name David. and the Hong Kong Chinese Chu Hon-fai.98 Language. Furthermore. He thus establishes the exchange as one of symmetrical solidarity. In this sense. As a concession to Western culture. The same is true of the EFL classroom. If. The next day the same teacher found that this woman had been assigned to his English class. and points of resistance are always present within networks of power. cannot exist without resistance. Chu feels that he is able to keep an appropriate distance between himself and Richardson. One can never escape relations of power. and he would not have minded Richardson calling him this. where on taking the register. The experience of one of the lecturers at Northumbria illustrates this point. power. since Richardson is not a personal friend. Chu feels very uneasy with this. students use strategies of compliance with regard to British culture when they take on a new name. out of a misguided sense of cultural sensitivity. according to him. They felt that expecting students to use English names was to impose British culture on them and they made an effort to use students’ Chinese personal names only to meet with resistance on the part of students. This enables him to maintain both face and equality in this relationship at the same time. He would really prefer to work within the parameters of ‘symmetrical deference’ (where equality and independence would be established through them both using family names and titles). He was therefore surprised when she was clearly uneasy with this and said that she Downloaded by [University of New England] at 23:35 28 March 2012 . Scollon and Scollon’s (1995) analysis of an intercultural exchange between two businessmen goes some way towards to explaining what is happening here. They use the example of the American. However. the very act of adopting a new name often reveals strategies of resistance to this same culture which act as a means of safeguarding face and their own identities. This became most apparent when interviewing three of the lecturers who were well aware of the debates surrounding linguistic imperialism and of critical approaches to ELT. as we have already seen. A similar screen can be employed by students when they resist teachers using their personal Chinese names. While ultimately power rests with the teacher. The interviewee in question met a young Chinese woman at a social event and throughout the evening they addressed each other by their respective English and Chinese personal names. in most cases both strategies of compliance and resistance are employed at the same time and to varying degrees. Richardson introduces himself as Andy and.
she displaces one of the elements required – the exchange of personal names – by having the teacher address her by a name which is not her personal name. The teacher in question was a young male and the student a female so there may well have been some sexual dynamics involved. to ‘my parents gave me that name’. the very act of taking on an English name can be construed as an act of resistance to perceived cultural and educational requirements. However. for example. to a simple ‘why should I?’ The ways in which students keep their own names also vary. Even here a concession is made to the teachers. but the student deems it inappropriate. Even when students keep both characters of their personal names. but not in the classroom. to ‘it’s too confusing’. can also function as a screen for the more complicated issues beneath. or ‘my name is too difﬁcult to remember’. Some of them choose to be referred to by their family names. She was also in a class where most of the other Chinese students had English names and the use of her Chinese name might therefore have singled her out as having a more personal relationship with the teacher than the others. While using an English name therefore seems to comply with what is required. would have been too intimate. the difference between Scollon and Scollon’s example and what is taking place here is that whereas for Chu the screen acts as a means of maintaining symmetrical solidarity.Chinese Learners and Practice of Adopting ‘English’ Names 99 would prefer to be addressed by her English name. Once the teacher/student relationship was established it was no longer appropriate for the student to have the teacher use her Chinese name. A number of factors obviously come into play here. to ‘I like my own name’. in the classroom. for the student it acts as a means of displacing it. but which appears to act as if it is: the teacher may want symmetrical solidarity. even though she had only just met this person. Resistance takes on many forms at a variety of levels. By extension. Without exception they all say that they do not use their full personal names because they are too difﬁcult for teachers to pronounce and/or to remember. In a sense this functions as a means of keeping the teacher at an appropriate distance as in the examples discussed above. Rather than conforming to the expectations of ‘symmetrical solidarity’. Perhaps the outcome would have been different if the participants in this interaction were of the same sex. However. Answers as to why students had chosen not to have an English name were also varied: they ranged from: ‘I don’t need an English name in China’. such as ‘my name is too difﬁcult to pronounce’. the reasons which students give for using English names. The teacher experienced this as the student wanting to keep him at a safe distance and the use of her personal name. To say that this type of resistance is always true for all students at all times would again be to provide an erroneous view of the situation. Meng Downloaded by [University of New England] at 23:35 28 March 2012 . Perhaps the most obvious way in which students resist what they perceive to be a requirement is by refusing to adopt an English name and by keeping their own names (in the case of this study 19% of students had kept their own name). Other students choose to be called by only one character of their personal names. what is clear here is that the student deemed the use of her Chinese personal name to be appropriate in a social context. Her English name therefore acted as a screen between herself and the teacher.
Lisa and Cherry chose theirs because one or more syllables of these names reproduce (for them) sounds in their own names. Mister and King. This. Other students directly translate or transliterate the concepts inherent in their names directly into English. others most certainly are. amongst others. Jeff. they feel that their names are not difﬁcult in terms of pronunciation or in terms of memorability. Harry Pott (not Potter). This brings us back to the question of appropriateness.100 Language. for example. Long. Moon. Sun. Wonder chose her name because her full name was Weng De. pointing out the difﬁculties they might encounter when meeting native speakers. especially in the latter example: resistance becomes compliance in the fullest sense in that both teachers and students are indeed using their own personal names. Seaman (obviously football fans). In not adopting an English name. In these cases their names may even be reproductions of the names they are called within the intimacy of their families – pet names in China often simply being the repetition of one of the characters of the personal name. Downloaded by [University of New England] at 23:35 28 March 2012 Conclusions and Implications for Practice What this demonstrates is that there are multiple reasons (the most common of which have been dealt with here). Jenny. Whereas some students are not aware of the implications of their choice of name. students therefore retain a sense of their own cultural and personal identity in the face of what they feel is pressure to renounce this. Summer. in turn. It is worth pointing out here that a higher proportion of males than females choose names which seem somewhat outlandish to the British. Tiger. Culture and Curriculum Meng and Ting Ting. Zelda and QQ. chose their names because their Chinese names begin with Z and Q respectively. One student called himself Joe because it sounded Chinese. might be seen as the ultimate form of resistance in that it parodies the very process of taking on an English name. One teacher I interviewed actually challenged these students on their choice of names. another called himself Joe because his family name was Zhou. However. Sky. In this way they keep their own names but appear to have chosen English names. they resisted changing them. Lulu or Lily. as to why and how Chinese learners choose (or in some instances do not choose) to have English names. Ocean. but manages to hide itself as compliance and more often than not is interpreted as ignorance. A paradox is of course set up here. Jinni. This also results when students safeguard aspects of their own identities in choosing a name which is similar in sound to their Chinese names. For example. This was the case with the students who had chosen the names Beckham. names which for native speakers usually belong to the offspring of celebrities if they belong to anyone at all. destabilises the notion that there is any . the adoption of an English name which is not a personal English name. Other students choose their English names because parts of these reﬂect parts of their Chinese personal names. In one sense. Apple. but merely an anglicised one. It also suggests that compliance and resistance to perceived expectations of the EFL setting operate in various and often contradictory ways depending on the individuals concerned. for example.
as Cortazzi and Jin (1996: 71) assert. This was to change with the demise of Mao and the coming to power of Deng Xiaoping whose economic policies also affected the role of language teaching. who pass it on to their peers. and suggests rather that there are a plethora of identities which are structured by what Norton (2000: 10) terms ‘complex personal social histories and multiple desires’. The practice continues to reproduce itself either at the instigation of teachers. The widespread perception that English proﬁciency could facilitate economic mobility made English extremely popular. therefore. students are reformulating a sense of themselves and this reformulation informs their relationship with their teachers. and in some cases are. 1996). At the same time more students have been travelling to the West to learn English and more Chinese teachers of English have been trained by native speakers (Cortazzi & Jin. rose again. As contact between China and the West increases. This can enable them to feel that they belong to a cultural group in a society in which they can perceive themselves to be. What is certainly clear is that ELT plays a fundamental role in Chinese students adopting English names. As Ross (1992: 243) points out: By the early 1980s modernization had been deﬁned within the context of international interdependence. In the meantime. treated as Other. it will be interesting to see whether Chinese students continue to adopt English names. especially English. as we have seen. for almost 30 years foreign language teaching was certainly compromised and often sporadic. These changes ﬁrst gained momentum at roughly the same time as the communicative approach became mainstream in ELT. fosters symmetrical solidarity and the exchange of personal names. which has also inﬂuenced the use of names. when it took place at all (Ross. having a Western name during the Cultural Revolution could prove fatal. Indeed. China does indeed have a unique relationship with ELT because of its political history. (Ross. since 1979 ‘the State Education Commission of China has employed thousands of Western English teachers mainly teaching in Chinese universities’. a method which. or at the instigation of students. that the communicative method is at the very heart of why so many Chinese students adopt English names. In addition. Whilst it was not unusual for Chinese people who worked in an international business environment to adopt English names prior to 1949. and the formal status of foreign language education. in that most Chinese students change their names in favour of English ones. In choosing or refusing an English name. however.Chinese Learners and Practice of Adopting ‘English’ Names 101 Downloaded by [University of New England] at 23:35 28 March 2012 such thing as Chinese identity per se. classroom discussions centring on names can engage students in a personal way during initial meetings and can provide interesting alternatives to getting to know you activities of the ‘Find . what the adoption of an English name can paradoxically allow them to do is to retain a sense of cultural identity abroad. for the next 30 years China closed it doors to the West and Western names were not needed. Whilst this can often be interpreted as Chinese students’ willingness to embrace Western culture. It seems apparent. and which has increasingly inﬂuenced English language teaching (albeit to varying degrees) in China. 1992: 243) Qualiﬁed teachers of English were in demand and. 1992).
In my study. titles either with or instead of family names are used to denote respect. rather than personal names. only one had ever taught in China.’ variety. Likewise. kinship terms are often employed. discussions of the choices and uses of names in various cultural contexts can lead naturally on to examining differences in educational contexts. (1997) Naming practices and the power of words in China. However. Liao contends that this study inspired an article by Lee which appeared in the New York Times (2001) and which suggests that ﬂexible naming practices in China combined with the inﬂuence of western popular culture account for the variety of English names adopted by Chinese youths. the term ‘personal name’ rather than ‘given name’ will be employed throughout because many of the names are actually chosen rather than given. and addressing someone in the third person rather than using ‘you’ is common. Outside of the family. a younger child will call an older sibling ‘older brother’ or ‘older sister’. Newcastle upon Tyne. According to Blum (1997) the exchange of names in China reﬂects the hierarchical nature of social relationships. It my belief however. Blum. 4. These differences can thereby be made more transparent and therefore more understandable to those unfamiliar with EFL approaches to language teaching. Pronouns are rarely employed. The term ‘English name’ will be used when necessary.102 Language. out of 39 members of full and part-time staff at Northumbria University. 2. . V. popular culture played only a minor role in students’ choices of English names. P. (1993) Les Chinois et la Passion des Noms.uk). S. NE1 8ST. Cambridge: Polity Press. Northumbria is not an exception.ac. English Language Centre. and their children will therefore have no aunts and uncles. Culture and Curriculum Someone Who . A study of the use of English names adopted by students in Taiwan was also carried out by Liao (2003) who lists the most common names chosen by males and females. For example. Very few institutions in the UK have large numbers of staff who have had teaching experience in mainland China. Furthermore. Paris: Aubier. University of Northumbria. Interested readers can also ﬁnd a brief discussion of English names as markers of ethnic and religious identity amongst south-east Asian students in Joseph (2004: 176– 181). Bourdieu. as a mark of respect. Language in Society 26 (3). Furthermore. Usually only an older family member can use a younger member’s personal name.edwards@unn. Lipman Building. it will be interesting to see if forms of address modify in the future given that the younger generation of Chinese (at least when it comes those living in cities) have no siblings. It is my belief that a sharing of such cultural phenomena can help students to negotiate more successfully issues of personal and cultural identity and to resolve any resulting tensions between compliance and resistance that they may feel towards their studies on the whole. This still pertains today. 357– 379. 3. within families. Notes 1. and perhaps more importantly. UK (rachel. . . in order to maintain hierarchical relationships. (1991) Language and Symbolic Power. Correspondence Any correspondence should be directed to Rachel Edwards. At the time of writing. even though some of the names are Anglicised rather than recognised English names. Downloaded by [University of New England] at 23:35 28 March 2012 References Alleton. that Taiwanese students may well have different motivations for choosing English names than mainland Chinese students because of China and Taiwan’s differing relationships with the West.
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