By Pete Marchetto
A teacher recently remarked that he or she didn't enforce the changing of some of his or her students' more bizarre English names citing various examples of strangely named westerners and the sense that such enforcement would be somewhat draconian.
The fact is that I actually do enforce the changing of strange names with as much pressure as I can bring to bear without causing actual bodily harm. What seems to lead to students selecting strange names is less a desire to experiment or be eccentric than a misunderstanding of the nature of western names. This is akin to my having selected a Chinese name for myself that my students told me was unacceptable; a choice of two characters whose meanings I liked together rather than conforming to Chinese naming traditions.
In response to students' criticism of my choice I pointed out that China had its own history of strange names; most recently in the wake of the Communism when new names came to the fore that were considered patriotic or revolutionary. However, as I came later to realise, (my students too polite to point it out to me), it was one thing for the Chinese to change their pattern of naming in response to historical events; quite another for an Englishman to stroll into the country and presume to do likewise.
Similarly, while the odd westerner will indeed saddle their offspring with some ridiculous name, ('Utensil' being the strangest I have come across, an American couple liking the sound of the word and so inflicting it upon their innocent child), it's quite another for Chinese people to introduce themselves as 'Gun', 'Martian' or 'Edgar Allen Poe'. The strange name will be taken for what it generally is... ignorance of western traditions. My student Ivy - formerly known as Shiney Sprout - may have put a considerable amount of research into her previous incarnation but I'm pleased to think that I might have saved her some future embarrassment in insisting that her effort was wasted.
One thing I DO think is important is that the students have as much information as possible in choosing their names and so I have a now dog-eared list of several hundred acceptable male and female names with their meanings. The more information the students have in selecting their names - and, indeed, the more effort they put into doing so - the closer their attachment. Random on-the-spot naming is something I always try to avoid.