Say whaaaat? Change my name?
Have you noticed that when you meet a Chinese or Taiwanese in your country or in China, they won´t give you their Chinese name, but they will give you a western name? Would this mean that you have to change yours if you go to their country?
In China or Taiwan, in most of the cases, parents or teachers of a foreign language choose a western name for the kids (or the kids choose it when they are older) to make it less difficult for foreigners to prounounce their Chinese name in the future. They really think upfront… and thank goodness for that! Believe me, it is difficult to remember the names in Chinese. So do not be surprised to meet an Apple, Snoopy, Strawberry, or Monkey someday. They can be very original names.
But if ever you wanted to study or live for a long time in China or Taiwan, it’s your turn! Yep, no escape! You will no longer be Maria, and you will not be Pedro, most likely you will become 馬利亞 (Ma – li – Ya, Ma instantly becomes your last name, which literally means horse. Yes, you read that right, the animal horse!) or if you are Pedro, you will be 佩德罗 (Pei-De-Luo). At least, your new name can rhyme with your original name! And luckily, if they like you, your name will get Chinese characters that are “easy to memorize.”
When you arrive to China or Taiwan to work or study, you must ask to basically anybody (if you do not have a Chinese teacher or friend) to help you choose a Chinese name. Without a Chinese name you cannot get the national insurance, a bank account or register in the university. You’re nobody! Sorry, you cannot sign anymore as Maria Jose Estrada del Carmen!
4 years in Taiwan – The New Mini-Me
Surf shop in Taiwan, 2010. Laura: second on the left.
During the first week in Taiwan, when I moved to study my degree in Business Administration and Chinese, I had to pick a name that would mark my next 4 years. A Chinese teacher had a list with the names of my classmates and began to read: “You will be this and this name … and you Laura, you will be Luola”. I did not even see the the Chinese characters of my name, but I hated it as soon as she pronounced it. To me it sounded like Lola La Trailera (the protagonist of a Mexican film of the 80s. Lola drove a huge truck and fought against the narcos). No thanks! When the class was over, I went to speak to a young Taiwanese teacher who was in the corridor to help me change my name before it was absolutely official. I gave her my full name in Spanish, we sat down to discuss it, and the next day she said: “Laura, from now on, you will be Mu-rong-mei (幕容梅). Murong (幕容) is your last name (which sounds a bit like Moraga, my second name), and Mei (梅) will be your name (the national flower of Taiwan).” Murong is a particularly famous name in Chinese literature. And the whole name together means something like: beautiful and noble person. Kick Ass! Much better than Lola La Trailera!
Beijing lanes, 2014
Well, and that is how it started. All of my official documents got only my Chinese name. I got a stamp maker with the characters of Mu-Rong-Mei so that I could stamp and not sign official documents (sadly, they don’t believe that you can learn the characters of your name well!). And when proffessors at the university called me to the front, in national swimming competitions (I was in the university team), or in any other place where I did not want to be Laura, I was Mu-rong-mei. For 4 years of my life, I took a different identity!
Like that, I got to know different stories of other foreigners, but my favorite is the one of Wei-A-Ge (his original name is Jakub). When he pronounced his name in Chinese, Taiwanese always started laughing. Because he did not make the right entonation of each character, he was basically saying that his name is “Dirt in my teeth”!!! How frustrating can it be not to be able to pronounce your own name?!