Friday, October 31, 2008

Call Me 白君竹

This week, I gave my students their most important assignment of the semester...give me a Chinese name!

I laid down several ground rules at the start. I want a real Chinese name. A name that a mother and father would happily give their child. A name that is more than a transliteration of my English name (a strategy that just doesn't appeal to me).

The idea was that, after spending half a semester with me, my students know me well enough to pick out a name that is reflective of my personality and interests...hopefully just the good side of who I am!

I gave my students several days to think things over, to brainstorm. But it wasn't until we met for lunch, over some excellent chao yu (essentially, fish served in spices over a flame), that I put pressure on the group to make a final decision.

The first discussion centered over what my family name should be. One of the early contenders was gao. This is a real Chinese last (I mean, first) name, and has the added benefit of meaning "tall." But my thinking is that if a certain basketball player named Ming doesn't have the family name Gao, then I certainly don't deserve it either. No matter, this name fell out of contention, as the discussion continued round and round.

Ultimately, the group settled on bai. This is a common enough family name here in China...so now I have many, many new relatives (including another professor here at the School of Government). And it is easy to write...always a good thing to be able to spell your own name!

The given name, though...that was where the collective effort lingered. The students wanted to know my hobbies. "What is your favorite dynasty?"...this was another question I was asked.

Eventually, one of the students wrote three names down on a napkin. "You can choose from one of these," the students suggested, hoping to avoid making the tough final call. "No way," I countered. "This is your job."

What emerged from their last effort was a two character given name...jun zhu. A lot of explanation followed regarding the meaning behind these selections...only some of which I fully understand. The meaning of jun they centered on is something akin to being a gentleman. As for zhu, this has to do with the characteristic of not following the crowd, but standing up for one's own convictions. Both characters, the students assured me, have auspicious meanings.

Now, time to get to work on names for the rest of the crew!

~Steve

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