macoa wrote:[...] I realized that most of my business friends in Taiwan & China also have English names. I do business with Japanese & Koreans too, but not one of them has English names. Anybody know why? Maybe having English names makes it easier for foreign contacts to remember or call them, but again, why just the Chinese, not the Japanese & Koreans? Does it have to do with Chinese culture & history? Is it because Chinese admire the West very much? While the Japanese & Koreans are just so proud of their own culture?
One explanation you get to hear a lot is that it's for the convenience of "foreigners," who "don't know" how to pronounce Chinese names. Certainly the way different romanization systems are mangled in Taiwan doesn't help: for example the letters "ch" can be spoken in four different ways in the butchered version of Wade-Giles used to transliterate most of the names here. This makes coming up with the right pronunciation of a Taiwanese name a lottery, whereas in China getting the correct one is straightforward, as there is no ambiguity -- less the tones, as these are usually omitted. Thus, if it were due to this, it's not so much that the foreigners "don't know" but they don't even stand a chance to pronounce the Taiwanese names right -- unless they see the characters and can read them too (which defeats the point of having a romanization system in the first place).
Still, local people use their "English" names between themselves as well, so it's definitely not just for the foreigners. Many people will have such a name from the time they first started learning English at an early age and as beginners didn't know better how to choose a name for themselves, which perhaps explains why so many of them feel ridiculously inappropriate, especially for an adult person. In the business context, at many of the large companies around here, it's actually a requirement to have an "English" name, and if you don't have it yet, when you get hired you will be forced to pick one. This name will then be used by your co-workers but since they often cannot cope with the consonant clusters in English, it will be phonetically transcribed back into Chinese.
In a typical scenario, say your Chinese name is "Zhicheng" (in Hanyu Pinyin) or Chi-ch'eng (in correct Wade-Giles). This could be written "Chi-chen" or "Chir-cheng," giving anyone seeing just the transliteration absolutely no chance of pronouncing it right, even if they had an extensive knowledge of all the obsolete romanization systems possibly involved. Thus, since "foreigners" "don't know" how to pronounce the name, the company you work for (even if it does little business with said foreigners) makes you go with the "English" name "Brian." Then, it's your local co-workers who in turn find that
too difficult to pronounce, so eventually they call you "布萊恩," or "Bu-lai-en" instead. Why not "志承," the actual name then, which also happens to be shorter?
It has always been a common thing for Chinese people to have multiple names, and also to change their names mid-life, for example to alleviate bad luck. Thus, Chinese people are culturally much less attached to their names than the Western people are. The prevalence of "English" names as such is, however, a fairly recent phenomenon, not explained by any factors deep-rooted in the past.
Take for instance that there is a "tradition" in Taiwan to do an outdoor barbecue during the Moon Festival. Ask any Taiwanese and they will tell you this is one thing that everyone has to do on that date. By now it has even become more important than the moon cakes themselves, which are just gifted to others but not actually eaten much.
Apparently, this "tradition" commenced not earlier than some twenty years ago with a television ad by a barbecue sauce company desperate to unload surplus stock. Yet by now it has become so enshrined that everyone is convinced it has been around since at least the Spring and Autumn period.
The "English name" phenomenon has most likely started similarly to the mandatory barbecue. My bet is on the "English" names having been transplanted here from Hong Kong through some sort of celebrity-aping. Following the lifting of the martial law in the late 1980s, there was a period of opening up to the outside world, and Taiwan was looking set to become a much more international place than it eventually ended up being. The prevalence of "English" names feels very much in the mood of that era, so perhaps it became widespread at that time.
This can also be seen in the wider context of a lot of borrowed English words being used by local people when talking in Chinese between themselves. Some of those have departed from their original meaning in English to the point that they are incomprehensible to anyone unaware of their newly-acquired meaning. These are not some technical terms but simple words or phrases that describe basic concepts that could just as well be readily expressed in Chinese.
To some extent this is aspirational, which is how it all started, but by now has become so widespread and prevalent that people just go along with it whether they like it or not and no-one really questions it anymore: this attitude is deeply rooted in Chinese culture and a major obstacle to progress in many areas, although here it's mostly benign. It certainly is an interesting peculiarity of Taiwan, even more so considering that although a lot of the local people consistently use their "English" names, foreigners are still expected to have their Chinese ones.
Why not Japan or Korea? Clearly, their rather inward-looking cultures would never come up with an idea like this on their own, and there wasn't any cultural transfer that would have initiated this either. Japan is very much immune to outside influences, and whatever manages to sift through becomes heavily japanized in the process, and Korean culture is primarily influenced from the outside by Japan if at all. Perhaps this has been changing in the recent years but the way cultural trends spread in the region has traditionally been more or less as follows:
- Code: Select all
Japan → Korea Hong Kong
↘ ↓ ↙ ↓
Taiwan → China
Relative to the two, people in Taiwan have always been more willing to incorporate foreign borrowings into their culture. While to some extent it might be due to a certain identity crisis the society is experiencing, this has generally been a positive influence, and it's regrettable that it has been receding in the recent years. "English" names in Taiwan are mostly a leftover from a bygone era of brief Westernization, although I don't see them disappearing anytime soon, in part due to the Chinese culture's predisposition to retain whatever it has already embraced.