What’s in a name?

Many years ago Ms Jiang, our Mandarin teacher, asked us for our names, went away for a few days, and came back with the Chinese equivalents. For a long time I wondered how she managed to do that, given that the names on our official documents are approximate English transliterations of the Chinese originals at best. I even suspected that she had just made up new names for us.

After some research, I can confirm that the family (or clan) name is actually XiĆ³ng. It means ‘bear’ and is derived from a folk hero’s name. Exactly what charming Ms Jiang told us. She also said that my Chinese given name means ‘Prosperous Flower’. I want to believe that my memory fails me on this one.

My surname, like those of many Sino-Mauritians, has three parts: a botched anglicisation of the above and my father’s given name in two words. Which gives me a full name with seven parts: J E F H Y T Y, where ‘J E’ is my Christian name, ‘F H’ is my Chinese given name transliterated from Hakka, the first ‘Y’ is the family name, and ‘T Y’ is my father’s given name. Filling official paper forms with these small boxes for letters is always fun.

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