October 30, 2017
By: Jacqueline Wong
Recently, I was inspired by this video to talk with Asian students at Memorial about the significance of their names. Thankfully, my investigation was not prompted by a negative incident, but I was interested in sharing the meaning behind some Asian names, which can often be misunderstood or mispronounced in Western countries.
When Asian students study abroad in the English speaking countries, they often use their Asian names directly translated into English. In Asian cultures, children’s names often have a specific meaning and can be translated into certain words. Children are also named with certain characteristics, such as strength or courage, in mind. Stella, from Yunnan Kunming, China, Eun Jung and Jiyeon, both born in South Korea, talked about the differences between their Asian and English names.
Stella Zhang’s Chinese name, Xiaomei Zhang is based on a Chinese poem. Mei is a kind of flower that will bloom during the harsh winter. Stella’s parents wished she will become a lady with a strong will. Stella picked her English name because she loved that Stella means a star shining in the sky, but said that many Asian students choose their English names from their favorite novels or movies.
Stella said that her English name is convenient for her to use while she lives in St. John’s because her native language, Mandarin, is difficult for English speaker to pronounce. She said that when students pick an English name, it can help international students to socialize and interact with English speakers.
Eun Jung Cho, who came from South Korea, is in her second year at MUN for Theatre and has been living in St. John’s for six years. Eun Jung’s name in Korean means “grace from the Lord.” Eun Jung also goes by her English name, Monica, which she chose because it is her Christian Baptist name. Eun Jung said it feels weird to use only her English name for the past six years instead of her Korean name.
Jiyeon Lee, who also from South Korea, came to St John’s in September for a semester-long exchange. Jiyeon told me that her name is very popular in Korea, but also feels it is precious to her. In Korean, Ji means an intelligent person and Yeon means beautiful and pretty. Jiyeon’s parents wished their daughter would become a pretty, intelligent woman. According to Jiyeon, some people in Korea use the Chinese translation or meaning for their name. This is because Korea had used Chinese characters in the past. Jiyeon chose her English name, Jaylene because it includes all the initial letters in her Korean name (J, L, and Y). However, she feels closer to people when they call her Jiyeon and prefers her Korean name.
Every name has a story. Try asking your friends about their name and you might be surprised by what you learn. As Rick Riordan wrote in his novel The Lightning Thief, “Names have power.”