Liz Steffey

After college I ventured to China to teach children aged fourteen through sixteen (tenth graders) in a rural school outside of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province. Each grade was divided into sections. I had nine sections. Each section had 70-80 students, so I had about 650-700 students in all—and most of them wanted English names. How was I going to come up with that many names? How was I going to remember them all? The task seemed impossible until I figured out that each section could have themes, and the names could branch from there. For example, I gave section 1 the names of my family members. Section 2 got the names of professional athletes and musicians; section 3, the names of animals, adjectives, and inanimate objects; section 4, the names of childhood friends, teachers, and coaches; section 5, the names of college and high school friends; section 6, the names of literary characters and historical figures that I admired. Even though it was hard to remember who each student was exactly, if I called on “Darcy,” “ Elizabeth,” or “Eleanor” in section 6, I could be sure there would be a student to answer. When I had section 2, I knew “Andre,” “Serena,” and “Michael” were all there, eager to answer my questions. It was a great process. The only awkward time was when I looked out into the sea of faces and asked “Katherine” a question and didn’t really know where she was sitting until she started speaking.

If ever you meet a Chinese boy called “Churchill” or a girl called “Godiva” or “Joni ,” chances are they had a teacher who was taming the naming.

Source: Steffey, Liz. (2006). Taming the naming. Guanxi: The China Letter, 2, 11.