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To Chinese, names are not mere codes
By Chua Chim Kang

      If a name is a mere code, the ease of use should be the key in deciding a suitable choice. Picking one that is easy to remember, sounds right, helps facilitate communication at social gatherings and others to recall you will be the factors to consider. (来源:英语杂志 http://www.EnglishCN.com)

  But Chinese names invariably connote a long list of ideas and expectations, some even carry the parents’ memory of, and metaphor for, life. A name not only conveys a basic attitude and character, but can also be a value statement for one to succeed in life and make a name for himself.

  In short, it can turn out to be a tremendous burden. This is why some Chinese parents are happy to do away with the trouble of giving their children Chinese names.

  A recent survey by The Straits Times showed that a growing number of children have only English names. The reasons behind the trend are worth examining.

  The pronunciation of Chinese names can be tricky - much like the way Chinese find it tough to distinguish and remember the names of their Malay or Indian friends. A Chinese name, which strings together two or three different words that may not be related can be a tongue-twister for foreigners or friends from other ethnic groups.

  Still, if Chinese resort to some over-used English names for the sake of convenience, we are not doing justice to our tradition.

  While we have grown out of the parochial view of absolute obedience to parents, we still hold our ancestors and elders in high regard. The society and family remain significant in terms of exercising some restrictions over us and providing us a sense of continuity - and Chinese names are the symbols and manifestation of such cultural values.

  Ancient Chinese were rather particular about names. They could be known by more than one name and nicknames as well. Naming was truly a complicated process then.

  But if new generations of parents find even two or three Chinese words troublesome, something must have gone wrong in the way they perceive our cultural identity. Other Chinese communities will probably be puzzled by the casual way Chinese Singaporeans treat Chinese names.

   When parents do not even insist on maintaining this tradition and are happy to get rid of Chinese names for their children for whatever reasons, what will we have left in a fast-changing consumer society?

  The strong desire to drop Chinese names is probably unrelated to the mentality in the past to fawn over things foreign. The dominance of the English language in business and daily life has likely caused some Chinese to look down on the status of the Chinese language.

  They have also failed to see the link between culture and language. They believe that a perfect command of the English language equals a good understanding of the Western culture. They are even convinced that the English language is all that is needed to survive and thrive. To them, Singapore is only a base and they will have nothing to do whatsoever with Chinese culture, history and tradition.

  Some find Chinese names old-fashioned and outdated. In fact, to someone who is IT-savvy and recognises only English letters and numbers on a computer, not having a Chinese name is no big deal.

   I believe this is the way some people look at the matter. Furthermore, for various reasons, the young find learning the Chinese language an unpleasant task. When they become parents, they would be very reluctant emotionally to give their children Chinese names which have little practical value in real life.

  The more fundamental reason is that one has nothing to lose by not having a Chinese name. And for many, material gain is the basis by which things are judged and measured. Issues such as culture, tradition and identity, which are abstract, are strange and far-fetched and may even evoke in them a sense of fear and resistance.

  Not to give a child a Chinese name is a simple act that speaks volumes.

  (The writer is a correspondent with the Political Desk, Lianhe Zaobao. Translated by Yap Gee Poh)

● 蔡深江















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