Oct 22, 2010

say my naaaame, say my name...

I have three names.

And I think it's about due time I explain/record them. You know, posterity purposes.

I really believe in the sanctity of naming. The past two years when students would ask me to give them an English name early in the year I was always a little uncomfortable because I didn't know them well. How do I know if you should be a "Michael" or a "River"? "Anna" or "Rose"? I usually would give them several names and have them choose - that way they had ownership over their name.

I never fully understood my student's double name lives (I only know them to this day as their english names) until now. Only I get to have 3!

This is the breakdown:

I am called Jessica by my friends who are not from Chi.na. About half of my friends in the dorm call me "Jessica". On the weekends with my non-Chin.ese friends, I am "Jessica". At chrch, I am "Jessica". And to most people at the hospital I am "Jessica" or "teacher". I try to get them not to call me "teacher" though. I prefer my given name over someone yelling, "teacher! teacher!" down the hall.

However to 90% of the Chin.ese people in my life I am . (pronounced - ke xiao mei). This is a relatively new thing this year that my Chi.nese friends are calling me my Chi.nese name. I've had this name for about a year, but very few people regularly called me it. I used it as a way to chat up random Chin.ese people, ("hey - wanna know my Chin.ese name?! whooopdeedooo") but it wasn't a regular part of my life. Now that my life is decidedly more "Chin.ese" my old friends are insisting on my Chin.ese name and my new-er Chin.ese friends seem to also use this more than Jessica.

This is shortened often to just "Xiao Mei," so I have to be on guard to both the "K" sounds and "X" sounds so that I remember to answer when I'm called. ha.

But what does 柯 晓 梅 even mean, you ask? Well, let me tell you! ;)

Several years ago in Ningxia I was given a Chin.ese name by my Chin.ese roomie, Caroline. (It was - Zhou Hui Jin). When I moved to Ch.ina I kept this name and was excited to tell it to everyone. Except that no one understood what the heck I was saying. And I didn't know how to write it. So that was a major bust. I didn't even really know the meaning except that Zhou was the oldest King or something and Hui means smart. Lame.

I eventually stopped talking about my Chin.ese name because it became a mass of confusion whenever I talked about it. And if there's one thing expats in Chi.na do not need - it is more confusion.

Fast forward a year and I still live in Chi.na (last October). I feel like it's high time I have a stinkin' good Chin.ese name. Because Chin.ese names have so much meaning attached to them I knew there was no way I could choose one for myself. I wanted someone close to me to choose it. But who?

On a routine trip last October to an orphanage we were seated at large round tables and I looked around and realized that that group of women really knew me well. We had been working together on the orphan outreach program for about a year and I decided that I trusted a lady named Ke An Rui to name me. She is a middle-aged mother from Tai.wan who I have grown really close to. I brought it up at lunch and she was very honored. (this made me happy). She said that she needed time though. No worries, I thought, I've been without one for a year, whatevs.

Well, truth be told, 10 minutes later when we were all done eating, Ke An Rui appeared from out of the bathroom and announced, "I've got it!" She explained that she had been thinking really hard in the bathroom of the perfect name for me. Seriously. hahahahha. How hilarious.

And thus, "Ke Xiao Mei" was born. She wrote it down for me on a scrap of newspaper and explained it to me.

The "Ke" is the same as her family name. Also because of "Jessi-CA." So we are now kin. The "Xiao" means dawn. It is the moment that the sun hits the horizon. "Mei" is a kind of flower, "Mei Hua" that is native to Hangzhou and that grows in the winter. It is known for thriving in harsh conditions. So my name means, "a flower that blooms at dawn." She also described it to me as, "hope and beauty in hard times, and hope comes in the morning." She told me this was fit for me, and I shed a little elephant tear. So meaningful.

I get mixed reactions to my name and have become a sort of cheerleader for it. Older people tell me my name is beautiful. "Hen you yisi" they say. (lots of meaning).

Young people tell me my name is like an old person name. That no one has flowers in their name any more - I'm outdated. Basically, I am the Chin.ese "Gertrude." Cool, I always liked older names. So I champion my name as a not old, but awesome name, given to me by a woman who I deeply admire. My name was a gift to me, how dare they bash it! haha. Not to mention half the people I meet have ridiculous English names - but that's another story.

On my paperwork at school, and in the dorm I am called "ke xiao mei." It is the first name I am called every morning by the men who sit in the lobby of my dorm and watch everyone go in and out (paid stalkers). Today I was marching down the stairs in heels and when I rounded the corner the old dude said to me in Chin.ese, "I heard you and I knew that was Ke Xiao Mei!" Yup, that's me, I thought. ha.

It's even on my visa paperwork. This name is legit.

My listening and speaking teachers call me "Ke Xiao Mei" or "Xiao Mei" (the Ke is my family name, so sometimes gets dropped - traditional Chin.ese way). But my head teacher likes to switch back and forth between Xiao Mei and my third name...

班长 (pronounced - ban zhang).

You see, Chin.ese education is...special. In college the students are placed into classes. They have the same schedule/teachers/live together. Ch.ina likes to make little tight knit communities that don't know much outside their circles. (this goes in the work place, too).

Every class has a leader - the "ban zhang." "Zhang" means leader. This word is also used in the words for boss, principle, manager, etc. "Ban" means class.

The ban zhang's job is to basically be the model student and the teacher's secretary. They are responsible for planning class activities, answering student's questions about anything, buying train tickets for the whole class at holidays, letting the class know of announcements and upcoming tests, and reading the dictations first (the rest of the class repeats after her). They can't miss class.

This is me.


I recieve several texts/emails every week with random questions. "Where can I get a good massage?" "What busses go back to school, I'm lost." and "Where can I order a pizza?" Have been some of my favorite questions. There is also a girl who misses a lot of class because of some seminars she must attend, so every day I email her the class notes so she can keep up.

On Tuesday we are having our first class "event." A dinner near campus at my fave restaurant. (It sure pays to be the leader! We are eating what I like! haha). I am also coordinating some volunteer opportunities for us at a local autistic school...more to come on that when it finalizes.

Long story short - my class is diverse and awesome and I'm happy to be able to round everybody up for some good times.

My teacher asked several weeks ago who should be the class "ban zhang." Everyone looked at me and he just said my name with a little tilt of his head. And thus I earned my third name.

My head teacher mainly calls me "ban zhang." When I am walking in the hallway I might hear him call to me, "ban zhang." When he calls to me to answer a question, I am "ban zhang." Today he referred to me as, "Xiao Mei" during an example (he always uses me as the example and it makes me slightly uncomfortable) and it took me a second to realize he was talking about me.

Names are so cool. They really become a part of your identity.

Yesterday a classmate was passing out snacks during a break and offered one to me, "ban zhang?" Another classmate giggled and said, "what the heck is your real name anyways?"

Well, I have 3. Take your pick.

walk slow. xoxo.

1 comment:

agapelife said...

You will always be Jessica or "jg" to me :) but I actually did shed a bit of a tear when I read about you being given your chinese name. Lovely. and it does suit you.