It’s not Scott, its Yanchuan
Post by Salome Mosehle, Class of 2018
People in the U.S. never have a problem pronouncing names like John or Mary or Amy but somehow any name that doesn’t fit the average Anglo-Saxon prescription gets a different treatment. I noticed this when I met Yanchuan. Here’s how the story goes:
“Hi, my name is Scott. I am from China.” I looked at Scott but I didn’t understand because his nametag said Yanchuan Cai. This went on. “Hi, I’m Angela. I’m also from China” but the nametag said Ziyi Guo. This was confusing to my South African brain because I had to figure out whether the nametags were misplaced or if the people were confused. What I discovered didn’t please me at all. Many Chinese students at Babson and in U.S. schools across the country change their names to more familiar, more pronounceable Anglo-Saxon names when they come to the United States. The reasoning, according to my Chinese classmates is, “we’re making it easier for people to pronounce our names.” I tried to put myself behind their nametags, would I be able to change my name from Salome to something like Angela or even Jenna? Salome the South African and Jenna the South African in the United States? That’s too much of a strain to my identity. Wouldn’t the world be different if people made an effort to pronounce Chinese names?
This question was answered in my English class. My teacher asked a Chinese girl how to pronounce her name. Her name is Xueting and somehow as my teacher kept getting it wrong. Since she spent a lot of time learning to pronounce it in front of the class, the rest of my classmates started learning too. I know how to pronounce Xueting and so do many people now. It might take extra effort, but the pride of Chinese names is preserved as more people learn how to pronounce them. The more U.S. society accustoms their tongues to pronouncing Chinese names, the more they realize trends in the Chinese language: phonetics, sounds, tempos and suddenly, it becomes easier to deal with. One year later, I sat with Scott in the same English class. The teacher asked him, “Do you go by Scott or Yanchuan?” He said, with no shame, “Yanchuan”.
Want a lesson in pronouncing Chinese names? The Glavin Office has some great resources! Email firstname.lastname@example.org