One of the stranger aspects of teaching and living in Korea is the possibility of giving new students their ‘English’ name. I use inverted commas because of the context of this post.
The naming process is new to me, as I have mentioned previously about 99.9% of Korean students take on a ‘Western’ name for English classes. Some Koreans also take a ‘Christian’ name at their Church of choice. Obviously there were no Saint Ji-sungs or Paul’s letter to the Kims, so it makes sense to have a biblical name. I have often wondered at the logic of how the names come about. I have heard stories about people being reminded of friends back home, favourite football players, movie stars. It seems like some people just write a random 3 names on the board and ask the students to choose . When I got my first new class, by this I mean 1st Grade Elementary, I was genuinely concerned about the weight of a multi (secular) Christening. How would I choose the names? What if they don’t like their names? They could be stuck with this name forever? What if their parents know a serial killer with the same name, or some dark family mystery? A James or a John could be a bent priest, a drunk G.I or a family pet with rabies.
                                Names carry so much meaning that I was confounded when my Korean co-teacher told me I would need to name some people. In the end, after asking other teachers, I approached it like this: what names do I not like? The answer being, I do not like modern trendy names. This can often mean ‘American’ names or names that would get you battered in a playground throughout England. Due to pluralistic nature and cultural melting pot of North America, many names float around without any deep analysis. However, names in the UK can often be a bit too traditional and rely upon saints, disciples and kings. Any other names seem to show a disregard for Western society and the traditions of the Church. I guess I wanted to walk the line between the stifled tradition of my home and the more esoteric American names. Names from the Judeo-Christian tradition are fine –  Michael, Isaac, Solomon, Joseph. Anglo-Norman names are also fine in my book: Robert, Richard, William, Stephen etc. If you are wondering, nobody in England had names like this before 1066. When I say I don’t like American style  names, I mean to say the names which carry no meaning and make no sense on the basic logic of naming traditions. The following is a small selection:
Chip (type of potato)
Randy (a state of sexual excitement)
Chad (a poor country in Central Africa)
Butch (isn’t the Sundance kid dead?)
Jesse ( slightly weak or soft)
Chuck (throw casually or Australian chicken)
Buck (a dollar)
Krystal (what the maze or the ball?)
Dustin (I do it every Sunday after I finish the hoovering)
My stance, although slightly xenophobic, is in the best wishes of the students and the future of the Korean nation. I simply thought if they ever go to the UK, Ireland or perhaps even…Australia, then why not choose a name which won’t be a cause for bullying or hysterics. After all, they could have this name for the rest of their lives. I could be responsible for naming a future football star or president. By complete chance my first naming occasion coincided with when I found my Kings and Queens of Britain cards. This is a deck of cards which has a picture of every monarch since William the Conqueror, and some information on the back. I was a bit coy about this but the co teacher and another American teacher discovered that I was using the cards to choose names. I think they discovered this when someone said to me ‘You have another new student, he has no name.’ ‘Hold on, I’ll just get my cards’.  Moments later I had a young Korean flicking through past monarchs, he made a very quick decision and liked the look of a rather masculine warrior on horseback brandishing a sword. This young student is now called Richard (as in the lion-heart). He likes his name and the person he’s named after. After several days I had a regal looking young Victoria, an elegant Elizabeth (since shortened to Ellie), a studious Edward (the first), a Charlie, a James and an Anne. After exhausting the list of Monarchs I have also used American Presidents, TV show characters; currently I have a huge list printed out which is all English (Anglo-Saxon) names. I usually find the approximate first letter of a Korean given name then give a choice of all the names with that letter. This printout is from an internet site and carries the meaning of each name. The reason I chose Anglo Saxon was because that’s where English comes from so why not give a context. Also, I wondered which names would have floated around before the Normans arrived.
                                             I am not really a patriot or a monarchist but I do think that some sense of tradition should be kept. Working with Koreans, Americans and Canadians has made me realise that people generally don’t care about Britain, England or English for that matter. The English are in a strange situation because we were so dominant but now we are becoming an irrelevance on the edge of an irrelevant continent. This is especially true when you live in East Asia. A place where U.S troops have been posted since the 50’s and where it’s easier to learn English in the Philippines or Australia than the UK. Coming from a previously dominant but now irrelevant nation means that my small political protests and cultural pointers fall on deaf ears. Englishness is simply not important enough for others to worry about, but Englishness is not exotic enough to be curious about. When I protested about being called a ‘Brit’ it was met with a disregard for my utter pettiness. This basic human right of being referred to by the correct adjective based on your state of origin seems to be a weighty issue if you are an Ulster man, Irishman, Basque, Catalan, Bosniak, Kosovan or First Nation, Inuit, African-American, Cherokee… I believe every group, people, nation or ethnicity should have the right to choose how they are referred to by others. Even if this means changing the word for your group, like African-American or First Nation. I may be from Britain but I speak English, my football team is England, my cricket team is England and I follow the English Premier League. I guess I will just correct people until I return to… er…Britain. The worst thing is that other ‘Brits’ have asked me if it really matters. I usually tell people that wanting to be called English is as much about being English as it is about the Welsh being Welsh and the Scots being Scottish; they are other places with other peoples and other traditions. Bring on devolution. 
                                              This trivial stuff was in the back of my head as I took my new classes. I already knew many students , but many faces were new and they didn’t know me. I decided to have a basic Q and A session. When I say basic I mean basic, where do you think I am from? After naming nearly every nation in the World I asked them if they wanted a clue. Pointing to the badge on a girl’s coat which read “British Culture” above a Union Jack, they still had trouble. I asked the wearer of said garment, what flag are you wearing? She didn’t know. After crying for 5 minutes I told them I’m from England. When they looked and read the coat they said “No Englandu, Britaini” “Same thing.” I said, crying again. I have since noticed that 4 other students were either wearing British flags or had British flags on pencil cases, there are some Italian flags too! It’s very post modern that a nation who planted flags in deserts, jungles and bogs all round the World can now conquer the World without trying or without their ‘subjects’ knowing. The British flag has been added to the list of signs, icons and images with absolutely no meaning whatsoever. This same list includes Che Guevara, Brazil, U.S, anything Cuban, meaningless Chinese tattoos and about a gazillion American Sports Franchises. The only symbol you would think might escape the free use of signs and signifiers is the Nazi Swastika, the Swastika in its Buddhist use is in many places here though, this I think is OK because it pre dates the Third Reich. I have since made a point of reminding students and sometimes other adults about the origin of names, designs, logos, and anything else that seems important. Non English speakers often choose to wear slogan t-shirts with absolutely no regard for the meaning of the words. I once saw a typically olive-skinned Italian girl with jet black hair sporting a t-shirt saying ‘Blondes have more fun.’ I asked ‘E vero?’ (is it true?) She just looked at me blankly. In one of my super shy and impossibly quiet classes a girl once walked in with a t-shirt declaring TALK, TALK, TALK in bold black letters. I chuckled instantly and the irony was not lost on the student in question as she hid her t-shirt from the silence.
Comments
  1. Alexandra says:

    I like this post 🙂 Especially the part about the names. So far I thought students chose the names themselves – I think you chose the best way by giving them a selection of names to choose from 🙂
    What I don’t like personally is names that somehow follow the phonology of English but don’t exist in any language in fact. I also like European names or international names that also work in English, although that goes a bit beyond the context of English/English speaking culture(s). Promise me you will include ‘Alexandra’ in your list of names some time 🙂

    • Miike Green says:

      Aha, my name list is purely Anglo-Saxon these days. You have to remember that some kids are young and cannot spell or pronounce some names. I even gave up with Michael because it makes no sense in terms of phonics.

  2. Alexandra says:

    Yes, but Alexandra makes sense in terms of phonics 🙂 oh well.
    Where are you now? Have a good time 🙂

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