Thursday, March 22, 2007

What's in a name?

Yesterday, for some strange reason, turned out to be Name Change Day in my Junior 4 class. It started when a boy named John asked if he could change his name because it was too common. The name change spark quickly spread because within a minute, half of the class was asking if they could change their names too.
Most of the students at our school have an English name that they have acquired in some way, usually either by picking it themselves when they start English classes or when one of the teachers gives them an English name. Some of my students either don't want or refuse to have an English name and so they write their Korean name in phonetic English.
English names are a great source of amusement amoung all the teachers. There is a sort of under-the-table contest as to who can give their students the best English names. Sharon is very proud of the student she named Keanu. Dave somehow convinced a boy to take the name Agamemnon (the leader of the Greeks from the movie Troy). Mandie had a girl one day try to rename herself Christ - not Christine, Christy, or Christina, but just plain Christ, which Mandie would not allow. I don't have any good contest entries yet, although myself and the other teachers who are fans of Talladega Nights are waiting for the day when we can brag about having a Walker and a Texas Ranger in our class.
Some students choose their English names wisely. For example, I have a new girl named Tyra (after Tyra Banks the supermodel). Other students don't choose as well, like Francis, a mischieveous and loud 14 year old boy who is about as big as I am. One interesting name phenonomon is that I have 3 students named June - all of them boys.
I helped one boy get a cool English name by writing his Korean name - Jae Kyu - as Jay Q, cousin of rapper Jay Z. He wasn't too sure about that at first, but he's slowly accepted the fact that that is how I am going to write his name, especially after he saw that the counter had written it Jay Q on the attendance form.
I don't want to force my students to have English names, but I keep a list of names in the back of my planner for days like yesterday when they decide that it is time to change. There is one exception though. I had a student who went by his Korean name, Yeolyee. As hard as I tried, I could not pronounce it right. By the third day of class, I could tell he was getting frustrated as I repeatedly said it wrong and the other students giggled. So I told he would just have to pick an English name. I wrote about 4 or 5 names up on the board and let him pick one - Nick. Now that I can say! This strategy doesn't always work. I had a student with the Korean name Min Churl. I suggested the English name Mitchell since it sounds similar but it a lot easier for me to say. The whole class started laughing when I said it though, it turns out Mitchell sounds like a bad work in Korean.
One day in my Senior 1 class, I was writing my full name on the board when the students became curious as to why I had 3 names. After I explained the idea of a middle name to them, 2 of the most eager students in the class said that they wanted to have a middle name right then and there. I ended up giving Rosie my sister's middle name and Jason my brother's middle names.
Playing the name game is fun. In Junior 4 yesterday, Rosa switched colors and became Violet. Tina who sits by Jennifer became Jenny and Jennifer became Leah. Daphne decided she wanted a long name like Elizabeth (the British Queen). Kyeong Jin didn't hear a name that she liked. And finally, John didn't have time to choose a new name before the class bell rang so he's going to have to endure 1 more day of being common.
By the way, most of the names on my list are the names of my friends, characters from my favorite tv shows/movies/books, and other names that I think sound cool. If you have any cool but not too strange name ideas, please send them my way.

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