Month: February 2008

What’s In My Name?

It’s really funny, thinking about how people choose their English names (or don’t actually choose one.) Why do some people choose to get an English name?

I remember when I was about 7 years old there was a time when yes, people thought I should indeed get an English name. Turns out, I think, that the kids from Taiwan in our school get English names much more readily than others (say, from China.) Plus, we give students an English name when they come to the school (whether they like the name or not, usually). So really, my Chinese-pinyin name is actually a rarity in the school. There’s only a couple other students who didn’t have an English name.


So I have a dim memory of someone telling me I should get an English name of “Alfred.” Funnily enough, it sounds absolutely horrid to me now, but back then I think I had a vague idea that it was actually good. (Don’t ask me how.) Alfred, hah. I also remember a recommended name for my sister at that time was Wendy or something like that.


Therefore I didn’t pick a name then. Then in 3rd grade, one of my teachers, Jason decided to force a name upon me – George. Urrgh, how I hated that name, and I refused it. Unfortunately, my classmates noted my hatred and would use that name from then on just to peeve me, something that lasted until someone whose actual name George came to school. I still hate that name, no offense to anybody whose name is George.

Something that sounds like Qin Zhi

Some people choose their name based on the closest Western name that sounds like their Chinese name. Witness my cousin’s son: Chinese name: Diwen. English name: Desmond.

What’s the closest thing to my name in English?


Yuck, end of discussion, it was probably last popular when people thought we had humours flowing throughout our body. My 80-year-old neighbor calls me that, however, and I can’t bear to correct her.

Ginger is another one that sounds close, though to the Chinese pronunciation of my name.


One time we were making up feminine names for everyone in our class, and that was what I got. Others: Michael –> Michelle, Simon –> Simone, and so on.


Considering how hard it is to pronounce my name, it’s a wonder that I didn’t get called by my initials earlier. The first time I remember someone calling me QZ was Mr. Kellerman, my Algebra teacher. I recall I actually got pissed off at him for calling me QZ, and for a few years after that, even after everyone started calling me that, he didn’t dare.

But I don’t think I really started using my initials to introduce myself to Westerners until summer camp in 2003, sponsored by Johns Hopkins University. There, I had a huge problem. While most people in my school were Asian and could pronounce my name perfectly fine, when I got to summer camp, it was a big change. 50%, I think, were non-Asian (and even among the Asians there were a lot of Koreans). And the 50% who were Asian were mostly Twinkies.

Whenever there was a roll call, I knew it was me whenever the counselor paused and squinted at the sheet of paper. Or, they would grab the nearest Asian person and ask them how to pronounce it. Or they would simply say “I don’t know how to say this – ummm, is it Quinn Zheee?” Then came an awkward moment. In the end, I learned to say “here” whenever someone paused. People thought I had psychic powers or something.

Someone also remarked that QZ was cool, because “it sounds like Jay-Z.” I had no idea who was Jay-Z was at the time. Now I know who he is, and I think it’s hilarious.


But about 10th grade I decided that I would never want an English name. Another one that came up often (I’ve had three different people tell me this) was James. Sounds a bit too Harry Potter-ish for me. For a while I liked the name Aaron as well. In hindsight, I was lucky I never chose it, because then I would be inundated with Facebook application requests, as Aaron would be at the very top.

More recently (two years ago?), I began thinking about a Sanskrit name. Kshanti I like (it means patience) but then people would think I was related to Ashanti or something.

Love at First Sight by Wislawa Szymborska

Still my go-to poem for inspiration.

Both are convinced
that a sudden surge of emotion bound them together.
Beautiful is such a certainty,
but uncertainty is more beautiful still.

Since they’d never met before, they’re sure
that nothing was happening between them.
What of streets, stairways and corridors
where they could have passed each other long ago?

I’d like to ask them
whether they remember–
Perhaps in a revolving door
ever being face to face?
An “excuse me” in a crowd?
A curt “wrong number” in the receiver?
But I know the answer:
No, they don’t remember.

They’d be greatly astonished to learn
that for a long time
Chance had been playing with them.

Not yet wholly ready
to transform into fate for them
it approached them, then backed off,
stood in their way,
and, suppressing a giggle,
jumped to the side.

There were signs and signals,
even if they couldn’t read them yet.
Perhaps three years ago
or just last Tuesday
a certain leaf fluttered
from one shoulder to another?
Something was dropped and then picked up.
Who knows, maybe the ball that vanished
into childhood’s thicket?

There were doorknobs and doorbells
where one touch had covered another
Suitcases checked and standing side by side.
One night, perhaps, the same dream,
forgotten in waking.

Every beginning
is only a sequel, after all,
and the book of events
is always open halfway through.