PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Not many can relate to having the opportunity to rename themselves while studying in a new country.
But seven of eight Chinese students attending the University of Maine at Presque Isle this semester are using new English names in an effort to ensure that professors, fellow students and other Americans can both pronounce and write their names.
During a recent meeting of the International Student Club on campus, the students shared their name choices and the reasons behind their selections.
At least two students, for instance, chose to name themselves after famous celebrities. Yilin Yang now goes by Ethan, after Ethan Hunt, the main character in “Mission Impossible,’ since Yang thoroughly enjoyed the movies. Sha Liu or “Shadow” chose her name to match that of a “cool actress,” and it didn’t hurt that the moniker she chose shared the first three letters of her real name.
Dashi Li chose the name “Lee” simply to mimic the sound of his surname.
After several requests to rename herself due to her difficult Chinese name, Yuxin Guo named herself “Krystal” because she felt the name sounded pretty. Zipeng Liu’s uncle chose his English name “Nix” for him.
Responding to an English name is not a new concept for these students, who all have been learning the language since about the since grade. Current Chinese students will learn basic English as early as kindergarten, they said, which is when they typically are assigned an “English name” by their instructor, the majority of whom are foreign.
As one of the most fluent English speakers of the group, Shadow explained that foreign instructors need to know how to pronounce their students’ names properly in the classroom, so they will assign them generic English names that are easy to remember. Some foreign teachers even made this a requirement, although not many permitted students to choose their own names.
The UMPI students recalled that not all names chosen for them previously were liked by them. Xiaoyi Yang, who goes by “Jeremy” recalls one of his instructors giving him the name “Tom” in an earlier grade. Yang thought it was “a stupid name,” and changed it himself to “Alex” when he got to high school. Then for college, he changed his name again to Jeremy, after Jeremy Lin of the Houston Rockets basketball team.
Muchen Li was the only Chinese student present who turned down the use of an English name, saying his Chinese name was easy enough to pronounce that he didn’t feel it was necessary.
When asked how they felt about choosing an English name to replace their own, Shadow explained that they still use their Chinese names in most circumstances, such as when they are signing documents or filling out medical forms. The students still refer to each other by their Chinese names, but understand that choosing English names will improve their chances of being employed by a foreign company, or at least foreign management.
Xing Mu or “Johnny” explained that some companies, such as the global Hyatt hotel and resort firm, require all Chinese workers to use an English name, and was assigned his name while working for the company at age 22. He has maintained the name because he “enjoys its sound.” and it was easy for others to remember.
Along with having the freedom to choose their own English name if they want to at UMPI, the Chinese students said that living in Presque Isle offers them the freedom of being away from home, embellishing in whatever food and music they wish, as well as the freedom to make their own decisions in a free country. Some of the students said they enjoyed having the ability to share their own thoughts out loud without fear of repercussions. Several also mentioned they liked living in a far less noisy and crowded area than their native cities, where millions live.
Although the students joked politely about missing their Chinese cuisine, the convenient public transportation, and the support that family and friends nearby offered them, all eight students agreed they enjoy the quality of life in Presque Isle. They all stated they have enjoyed their time in Presque Isle, at the same time as they improved their English fluency, earned their American degrees, and shared their new English names with fellow American students and faculty.