What’s In A Name?

My given name is Shin Tien. Back in Malaysia, everyone was accustomed to the fact that it is common for Chinese to have two given names. All my friends call me Shin Tien. Family and closer friends calls me Tien. In mandarin, Tien sounds exactly like “sweet”. Its like being called “sweetie” all the time. Bliss.

In New Zealand however, when I introduced myself, they start to call me Shin. They think that’s my first name. It’s not cool.

It’s like calling Michael, Mike. Okay bad example.

It’s like calling Jennifer, Jenn. Scrap that.

It’s like calling Michelle, Mich. (Damnit.)

It’s like calling Sharon, Sha. (Aha!) Or Carol as Ca. Or David as Da.

You get the drift.

So I decided to just introduce myself as Tien. AKA Sweetie.

Anyway, I digress.

Many weeks ago Terry and I were invited to his colleague Christopher’s Chinese wedding banquet.

Naturally, his entire guest list are of his Chinese friends and family. It was a small affair with only 40 attendees. We were seated at a round table of mostly strangers. As such, this gentleman offered to conduct a short ice breaker around the table. Each one of us was to introduce our names one by one as prompted.

And so John started with himself, his wife Tina, then Jennifer, Michael, David, Peter, Natasha, Anne, Mary then Terry and…..Tien.

With an amused look, John asked in mandarin, “You don’t have an English name?”

“Umm no”, I said with a smile.

“Really??!! No Kiwi name??”

At this point, he sounded slightly puzzled. Like it’s almost unacceptable for a Chinese to not have an English name in New Zealand.

Then there was an awkward silence as the other guests waited for me to blurt out a Kiwi-sounding name somehow.

“Yes, really. I love my name a lot, see”, I said with another smile, hoping to just dismiss the fact that really, I am just Tien.

Immediately after I said it, it dawned on me that I have just imposed that the entire table consisted of people who are so ashamed of their given Chinese names they have to choose an English name of their own!

I didn’t mean to offend, I really do love my name. And I understand the fact that having an English name just makes it so much easier to introduce yourselves to native English speakers. That’s why Terry is Terry in New Zealand.

Fortunately, the whole ordeal was quickly forgotten when the amazing 12-course meal was served. And I ate like four servings of dessert. FOUR! Consider that my punishment for not having a Kiwi name!


12 comments on “What’s In A Name?

  1. chris says:

    Hi Tien,
    Great post! Bravo for staying with the name you love. In Vietnamese, depending on the tone, your name means a) an immortal or celestial being, a fairy. b) to move forward, progress, advance. c) money. d) convenience. Take your pick. 🙂
    Interesting, the way some people feel they must change their names to fit in or be comfortable, while others are fine with the names they already have. I’ve collected a variety of names on my travels through life, but mostly, I am just Chris.

  2. D... says:

    Teehee, a lot of Asians get the two names. Sometimes it’s just easier. I was given two names, one English (actually it’s French) and that’s the one on my birth certificate, and one that is Chinese that no one uses. But I really don’t care what folks call me, as long as it’s not meant as an insult.

    • Tien says:

      True, I also know of Eurasians with English names which they use and also CHinese names of which families and close friends call them by.

  3. I love your name. I think you should call yourself whatever you feel happy calling yourself.

  4. Claire says:

    Sounds exactly like ‘sweet’ in mandarin but what does it really mean? I’m the only one on my dad’s side with a given English name. Mom insisted on it because grandpa gave me such a traditional name, even she couldn’t figure out how to pronounce it properly (let alone others) 😛

    But then again she never foresaw that people would have problems pronouncing Claire in Malaysia HAHAHA

    • Tien says:

      My mom told me she named me the first word of a phrase which means serene, peaceful and quiet. Who knew, I grew up to be loud and talkative haha! Really? What did they call you? Clay-ree? I have a friend Pauline who always gets called “Pau-lee-ner”….unbelievable!!

      • Claire says:

        Oh goodness you wouldn’t believe what a challenge “Claire” is. The more popular ones I’ve had Kreh, Clay, Craree, Clairee and Keh (sounds a bit like care). Even the nurses at the doctor’s clinic stares at my patient card for a good 30 seconds as she tries to form “Claire” in her head then she proceeds to giving up and calling me by my Chinese name – which is also mispronounced half of the time.

        But yeah. You’ve got a nice name and it’s such a great thing that you’re proud of it. Screw the Asian westerner wannabes who insist on an English name just so they don’t sound Asian 🙂

  5. I think it’s great you stick with your name! Mine is shortened everywhere which annoys me. I’ll accept Vicky but I don’t like Vic 🙂

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