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.
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!