After a decade teaching in China, I still am amused with language blunders. Even my best students routinely confuse mouth with mouse, think auto-theft is a car that steals, itself and wonder if God’s son, cheeses, is Swiss or American.
Well, their mouth mayhem inspired my first children’s book:
Never Pick a Cool Name and Other United Mistakes of America by Refrigerator Ng.
Refrigerator is my nom de plume.
The story is about a boy, Ng Xiao Qi, who needs to pick a new cool name when his parents send him to America to go to school. The story is full of word confusion and homophones that are particularly troubling for Chinese students earning English. As for the name made from a jumble of high point Scrabble letters, Ng Xiao Qi?
It was inspired by a tongue-twisting name on my class roster.
And just how to pronounce Ng Xiao Qi?
Well, read the story!
Even after ten years in China, I still rely on my phone to translate. That’s why my phone backs up files into the heavens instead of the cloud.
Yet, online translators have come along way since my Chinese name 麦静洁 backward translated into Pure and Peaceful Hamburger Bun. My name at the time was MacDonald, like the hamburger chain, which uses the same Chinese character, “wheat” 麦 in their name 麦当劳. Wheat 麦 is also the first character in 麦静洁. Hence, my name is Hamburger Bun 麦 followed by Pure 静 and Peaceful 洁.
Others call me Professor Vegetable as Ginger 姜is not associated with a castaway on Gilligan’s Island or Fred Astaire’s dance partner, but a pungent root used in local cuisine.
Never Pick a Cool Name and Other United Mistakes of America is available at Amazon.com.
It’s a must have for any child who has the courage to tackle a new tongue, whether it’s Chinese or English. The bilingual text was translated into Chinese by my partner in crime and fashionista, Levy Li, another amazing teacher in Kunming, China.
Most important of all, Never Pick A Cool Name is dedicated to all of my amazing students who have the courage to learn English, which is jerry-rigged language full of impossible rules and exceptions.
As for picking a “Cool” American Name for your new Chinese Student?
It is routine for native English speaking teachers in China to give their students American names. That’s why there are so many Davids in the Chinese classroom. Missionaries disguising as teachers usually pick a biblical name, quickly blowing their cover.
If a student asks for a name recommendation, I will tend to pick an author, such as Hemmingway or Steinbeck but not Faulkner, since a slip of the tongue can turn it into f@#k.
Other ideas for names include inventors or history makers, such as Jobs or Armstrong.
Selecting a Girl Name for a Chinese Student
If you are given the responsibility of giving a Chinese girl an American name, I encourage you to look outside of the Disney realm. Female role models such as Amelia Earhart or Pearl Buck or Harper Lee are the red-woods of names, symbolizing both strength and endurance.
What to do if a child has picked a name that could lead to problems:
I’ve had one Yahweh and one Harry Kok, but not in the same classroom. Harry was encouraged to turn his name choice to Charles. I didn’t mess with Yahweh’s fearing I’d be struck by lightning. Recently, I have an Umbrella. When his father was asked about the unusual name choice, he replied that he wanted a name that symbolized “protector”. Good thing he didn’t pick condom. Umbrella’s classmates are not teasing at all.
If a name does lead to snickering:
- First, ask the Chinese student why they picked their English name.
2. Ask the student to teach you how to pronounce their given name. This will be challenging as Chinese has more ways to pronounce a Z than you can imagine. But think of how many new words your Ng Xiao Qi has to learn every day.
But who am I to laugh? I have been called Professor Vegetable as Ginger is as weird of a name in China as Refrigerator is in the USA.
Available at Amazon.com
A Writers Digest Writing Competition Winner. I know. It’s not a Newbery, but the sticker still rocks.
Never Pick a Cool Name and Other United Mistakes of America By Refrigerator Ng
千万别取个“太冷”的名字 吴· Refrigerator 初访美利坚合众国之误会合集