Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Monday, November 15, 2004

Anne Marie wanted some clarification about the piece I wrote on November 6th. She was wondering about "Lao Wang." Everyone on the trail has a nick name, so Judy called me Lao Wang, because my Chinese name is Wang, and Lao is a term applied to someone older than yourself. It means Old.

When I was told, in Arizona, that I needed to have a Chinese name, I wasn't sure how to go about it, because the typical approach is to come up with an assortment of characters, the sound of which roughly approximates one's English name. But the meaning could be quite different, and often ridiculous. In my case, I concluded that a name like Eric Langager would be pretty hard to reduce to a three sylable phonetic, and by the time I did, it wouldn't sound anything like my name anyway, so I decided to just translate it directly.

The Japanese name "Nagano" is a direct literal translation of "Langager." So I asked Ina how to pronounce the Chinese characters for "Nagano." It is pronounced "Chang-ye." Eric means king, so that would be Wang in Chinese. Therefore, my Chinese name is Wang Chang-ye (王长野). Problem is that in China, Wang is a family name and Chang-ye is a given name, so my first name is my last name, and my last name is my first name.

I don't use my Chinese name very often. Most people call me "Eric." My students call me "Eric." My colleagues call me "Eric." My friends call me "Eric." But Beihang is a very Chinese university. I do need to have a Chinese name for some purposes. Actually a Chinese name is really designed for Chinese folks who don't speak English. When I meet people in Beijing who don't speak English, and hand them my business card, they appear very uncomfortable. They want to be polite, but they are at a complete loss as to how to address me. But when they see the Chinese side of my business card, with my Chinese name, I can see them relax immediately. What's interesting is that the next time I meet them, they are speaking perfect English: "Good evening, Professor Wang."

But how about this: If you didn't know any of what I just told you, and you wanted to derive my English name by translating my Chinese name, then my English name would be Longfield King. I don't know what I think about it

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