I had known our receptionist as Lilu since I started working in the hotel till the day she came and told us she was not Lilu anymore but Ashley. At first I thought she was joking but after a few weeks got used to her new name and now can hardly believe that Ashley had ever been Lilu. However, Ashley has not only been Lilu but had at least one more name her Chinese parents had given her. As some foreign names sound weird to English speakers, immigrants are usually suggested to anglicize them if possible or, if not, take another one.
Being lucky to have got an international name, I had never thought about creating a new one for the purposes of living abroad. On the contrary, the first time in a foreign country I insisted on people calling me Masha as I had got used to it at home. It was later when I discovered that Masha sounded friendlier than the official Maria for me but not for everyone. Moreover, to my surprise it could even have bad associations in other languages. So after a girl told me my name was funny because it sounded like mashed potato, another said that in her native language it meant something like ‘poker’ and, finally, my Portuguese supervisor kindly suggested I stop using that ugly nickname while my original true name was so beautiful I gave up the idea of being Masha abroad. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
Meanwhile, some of my Maori and Polynesian colleagues have really unique names which their parents invented for them: Temukisa, Te Okeroa, Tarawhai, Winter, or Euphrate. Interestingly, most of these names sounds exotic not only for foreigners but for locals as well. There is no other Temukisa or Tarawhai among the friends or relatives of Temukisa and Tarawhai, and on asking why their parents chose such unusual names for them the answer was because their parents had a fantasy. As a result, it certainly took time for our international team to get used to Tarawhai, who at first was called ‘Ta’, ‘Tara’ or even ‘Terrified’. However, now it is hard to imagine another more beautiful and melodious name.
My husband also told me an interesting story. When his new Chinese colleague, who had recently moved to New Zealand, introduced her daughter to a local Child Care Centre using an English version of the Chinese name, the staff asked for her daughter’s native name. Never mind how hard and unusual it sounds, they would teach other children to pronounce the name correctly, as it is so important for a little girl to keep her own identity, on the one hand, and encourage other kids to become accustomed to difference, on the other.