English Nicknames

plant-names-graphic1.jpgGdog’s recent post at the Daily Kimchi about receiving a Korean name as well as EFL Geek’s post from some time ago on the topic of nicknames together bring up an interesting topic. [sidenote: I do like EFL Geek’s strategy described here, in the context of a kids hagwon where teachers were required to give nicknames: “In order to entertain myself and avoid as many repeat names as possible I named the kids after characters in TV shows. I had the entire cast of The A-Team, Threes Company, Different Strokes, The Facts of Life, Family Ties, Growing Pains, and Seinfeld. I don’t think I would do that again, but it was fun at the time.” I would just point out that he seems to have neglected the Brady Bunch.]

When I learned French, I was first “Catherine” and second “Noelle”. I liked these names a lot and it was fun to “feel French” and hear French names being called out.

Lots of Korean and perhaps other Asian students take on English nicknames. The reasoning behind it probably depends, but often it is to make things easier for the teacher. I will concede that it’s easier to remember English names than foreign ones. But a couple of Slovak Juraj’s have told me to call them George, and it just seems silly to me: that’s not their name. And I confess: I like saying foreign names. It makes me feel worldly.

And another consequence I discovered when I taught a debate class in Chicago, in which perhaps three-quarters of my mainly Korean group had English nicknames. Our class consisted of Sammy, DJ, Dragon (okay, not really so English), Fiona, Erik, Eric and some others. Looking at the attendance list, or later the grade reports, which contained their real names, I literally had no idea who those names belonged to. Each week I would write their nicknames on the list, and each week a fresh list came so I could do that again.

All that said, I asked my debate class (and another class which, honestly, I didn’t really like) to give me a Korean nickname. The class I liked came up with “Ji Hee”: woman of wisdom! That’s right, I’m okay with people sucking up to me. The group I didn’t really like gave me a name they called – using their electronic translators – “rustic”: Mija? It was a joke that farmers would give a set of names to their five daughters all ending in –ja. So it was a hillbilly name, I guess.

Do you give your students English names, or do they take them? What names have you taken – or what names would you like?