First Days In China
I don’t know anything about China and its people. I am just a passerby who is trying to learn and understand their ancient culture… after barely a week of living among them. I have started teaching English as a Second Language at an international school just today. I was following my coordinator to be able to find my classrooms, but she also stayed with me to help me with the Chinese names. Nevertheless it wasn’t only that I couldn’t read nor pronounce any of their names, the issue was that I had to re baptize them.
We went to my first classroom, I greeted the students in English, told them my name and tried to write it down on a blackboard (it’s been a while since I’d seen one of those), the piece of chalk broke with my first attempt, they laughed, I looked at them offering a weak “Namaste” (I know, wrong culture), and tried again, successfully this time.
Elina, my coordinator, told me, “I’m going to call out their names, and if they don’t have an American name you give them one.” I looked at her with disbelief. I had to “give them an American name”, that is a lot of power.
What My Name Means
I had a little flashback. My name is Kurma, but my parents called me “Kerma” all my life. I never understood why they’d change the pronunciation of the first syllable of my name when in Spanish the vowels are always pronounced the same. When I asked my mother, she said, “Your name is German”, and I went by this for years until my eighth grade teacher told me that in German as in Spanish the vowels are pronounced the way they are written. But my parents, friends, and relatives called me “Kerma’, and I was perfectly happy with that, getting aggravated every time some silly acquaintance dared to called me “Kurma” with a u. Only when I visited the United States for the first time I understood. They called me something very close to “Kerma” at immigration . It is because the vowel “u” changes to the phonetic sound [^] when between consonants. Understanding this was huge. Also, at the first school I had the privilege to work, I bumped into the definition of my name in a small book. It has to do with one of the reincarnations of Vishnu in the shape of a giant turtle in order to churn the ocean of milk and find the chalice of eternal youth. From then on it didn’t bother me to be called “Kurma” with a u because that is the phonetic sound in my mother tongue and in sanskrit too; then in English, they use the [^] which sounds very close to “Kerma” so I have allowed myself to be identify with these variations of my name. But I draw the line here. Do not call me “Karma” or “Kermit”… THAT-IS-NOT-MY-NAME!!
Incarnation of Vishnu as a Turtle
|Affiliation||Turtle God and second Avatar of Vishnu|
Lord Vishnu Has ten Avatars, of which this is the second
Going back to my Chinese pupils. I felt it was a big responsibility to have to choose a name for them. If I were them, I don’t think I’d give them permission to call me by a Chinese name because in my small opinion there is a sacredness, uniqueness, semantics, and blessing that come with that word or set of words bestowed upon you sometimes even before the moment of your birth.
Know your strengths and limitations, and open your boundaries to make your bother’s/sister’s life lighter. In the United States I had a handful of Chinese students who told me they had chosen an American name, but since that name was the one in their progress report I didn’t think so much of it until now. I am humbled by the gift my students offered with both hands open. They resign to their names so that I (or any other foreign teacher) have a lighter burden. I am unable to speak their language so they help me by giving me the power to name them the way that is easier for me.
It was a pretty interesting exercise. Some expressed they already had American names, and though a few times they didn’t seem appropriate, my gift to them was to let them keep their chosen name. As far as for the others, I looked at them briefly and asked myself “What American name do you look like?” And I came out with a name for each one of them, without repeating, even when the classes are as big as 42 students. Thomas, Kevin, Alan, Lily, Jenny, John, Charles, Emma, Elizabeth… They are respectful, they listen, they follow instructions, and most importantly, they are very excited about their learning!!
I have bestowed them with a name, and in return they allow me to give them my gift. The gift of teaching.
Blessings to China!! ❤