Last week I went to an art show held at my last placement. It was great to see my former students and their families again as well as see the art projects I had helped the kids create come to fruition.
During the show I was chatting away to my Korean student‘s family who were excited about my move to Wellington. Though they pointed out that there aren’t many Koreans down that way so I wouldn’t get much of a chance to practice my Korean! As were chatting, naturally I talked about their child. The student had an English name that we use in class but it felt so wrong in the context of speaking Korean to continue using it so I reached for the student’s Korean name.
That split decision reminded me of what it must be like for so many of our learners to live in two separate worlds. The one world is that at home where they speak a different language, a different world view and even have a different name from the one they use at school. But should teachers be condoning this practice? Because using ‘English’ names as a replacement to a child’s name really, really bothers me.
I understand that there may well be compelling reasons for changing names to make life easier in a foreign country. I had a Korean name gifted upon me by my students which is a portmanteau of my surname and the Korean slang term for teacher. Because Korean has no ‘st’ or ‘f’ sounds my name is pronounced Seu -te -pa -ni. So alongside my Korean name sounding a bit nicer to my ears it is obviously a lot easier for Korean people to pronounce. So it is important to acknowledge that part of the reason children are given English names is so that teachers don’t lose face by mispronouncing a child’s name incorrectly.
There’s also the issue of teasing. I quietly suggested to a student who was going to America that he might want to change the transliteration from ‘Bum-Suk’ to ‘Beom-Sook’ to avoid problems. Likewise anyone named Jill might be advised to use their middle name if they are in the Land of the Morning Calm.
So I understand why some children might be given English names but to be honest I find neither of these reasons particularly compelling.
Because surely our classrooms and schools should be places where children are free to be their authentic self?
Shouldn’t that start by using a child’s real name?