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What’s the story of your name-in-translation?

Written By: daveski on March 16, 2010 10 Comments

At last Friday’s FIT afternoon get-together, as usual, the conversation careened between topics serious and inane, from the origins of the dirty joke (with plenty of examples) to a quick primer on the term “hermeneutics”. But, like Mike said, there are few places even in Berkeley where one can sit down with a group of people and just talk language, language learning, language teaching, language jokes, being multilingual, being nonlingual…

One topic that came up and barely had its surface scratched, so to speak, was the nature of translation as interpretation of texts–a practice that can involve refiguring a text in the Turkish language in one context into another text in the German language for another context/audience, for example, for sure. But in the process of thinking about how we gain true understanding in our studies and everyday lives, the idea came up that we might be involved in processes of translation even as we speak the ‘same’ language, trying to make meanings that come from one place make sense in another.

Perhaps one of the ways we can see translation at work is to think about our names–the names we have been given, the names we (try to) give ourselves, the names we resist, the names that thrill us when they’re coming from someone else’s mouth, or maybe they don’t sound quite right, the names we don’t even recognize in another tongue. Here on FIT we’ve had several posts about names-in-translation: Usree’s “What’s in a name?” comments on the story of the Republican legislator Betty Brown, who during House Elections Committee testimony almost a year ago, said that Asian-American voters should use names which are “easier for Americans to deal with”; aaminahm, in her “What’s in a name part 2?“, told the story of her own name(s), navigating various religious, cultural, and national histories. And a long time ago, daveski started (but hasn’t finished, tsk tsk!) the story of re-discovering his own name on a jar of Raspberry jam.

This week we thought we’d pick up where we’ve collectively left off and ask you, dear reader, to tell a little story of your name-in-translation: have you discovered a new identity in a different name, in a different language? Struggled to reclaim your own name from how it’s been used by others? Relished in the attention that your name brought you in another culture? Marveled at how those sounds uttered or written can signify you, a living, breathing person?

Please leave your story, short or long, as a comment to this post; of course, if you’re feeling up to it, you’d be most welcome to post it as your own post too. Hopefully we’ll get to know each other better, and maybe learn a thing or two about what it might mean to live in translation.

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10 Responses to “What’s the story of your name-in-translation?”

  1. Billette on: 16 March 2010 at 6:08 pm

    Oh, how I love this topic! I tend to rename those people who populate my intimate circle of friends. I want their newly dubbed names to reflect something of their original name, or even of a nickname which they might already have had. For example, I have a good friend named Chory (with an initial /k/ sound), but, given my penchant for all things French, he has become “Chorin” (with a voiceless fricative replacing the /k/ stop). Another: a friend Katie is called “Cheeky” by longtime friends because of her prominent cheekbones. And I have adapted to that “Chequé” (again with that French lens-thing).

    The most bizarre interpolations tend to occur with those closest to me, those with whom I share an intimate and long history. My lover has several names, the most common of which is S.T., although neither an “S” nor a “T” exists in his given name. In fact, whenever I refer to him by his given name, it feels odd and foreign to both of us. In those instances, the use of his given name marks my interlocutor as an outsider; that person doesn’t know the code shared among our intimates.

    Even the name that I have chosen to sign this post is one of these intimate names. I have several, most of which have some nod to French, and which are used by people who know me well or who enjoy a bit of linguistic word play. I identify the many, many names to which I respond with certain people as well as with certain aspects of my identity.

    So, what’s in a name? -markings of intimacy and foreignness; memories of people past and present; imprints of places; a personal and public history

    T Reply:

    Maybe the naming and renaming we engage in with our loved ones has to do with the phases in our relationship. Notice how it is weird to use their birth name, and it only happens when you are calling them out on something or when you are talking about them with someone else who knows them only as that.

  2. Aaminah on: 16 March 2010 at 9:24 pm

    I don’t really have nicknames for Aaminah, everyone just calls me that. Everyone of course except for Usree who calls me ammo, which I love. I think it represents me quite well for it is short for amunition. Aaminah on the other hand means faithful. My name is pronounced a-mean-uh, and spelled in Arabic Alif, meem, ya, noon, tamabutha. It can also be pronounced am-na which means a woman of peace and harmony, and is spelled without the ya. Because I spell it in English with two A’s a few native Arabic speakers have told me that it should be pronounced as the latter (which I think is ridiculous since Arabic and English letters are completely different). I have thought it just their way of being frustrated with non Arabic speakers (which of course I could discuss but it is an entirely different post). Personally, I am quite happy with my name and it’s spelling in both languages. I see myself as faithful ammo.

  3. Jodie on: 16 March 2010 at 11:07 pm

    My name is Jodie Martin. It is a relatively common name: there’s another Jodie Martin in my electoral district; there were two other Jodies in my year level at high school. However, “Jodie” is quite a foreign name in French, so when on exchange to France, I would frenchify it – softening the “J”, adjusting the vowels and even putting the emphasis on the second syllable rather than the first. Martin was also difficult, for although a common name in France, as an Australian I don’t pronounce my Rs very clearly.
    Consequently, one fine Thursday morning I rushed to an office between lectures to pick up a card. The lady asked my name and I told her. She asked me again three times and each time I told her again, getting more and more irritated. Finally in strongly accented English she asked me again, so I replied with my normal accent and then repeated with a French accent. My friends later pointed out to me that “Jodie Martin” sounds a lot like “jeudi matin” which is French for Thursday morning.
    I quite liked it and still use “Thursday” as a name from time to time.

  4. jessica on: 17 March 2010 at 12:34 am

    Jessica Maria Flores Palomino

    Jessica (pronounced Yessica) is the female version of Jesus (heh-soos). My neighbors back home call me Jesusa (pronounced heh-soo-sa).

    Maria is the virgin Mary’s (mother of Jesus) name in Spanish, and my grandmother’s name. (Socorro Maria, which translates to “Help Maria”… I also have an aunt name Dolores which translates to pain) I am not religious at all, but walk around with this name.

    At work people call me “Flowers” because my last name Flores translates to flowers. This is odd because everyone at my work speaks Spanish, but they insist on calling me the English translation of my last name. I like the way my name is pronounced in Spanish, so I put Yessica on my name tag. It reminds me of my mom yelling at me: YYYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSIIIIIIIIIIICCCCCCCCCCAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!! [insert Spanish curse words]

    And Palomino. A gold/tan/white horse.

    Hi, my name is Jesus [Virgin] Mary Flowers Golden Horse

  5. diana Arya on: 17 March 2010 at 12:55 am

    My entire name (Diana Jaleh Arya) is a buffet of identities for me . . . many Persian family members and acquaintances insist on using my middle name, evoking the part of me that understands bits of Farsi and how much sumac to sprinkle on rice. Then (ironically) comes my first name, which has been pronounced in two general ways: “Die-anne-ah” or “Dee-ahn-ah.” The latter pronunciation is used by most internationals, especially non-native speakers of English, thus making me feel a bit more cosmopolitan when I hear my name this way. But I never seem to hear “Dianne.” Dianne is a completely different name to me, so there’s something about the 3-syllable rhythm that’s crucial for me to recognize if someone is calling my name.

    And then there are the nicknames, which (I imagine has as much to do with my tiny size as it does with my laid-back personality) include: Di, D, little D, lady D, princess D (not as fond of this one) . . . also Oreo cookie (a spin off my last name), REO speedwagon (crazy tangent of the last name again, haven’t heard this since high school) . . . and of course the nicknames that relate directly to my size–shrimp, half-pint, etc.

    I’m generally cool with all these names, just as long the warmth is there. My Aunt Pat would be bummed if I didn’t include her names for me–little peanut and chicky gum drop . . . but no one but her gets to use those names.

  6. Tuller on: 18 March 2010 at 8:40 pm

    Thou shall not nickname thyself!

  7. Sharon Merritt on: 18 March 2010 at 9:51 pm

    I have always felt warmly towards my first name–Sharon–don’t ever call me “Sherry” (that’s a generational referent I never identified with–“Sherry Baby”). So when I first began learning Spanish in my fourth grade classroom, and Mrs. Wilson told us she would assign us Spanish names to use in class, I was so disappointed that she assigned the name Sarita to another girl named Sharon, and asked me what my middle name was (Anne). So from 4th-6th grades, I became Ana, even though I have never liked my middle name (and don’t even use my middle initial). Mrs. Wilson never explained why we could both be called Sharon, but couldn’t both be called Sarita, or why I couldn’t be Sara.

    In college, I became “Charon” among my Latin American friends, and was called something similar while living in Madrid. But when I moved to Galicia, I discovered that Gallego speakers also used the “sh” phoneme (represented by “X”), and so could pronounce my name just as I do. Home at last!

    When my daughter was born in Santiago de Compostela, we made sure we gave her a name that crossed languages, Emily, only to find out our friends associated it with “abuelitas”–grandmas–and insisted on calling her Emily since it sounded more youthful!

    These stories about names make me think of my experience with naming across languages and cultures as something like a mobius strip, turning in on itself, returning to where it begins.

  8. sirpa on: 19 March 2010 at 1:54 pm

    My Name is Sirpa

    May 4th is the nameday of Ruusu, Rose, and that’s also the day I was born on. In Finland, a calendar marks daily namedays, which are celebrated almost as much as birthdays. When I was a little girl, I complained all the time about not having been named Ruusu. Later, I thanked God for my parents not messing this one up. Only cows are named Ruusu in Finland.
    My second complaint arose when I heard that they had actually planned to name me Maijastina. I was convinced my life would have been very different as a Maijastina. I would have climbed the old oak tree to sit & hide on a thick branch to write poetry. I’d been a dreamy princess with long, blond flowing hair admired and cherished by everyone. The kind of character all the girls’ books I devoured told stories about.
    But no, my conventional – but at the same time modern – parents named me Sirpa. Sirpa was a new name that had been added to the calendar, the official list of names proper enough for pastors to baptize a baby with, just two years prior to my birth. I never really liked my name. I almost felt that the name twisted my personality to fit it. Sirpa with that strong Finnish R must be active and outgoing. There’s nothing wimpy about Sirpa. Sirpa can do anything.
    Later, when I started contemplating on my name, I became convinced that it comes from the noun, sirpale – meaning a shattered piece of glass. And I like that. How appropriate. I am a sirpale – shattered pretty much every day, needing help to smooth the edges, to polish the glass, to pick it up from the ground. I have to remember to tell my mom that they didn’t choose so badly after all. – And I did get Maijastina in the family, too. That’s what we named our first-born.

  9. Nicko on: 22 March 2010 at 5:37 pm

    My name is Nicolas.

    That used to be a very common given name during the 80’s in France. So common, that I remember that we were 3 Nicolas in the same class when I was in middle school. That was not very practical for the teacher! The short for Nicolas in France is Nico, so that’s how my friends used to call me.

    Before going abroad, I never really thought about my name. The turning point happened when I went to the US when I was 15. I remember that I wasn’t really sure if I should pronounce my name like in French “Nicolas” with a silent “S” at the end or if I should adapt it to the English pronunciation by vocalizing the “S” at the end. That slight change was making quite a difference for me and being called “Nicolassssss” sounded quite odd. But finally, I decided to use the “English version” of my name to make it easier for English speakers to remember it. Back then, some people used to call me “Nick” which I didn’t really like since it sounds like a swear word in French! I remember telling them to call me “Nicko” instead of “Nick”.

    The first time I went to Korea, I used to use the “English version” of my name with Koreans. Koreans would pronounce it and spell it “니콜라스” (Nikolaseu) emphasizing even more the final “s”. Then, I realized that pronouncing my name that way, wasn’t really going to help the Koreans to remember it, so I decided to go back to the “French version” of my name which sounds more or less like “니꼴라” (Nikkola) in Korean. Sometimes, I would even make some jokes saying that my name was actually “이꼴라” (Lee Kkola) to make it sounds like a Korean name (Names in Korea are made of three syllables, the first one is for the family name and the given name are usually made of two syllables). I also like better the “French version” of my name in Korea because it always sounds funny for Koreans “Ni-Kola” literally means “you are a coke”. Some of my friends would say that I should change my name for “나사이다” (Na-Saida) which literally means “I’m a cider”… It sounds kind of silly and childish in English, but whenever I say that pun to Korean, they love it!

    Names in different languages can sometimes be a funny thing!

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