When I was at Food – a fact of life many years ago, one of those fun projects was to create some ‘Learn with…’ thematic food stories which the food levy boards. One of these stories actually featured my own meme – it’s called The Exciting Guests which talk about exchange students from China who also brought with them aspects of Chinese food culture.
It’s commonplace for those of Chinese ethnicity who grew up in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia have both a Chinese name, and an additional ‘English’ name – not only in an anglicised version of the Chinese name. It reflects the colonial history which had shaped the daily life and mindset of many, and it’s hardly about conforming and being westernised – something which have been discussed extensively – but also the complicated history of these places which went through quite a huge cultural shift to assimilate to the colonial administration.
You’d see both ‘Name in Chinese’ and ‘Name in English’ when filling out any kind of forms as this is a generally accepted norm. But this trend had only happened rather recently – so it would be very uncommon for grandparents’ generation to have English names – unless they were of a higher social class.
But since my parents’ time , many people in the crown colony of Hong Kong had started to adopt an English name in addition to their Chinese birth names. Both my mum and dad were ‘given’ English first names by their English teachers important especially in faith schools where a lot of them used English as a medium of instruction.
So when our generation came along in the 1980s, even more of us would have both names at birth. In Chinese, our surname comes first. Like many from large families (my father was one of nine), I took the character of my generation which is 「植」’Chik – to nurture’ that’s why all my cousins have the same middle character too. The last letter of my Chinese name is really my given name which is 「芝」’Chi – also means Lingzhi‘, a precious Chinese plant with traditional medicinal properties.
My friends from school have always only referred to me as ‘Georgine’ as I went to an English school so my Chinese name was only used during Chinese lessons. It was during university when I used my Chinese name more often and come to realise yes lots of people have additional English names for their friends and social life, but many of them still retained their Chinese name only when it comes to official records (think transcripts etc.)
Now looking back and a little older, I am even more appreciative of my Chinese name – one that reflects my own culture and family roots. That’s why I decided to combine my English and Chinese names as @GEORGINECHIKCHI when I started blogging and for my social media accounts. Perhaps my elders must have foreseen my future career in the world of food and health!