By Aishita Shukla/India-China Chronicle
It was my first day in Mandarin class, and the teacher asked me my name. The Next day, she gave us Chinese names, and we were barely able to pronounce them ourselves! It seemed funny at first. But it was only when I landed in China that I realized having a Chinese name made things so much simpler.
Making friends at the university started by knowing the English name of the Chinese, and them knowing my Chinese name. One may assume that the Chinese name given to us would somehow indoctrinate us into being Chinese. But such was not the case. It was when they offered their English name that you realized that they too understood the difficulty faced by foreigners in pronouncing and remembering their native names.
But the Chinese amazed me further. I found that when in India, they happily integrated themselves into the local culture by giving themselves Indian names. For example, the India head of a mobile gadget giant company likes to be called Vivek – so much so that it’s his name on LinkedIn too! I was amused by this pragmatism of the Chinese. In addition to convenience, it also sounds like a good business strategy to enter into non-English speaking markets.
In the same way, the head of a Chinese multinational in telecommunications equipment has taken on a popular Indian name – Rajiv. I discovered that this way of doing business in India makes the Chinese more culturally acceptable among their clients, business associates and most importantly, their Indian colleagues in their daily interactions.
We are in the era of globalization, where there is need for greater oneness. We must break the barriers of culture and language, by learning more languages and exploring their cultures. I was an exchange student at Tsinghua University in China. I was surprised when many of my fellow students asked me to give them Indian names. They were highly enthusiastic about it. That’s when I got to know the sense of belonging that the name created. It was a great way to enhance people-to-people interaction.
I had a similar experience when a group of students from China visited our university for an exploratory trip. It was their first time in India, and they made the most of it by making many enquiries about the local culture, language, food and attire. For me, the most memorable time of their visit was the time they gave me the meaning of their Chinese name, and asked me to give them an Indian name with similar meaning.
One of them said the meaning of his name is ‘kind’, so I gave him the name ‘Daya’, meaning kindness in Hindi. Having an Indian name excited him so much that he changed his WeChat account name, and prefixed Daya to it. It was then that I observed how happy it made all them to have an Indian name – it gave them a sense of inclusivity. I saw our cultural borders dissolve when I called him Daya for the rest of the group’s visit. And they called me ‘Aida’ .
(Aishita Shukla is an Associate at India China Economic Council. Holding a Bachelors in Economics and Masters in International Relations, she has studied deeply in the area of economic development in China. She was a general scholar visiting student at Tsinghua University, Beijing in 2017. She has also been pursuing mandarin as a foreign language over 2 years. She has previously worked as a research fellow in rural projects related to economic development.)