What's in a Name?


This unit revolves around the most frequently used item in social interaction--- the name. Although names and addressing someone seem common and simple, they're quite culturally sensitive. Both Chinese and English cultures have different conventions and values about naming and addressing a person.

The proper use of kin terms (亲属称谓)shows different expectations of interpersonal relationships in various cultures.

Main Ideas

1. English Names

a. Most English people have three names: first name (given name, Christian name), middle name, and last name (family name,surname).

b. The Last name tells the position of the surname, the family name is what a surname represents, surname means a name upon one's own name.

c. The Christian name originates from people's belief in Christianity and the traditional practice of giving babies their names in a special ceremony in church known as 'christening' (教名).

d. The combination of the initial letters of the names may accidentally spell an uncomplimentary word, a word which is never used.

e. Shortened forms of the first name or the last name are commonly used among friends and colleagues, and are termed "nicknames". The name Robert MacDonald could have a couple different examples for potential nicknames - Bob for Robert and Mac for MacDonald.

2. Sources of English Names

Place of identity: Some names indicate where the person came from, e.g., Norman, Moor, Hall, Chesterfield, and Wood.

Occupation: Cook, Clark, Tailor, Smith, Turner, Butler, Thatcher, Chandler, and Cooper

Family relationships: Surnames were also coined from first names to indicate family relationships, as Robertson, Donaldson , MacDonald, O'Patrick, Watkins, Thomas

Ethnic identity: English names: the name plus "son", as Robertson, Donaldson, Watkinson, Thompson; Scottish names: "Mac", or "Mc" added before the name, as MacDonald; Irish names : "O" placed before the name, as O'Patrick.

Personal characteristics: Long, Little, Young, Moody, Fox, Brown, Rich, and Newman

3. Some Commonly Used English Titles

In less formal settings, it's usual for people meeting for the first time to use first names straight away, regardless of any difference in ages or status.

Mr: plus the surname, a respectful term of address to a man

Mrs: plus the surname, a respectful term of address to a married woman

Miss: plus the surname, used for any unmarried woman. It's very commonly used. But children often address schoolmistresses simply "Miss" without adding their surnames, regardless of whether they are single or married.

Ms: plus the surname, for any married or unmarried woman, especially when one's marriage status is not certain.

Sir/Madam: used to address a man or woman, usually used only by someone providing a service such as a shop assistant to a customer or a policeman to a public person.

Mack/Buddy: used to casually address a friend in America

Mate: used to casually address a friend in Britain and Australia.

Guys: used to address a group of friends in America. It's a collective informal term. " Hey guys, let's go this way"

Dear, darling, love, honey, sweetheart: These are a number of terms of endearment.

4. Some Inherited English Titles

Lord: used before most peers' names, as in "Lord Emsworth"

Sir: used as a knighthood title, put in front of the holder's name. It is not inherited but honoured by the Queen .

Other titles awarded by the Queen are indicated by adding the initials of the award after the surname, as "Mr Adam Johnson , OBE (Order of the British Empire)"

5. Some Commonly Used Chinese Titles

同志 Tong Zhi (Comrade): usually used between any male or female. It is still widely used but diminishing nowadays.

师傅 Shi Fu (Master): traditionally used to address a skilled worker, now often used to identify any unknown, ordinary person of either sex providing services, especially people middle-aged or older. It's commonly used now.

小姐X iao Jie (Miss): to some young ladies, married or not , especially those offering service, such as a waitress, shop assistant, air hostess, etc. It's becoming more and more popular now.

先生 Xian Sheng (Mister/sir): a respectful term of address to any known or unknown learned persons, usually males, common in both written and spoken Chinese.

老师 Lao Shi (Teacher): a respectful term of address to a teacher or a learned person, either male or female. If used to address a known person, it's often used with the surname. Very commonly used in schools and universities.

6. Cultural Differences in Using Kin Terms

In China kin terms are not only used within one's own family but also to other people, known or unknown. The appropriate use of kin terms may reflect a person's politeness, respectfulness, and friendliness. What's more, the kin terms can easily distinguish between paternal and maternal relatives, and between relatives according to birth order. Normally children address their relatives with the title only. Addressing relatives by their first names without adding a title would be regarded as impolite and disrespectful in China.

However, in Britain kin terms are mainly confined to family members, though some families still keep the tradition of having children use kin terms when addressing adults who are close neighbours and family friends.

For instance: In Britain children address their parents' brothers and sisters with the title of Uncle or Aunt plus their first names, or simply by their names without adding a title. The kin terms do not tell whether they are from their father or mother's side, nor whether they are older or younger than their father or mother.

Both in Britain and in China, the easy and safe way for a son/daughter -in-law to address the parent-in-law after having children, is to address them as grandma and grandpa.

7. Avoid Using Sexist Language

Sometimes the use of particular words can support unfair or untrue attitudes towards a particular sex, usually women. For example using the pronoun he to refer to a doctor, when you don't know if the person is male or female, might support the belief that it's not normal for women to be doctors. Today many people speaking or writing English prefer to avoid using sexist language. This modern non-sexist use of language is sometimes called inclusive language.

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