Monday, November 12, 2007

A nose by any other name would still smell.

Warning: If you wince at the sound of the Chinese language being mangled, do not read any further. (Then again, if you wince at that, you probably shouldn't be reading this blog in the first place.)

Question: How does one go about getting a Chinese nickname?

Background: As most of you know, I've been learning Mandarin. Slowly. With a terrible American accent. But learning nevertheless. And as I learn about the actual meanings of words I've seen before (like my name, for instance) I can't help but think "man, these could be more amusing."

So. Armed with a dictionary and utter lack of regard for tradition, here goes.

Current name: Cai Jia Ling (蔡佳铃) - good ringing-of-a-bell. Or "nice-sounding chiming from a bunch of jade pieces thwacking together." Something in that vein.

Personally, I like the (inevitably over-romanticized in novelizations, I'm sure) Native American tradition of adolescents being given new names upon their passage to adulthood, names that convey something important to know about the person. Unfortunately, "If-you-cannot-find-her-just-look-in-a-library-or-at-the-nearest-computer" is a little long, and sounds terrible ("jia ru ni pu ke yi fa jue ta...")

Let's try some reasonable criteria here to narrow down the field. Let's say... must sound phonetically alike, even to the point of sticking to the "proper" tones: cai4 jia1 ling2.

And look how much more entertaining this is! 菜加零 ("adding zero vegetables") It's more appropriate for my brother the carnivore, though; I personally enjoy vegetarian food and tend to cook mostly without meat when I'm home. Also, I'm not entirely sure I want my name to be Bad-Luck-Vegetables. It has the lyrical sound of impending botulism.

For the sake of not being confusing, I think I should keep my last name. But I still don't think I'm a bell. Or a belle, for that matter. "Lovely tinkling" sounds way too girly for my taste, and I haven't even reached the Age of the Shrinking Bladder yet.

So how about these?

蔡佳聆 = good-listener Chua (never mind the severe high-frequency bilateral whatsit; you don't need to hear consonants anyway)

蔡加昤 = adding-sunshine Chua (mmm, optimism. and vitamin D.)

蔡家零 = brains-of-the-house Chua (this title rightfully belongs to mom, though)

蔡佳领 = quality-leader Chua (see? I'd rather be a leader than a bell.)

And my personal favorite,

蔡加零 = Chua+0 (no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives either.)

Since any native Mandarin speaker will probably stare at me in befuddlement and horror if I use any of these "names" - or more to the point, since my parents and at least one of my grandparents would likely object, I'm sticking with "Hey, Those Expensive Green Stones Sound Great When You Hit Them!" for now.

But really - why be a bell when you can be a mathematical statement?

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