‘Hi, this is Jackie, can i speak with Joanna please?’ ‘Hi, this is Dior. My name is no longer Joanna. Can you call me Dior from now on?’
Joanna, aka Dior, had been a friend of a friend from Hong Kong who had offered me a break in waitressing. I figured she must have become a fan of Christian Dior since I last spoke with her a week or so before. It’s not uncommon for the Overseas Chinese to adopt western names. But these honkies as I call them (yes, I know honky is meant to refer to whites) take this whole name thing to a crazy level, I thought.
And it’s not just me – just Google it and see for yourself – some first names taken from HK publications and business cards include – Lancelot, Wanky, Hitler, Churchill, Superman, Morpheus, Nausea, Raccoon, Oreo, Alien, Princeton and my personal favourite, Chlorine.
My own adoption of a Christian name came about when I was about 12 years old. I’d had to live with an oft-mispronounced/mis-spelled Chinese name my whole life. It didn’t help that in a dominantly Cantonese sub-culture, most girls with my name (Min Nyok) had it spelled the Cantonese way, ie. Ming Yoke. My teachers often struggled with it as well; calling me variously Min York or better still, Min Yuck. From there, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to come up with one of my nicknames – ‘Minyak’ (Malay for ‘oil’). Thanks to my chunkiness as a kid, my stepmom sometimes teased me with ‘Choo Nyok’, ie. ‘Pork’ in Hakka – ironic since I’ve always hated pork.
My older sister had just settled on her own Christian name after a couple of false starts, so I asked her for suggestions. We’d been attending church for awhile and she came up with something appropriately pious – ‘How about Grace?’ – she said – as in, by the grace of God. I considered it at length – it sounded relevant, and it wasn’t as if I’d been exposed to too many Western names at that stage. In the end, I decided against it – it just wasn’t ‘me’.
I was a voracious reader of magazines at that age, and my favourite was a UK publication aimed at teenage girls, called ‘Jackie’. I used to buy every issue religiously and would chase up my Indian newsagent when it was late arriving at the newsstand. I even ordered back issues from years prior, which he would bundle up in cling wrap and save for me. All the way from England.
So, I thought, well, Jackie – why not? I was worried my school teachers wouldn’t acknowledge it since it wasn’t listed on my birth certificate, but funnily enough, they were all too happy to adopt it – I think they were frankly relieved not to have to struggle with my Chinese name any longer.
And so it came to be, that I became Jackie Tang (and not, by the grace of God, Grace Tang). One of my friends told me once that her older sister had seen me at the newsstand – and she quoted her saying in amusement – ‘I saw Jackie reading Jackie the other day’ – if only she knew, I thought.