Monday, August 30, 2010

Learning about Immigrant Students' Names

With the school year just starting, we want to think about how we register immigrant students in our schools. Here are some hints about names from different cultures. All guidance counselors and school secretaries who register new students should be aware to the varying naming conventions.

Avoid the temptation to Americanize a student’s name or create a nickname. Immigrant students have already suffered the trauma of leaving behind their extended family members, friends, teachers, and schools. Don’t further traumatize your students by calling them by an American name. If the child comes to school with an Americanized name, there is not much you can do, but the school should never Americanize a student’s name. It is important to learn how names are used in your students’ culture. Here are a few examples:

1. Korean names are written with the family name (Kang) first and then the given name (Chung Hee) which usually has two parts. Two-part names should not be shortened. Also, Kang Chung Hee’s mother does not take her husband’s name, but she retains her own family name.
2. In general, children from Spanish-speaking families have a given name followed by two surnames. The first surname is the father’s family name, and the second surname is the mother’s family name. Schools should not drop either of these surnames. If a child registers as Maria Hernandez Lopez, both the Hernandez and Lopez and should be retained. Spanish-speaking families who have lived in the United States awhile will often either hyphenate the double surname or use the father’s family name.
3.Because Hindu names are often very long, family members and friends may shorten a child’s name. In school, however, teachers use the formal names. Hindu adults and children do not call anyone who is older by their name. A six-year-old girl will call her seven-year-old brother “Bhaiya” or “Older Brother” and he calls her by her first name.
4. Chinese names are usually made up of three characters. The first character is the family name, and the other two characters are the given name. Families generally give their children two names. One name is a nickname to be used by friends and family and the other is an official name used for the birth certificate and the school. Students are usually called by their full name in school, but friends and close relatives may use just the given name. One of the readers of this blog wrote to tell me that sometimes a student might have just one character for their given name. However, if the student does have two characters for their given name, both of them are used. You wouldn't use just one part of a two-part given name.
5. In Russia, children have three parts to their names: a given name, a patronymic, and the father’s surname. A patronymic is a type of middle name based on the father’s first name. If a student named Marina Viktorevna Rakhmaninova enrolls in your school, you can tell that her father’s name is Victor. The “a” at the end of all three names shows that she is female. In American schools, Russian students will often use their given and family names following American custom.


Anonymous said...

As a teacher of Chinese students, I would have to disagree with your generalization. You are correct in that the first character is the family surname; however, sometimes the student might have just one character for their given name (for example ZHANG Han 张涵). However, if the student does have two characters for their given name, both of them are the given name (for example WANG YiBin 王逸斌). His first name is Yibin; using just one of the characters would be like calling someone named Frank "Fra"

everythingESL said...

I wrote this description of Chinese naming traditions with the help of a Chinese friend who works at the United Nations. I will add your information to the article so that it is more complete. Thank you for the input.

Anonymous said...

The problem I have encountered over the years is when a student's name from their native country can easily conjure up inappropriate references in the English language. I had a student named "Phat Dang". When he entered kindergarten, the teacher and I decided that his first name, although pronounced as 'fat' in English, would be pronounced 'Phot' in our school. He is now in 6th grade and still known as 'Phot'. Were we insensitive to his culture? I'd like to know what some other teachers have done in similar situations..

HSeslteacher said...

Another pattern I've encountered in names of Arabic speakers is "al" followed by the father's name. This happens even in predominantly Muslim countries like Malaysia where Arabic has a strong influence on the culture.