It was from a boy in Bombay, India. He asked me to translate his name into Chinese.
I really don't like translating foreign names into Chinese. I can understand the interest, it's a novelty to people. But I feel like a side show at a circus.
I especially dislike transliterations of English names to Chinese. They are disparate characters cobbled together, whether they fit or not, into a soulless, meaningless mass, devoid of any warmth and humanity. And I hate passing them freely about like cheap plastic toys that come in your breakfast cereal. I'm cheapening my culture and my language. That's what it feels like. I feel heavy and disrespectful and there's a sense of betrayal to ... something. I'm not sure what. [Edit: Betrayal to my own sensibilities? Betrayal to my sense of what is right and proper.]
Names are important things. Choosing a name is not a trivial task and is something that is bestowed on us by a superior like a parent, elder family member, a teacher or a mentor — someone who knows you well or has the right to give you a name.
But Avi, the Indian boy, really wanted a Chinese name. And he was looking to me for help. Somehow, he singled me out when he could have easily found loads of other people. He didn't know any Chinese people. He wasn't taking Chinese classes, so he didn't have a Chinese teacher. He truly didn't know anyone else closer to him than an internet stranger who could do this. I had asked. It was mostly for interest's sake for the moment, but he wanted something he could put on a business card in the future, be able to explain to others the meaning of the characters and their significance.
We got talking. If I'm going to help someone with their name, I won't do it without at least knowing basic things about them, who they are and what they do. Through our conversations, I could see a sincerity, diligence and intelligence that I find very much lacking in today's youth. I find it lacking in people in general, actually, not just the young.
He told me that when he was born, his grandmother called him "raja" ("king" in Hindi) and it's become his nickname in his family. I had to smile at that. It's such a Universally Grandmother thing to do. =)
He told me about his Indian name. It refers to, Shiva, one of the trinity in Hindu mythology, who is indestructible, but who is also the God of Destruction, Art and Kindness.
I decided on:
王藝堅 (wáng yì jiān; wong ngai-keen in Cantonese)
- 王 as in 國王 (guó wáng) sovereign, king. It's one of the most common Chinese surnames.
- 藝 as in 藝術 (yì shù) art, skill, craft, conforming to good taste.
- 堅 as in 堅強 (jiān qiáng) strong, firm, staunch, strength.
Usually, when we name our children, we try to choose simpler characters so that they have an easier time learning to print their names in school. In that sense, the second character "yì" is very difficult to learn because it has a lot of strokes. But I took a chance because I've seen that character in other peoples' names and it's fine. It also says that I have confidence in his intelligence, that he's up to the challenge, he can learn it.
I wish you all the best, Avi. =)