What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?

“阿姨,请给我买单!” “Ayi, Please bring me the check!”

Yesterday, I was enjoying a sushi dinner when I heard one of the other customers call the server 阿姨 (auntie). She would reply by calling all of the customers 孩子(child). While it would not be uncommon to hear a waitress in the States be called Mama, or something similar, this got me thinking about names and the ways that they are used differently between cultures.

As we discussed in class last week, I’ve found it interesting to see how different people address each other in various cultures. While I can’t say exactly how people interact in other cultures, I know that the Chinese way of viewing other people you know is to treat people like family. Growing up, I was always told to address people older than me as Uncle John or Auntie Gina. Whenever my friends came to my house, my mom always reminded them to call her Auntie Katharine. Even if it was the first time I had a friend over, they’d immediately be treated like family. My mom would bring out fifteen different snacks, and come check on us even five minutes to make sure we were eating. When I asked my mom to let us hang out in peace later that evening, she told me that it was important to make our guests feel at home at all times. She made it clear to me that I should always be sure to make my guests feel at home, and that giving them food was a great way to do this.

For little children, I’ve noticed that is also very common to use terms like 哥哥 (gege, older brother) and 弟弟 (didi, younger brother). Back home, when I went over to my friend’s house, her cousins were often there. While I had no relation to them, it was common for them to call me Gege Alex. During my time here in China, I’ve noticed this happen as well. One time when we were playing Frisbee on the Guang Hwa Lou lawn, a little boy approached my friend and me. He asked her if he could join us. While we were playing, I noticed that my friend would address the boy as 小弟弟(little brother). He referred to her as 姐姐 (older sister). While I’m sure these names were simply used as a sign of respect and not out of the ordinary, it surprised me when I first heard them.

While I cannot say from personal experience what relationships are like in other cultures, I’ve found it interesting to see how people here in China interact with others around them. It’s been fun to compare what I see here with many of the customs I grew up with back home. There are many simple things that I’ve gotten used to doing that I did not realize were more Chinese than Western. While I’ve often done them out of habit, now I am getting a chance to see people around me doing similar things. I’m excited to learn more about the Chinese culture and the small easily forgotten aspects of everyday life.