Names in Malaysia are an endless source of confusion and/or amusement.
Could anyone blame me for constantly confusing the two girls in the same class call Ya Jing and Ja Ying? Or for not realising that a child with two names is usually known by both of them and not just one? Do they have no surname? Nobody seems to know, including the children in question.
A child with three names is usually known by the last two … unless the last of the three names is a western one in which case they’re known just by that last name … or unless they have four names and either the first or the last is a Western name, and then they’re just known by that one name.
I even have a girl whose name is @Zoe … any ideas on the pronunciation of that one? I just call her Zoe and she answers quite happily to it.
I’m still struggling with Yue Xin (delightfully pronounced ‘you sin’), Xin Hui, Xin En, Zi En. They’re all quiet girls in the same large class, and I still haven’t learnt which one is which.
And then the Western names they choose can be unusual too. Top of my current list of favourites is eight-year-old Winthrop. And I often feel as though I’ve stepped back to the 1950s with a lot of the other boys – we have Kenneth, several Brians, Nigel, Leonard and Keith.
The spellings can be quite idiosyncratic too; there’s a girl called Looi and another called Noa, a boy called Lucausz, a Eunice and a Younes.
But the most confusing name has to be the one that is pronounced ‘no one’.
‘Hello, I’m Harry,’ said the new boy in the class.
‘Hello, I’m No one,’ came the reply.
Harry’s mother had to be reassured that her son’s new classmate doesn’t have profound psychological issues, which have resulted in an identity crisis, he simply has an unusual name.
I hear strange Through-The-Looking-Glass comments coming from their classroom:
‘No one stop talking!’
‘Good work No one!’
‘Does anyone know where No one’s gone?’
One morning, this class of six-year-olds all decided to insult each other with the insult du jour – ‘you’re a poo-poo’, so the teacher tried to calm the situation by saying ‘no one’s a poo-poo’. It was an unfortunate choice of words, which made the situation worse.
Welcome to the surreal world of English teaching in Malaysia.
“Who did you pass on the road?” the King went on, holding out his hand to the Messenger for some more hay.
“Nobody,” said the Messenger.
“Quite right,” said the King; “this young lady saw him too. So of course Nobody walks slower than you.”
“I do my best,” the Messenger said in a sullen tone. “I’m sure nobody walks much faster than I do!”
“He can’t do that,” said the King, “or else he’d have been here first.”