Abstract: In this essay Fan Yusu offers a detailed analysis of her students’ names when she worked as a kindergarten teacher for migrant workers’ children. As the importance of “correct naming” has always been stressed in Chinese culture and society, Fan’s commentary on the signification of younger generations’ names reveal her critical reflections on the social stratification and urban-rural divide in contemporary China.
This August I found a teaching job. Originally, I thought this time would be different. I would be an elementary school teacher. But to my surprise, on the day school started, the headmaster said the school’s kindergarten was understaffed and asked me to teach kindergarteners.
I had never taught kindergarteners. Seeing children’s lively faces made me feel young again. But what really made me marvel was the children’s names. They were all interesting and unique.
As a kindergarten teacher at a school for migrant workers’ children, I have seen a lot of interesting things. Upon parents’ request, the children must learn how to read and write. I would assign homework for students to do every evening and every day I taught them how to do math, how to write pinyin, and characters. To make sure everyone could write instead of pretending to have the ability, I would drag the children to the blackboard and have them write characters to make sure everyone could do it. A few students would write at school, but would not practice at home. They would order their parents to finish their homework. Every day when I saw these parents dutifully write out 123, aoe, and give their finished homework a check, I could not help but laugh. Are these parents making things more difficult for themselves?
My class has thirty-six students and I put their names into different categories. I will first introduce the girls’ names, which can be divided into two categories: lyrical and spiritual. Of the girls who fall under lyrical, there is:
Wang Miaoya 王鹋娅 (“emu”)
Ye Xiaoxuan 叶筱萱 (“slender day lily”)
Song Donghe 宋冬荷 (“winter lotus”)
Tang Mengyao 唐梦瑶 (“dream of precious jade”)
Zhu Yuewen 竹乐文 (“pleasurable music”)
Tian Qingqing 田青青 (“youthful green”)
Yang Yuzhu 杨雨竹 (“bamboo in the rain”)
Liu Qianzhi 柳千枝 (“1000 willow branches”)
Fu Jingxuan 傅璟萱 (“jade day lily”)
The names of Wang Miaoya and Ye Xiaoxuan make
you immediately think of “Hark, the ospreys in the
river.” Song Donghe’s name is obviously taken from Liu Changqing’s poem on winter scenes that are included in elementary school’s Chinese textbook. Tang Mengyao’s name reminds people of Bai Juyi’s poem “Song of Everlasting Sorrow,” which is about the Tang Emperor Xuanzong and Consort Yang’s tragically romantic love story. Zhu Yuewen’s father is obviously familiar with the Analects. Liu Qianzhi’s father must know by heart the Tang poem “A tree springs thousands of branches, tender in gold and soft in silk.” When you hear Tian Qing-qing, Yang Yuzhu, and Fu Jingxuan’s names, you will be reminded of lyrical poems portraying idyllic pastoral scenes.
The following names are manifested with spirituality:
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1 This is a line from the poem “Guanju” found in the Book of Songs about a young man seeking the attention from a beautiful girl. Plants’ and birds’ names (such as emu) frequently appear in the collection of poems.
2 This is probably referencing the Tang Poem “Snow on Lotus Mountain.”
3 Bai Juyi (722–846), also known Letian, was a Tang poet who often wrote poems about social ills