What’s in a name? Well as it turns out, more than you might think. Boris ‘Bob’ Golodets is an Intrepid group leader in Russia, Mongolia and Central Asia and he’s certainly a great linguist, so he shares his thoughts on what we choose to be called…
“All of us at Intrepid believe that we can learn, or at least try, to call locals by their proper names. But in the tourism industry it’s common for guides to change their names in order to please the clients or make it easier for their travellers. And it’s understandable – in some countries the names are very long and hard to pronounce.
Take for example my Chinese friend, Xiengon Dion. He works for an international company and usually introduces himself as ‘James’. They all do it. If you look at Intrepid’s list of group leaders in China, you would be excused for thinking that only foreigners work in the region with names such as Willy, Mike, Vivian, Ann, John, Allen, Suzie.
Some people simply don’t want foreigners to mangle their good names. And sometimes mispronunciations can end in completely different connotations: for instance Vivian has lovely local, Euar Yang – it means “young fish”. A beautiful and poetic name.
In Russia, we have a phrase: “how you’ll name the boat, so it will sail accordingly.” I believe that we not only get used to our names, but they start to reflect on our life. Germans say that your character is your fate, and I guess we now have the chance to change our own fate.
Western culture is very popular in the world nowadays, with Hollywood being a main protagonist. Some people really do enjoy their new names. Some choose their western names in honor of favourite actors or singers. So for them, it is like a playing in an interesting game moving towards their ideal personality. Our Xi’an guide, Chong, likes to call himself Evan – he is passionate about Russian history, specially about Evan ‘the Terrible’ era, who was one of the most cruel Russian tsars. Our Turpan guide, Pang, is a tiny man who called himself Charlie. In the evening on the main square of the city, together with Pang and his English students, you can sit down at the night market and watch on a big screen old Charlie Chaplin movies. He likes them all!
I remember one guide said “call me Willy” and gave me broad smile. He loves song from the movie Crossroads: “Call me Willy, Yes, Call me Willy…”
So in conclusion, there is not really any conclusion. It could be the situation that both locals and visitors try to please each other. Locals might want to please the foreigners by making easy familiar names, while passengers might feel more welcome if they are greeted by people using their own names and then try to get the pronunciation correct. After all, the Intrepid idea is about ‘going local’ and embracing real life experiences. My advice, at least to ask them about their “real” name just for your information. But if the man is happy with it, call him Willy!”
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* photo by Jessica Toop – Intrepid Photography Competition