Introductions: an essential part of meeting people, but they can become harder when meeting people from other countries, and not just because of a language barrier.

In Europe, we generally manage to get out someone’s name whether it is an Italian Sophia, a French Romain or the Polish Anatola, but what about further afield?

The other day I met a girl from Taiwan and when asked her name, she said “well the name which will be easier for you is Sylvia.”


She went on to explain that her ‘real’ name was harder to pronounce and so she had given me her English name, which made her introductions somewhat complicated.

The fact that some countries such as Taiwan and Japan come up with English names seems to be a reflection on how well we can pronounce their ‘real’ names.

Perhaps we should make more of an effort; after all we can happily adopt loan words like the French rendezvous and many more which we probably use without thinking twice about the pronunciation.

Nevertheless, these alternative English names crop up quite a lot. At university, I met a few Japanese students who gave me their English names when we did our introductions and there was a tutor who told us his English name to use in seminars.

Quite ironic really, being a student of Linguistics should enable you to pronounce anything!

However, for Sylvia and many others in her situation having an English name is essential, in the same way that most people now have a mobile phone number and an email address, and is not simply a reflection of how Brits pronounce foreign names. Although I expect people like Sylvia prefer to give a name which can be pronounced correctly rather than one that takes the other person half an hour to say. Either way, it means travel is full of complicated introductions.

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