Associate professor, PhD at the Department of Diplomatic Service and
Basic Rule #1: What’s in a name?
Good-bye, Notowidigeo. Hello. Sastroamidjojo. At the U.S. State Department, foreign names are almost as crucial as
foreign policy. The social secretary to a former secretary of state recalls
that even in the relatively unselfconscious 1950s, she put herself through a
rigorous rehearsal of names before every affair of state. Of all the
challenges, she says, the ambassador from what was then
The first transaction between even ordinary citizens – and the first chance to make an impression for better or for worse – is, of course, an exchange of names. In America there usually is not very much to get wrong. And even if you do, so what?
Not so elsewhere. Especially in the Eastern Hemisphere, where name frequently denotes social rank or family status, a mistake can be an outright insult. So can switching to a given name without the other person’s permission, even when you think the situation calls for it.
"What would you like me to call you?” is always the opening line of one overseas deputy director for an international telecommunication corporation. "Better ask several times,” he advises, "than get it wrong.” Even then, "I err on the side of formality until asked to ‘Call me Joe’.” Another frequent traveler insists his company provides him with a list of key people he will meet, country by country, surnames underlined, to be memorized on the flight over.
Don’t trust the rules
Just when you think you have broken
the international name code, they switch the rules on you. Take
In the Orient the Chinese system of surname first, given name last does not always apply. The Taiwanese, many of whom are educated in missionary schools, often have a Christian first name, which comes before any of the others – as in Tommy Ho Chin, who should be called Mr. Ho or, to his friends, Tommy Ho. Also, given names are often officially changed to initials, and a Y.Y. Lang is Y.Y.; never mind what it stands for. In Korea, which of a man’s names takes a Mr. is determined by whether he is his father’s first or second son. Although in Thailand names run backwards, Chinese style, the Mr. is put with the given name, and to a Thai it is just as important to be called by his given name as it is for a Japanese to be addressed by his surname. With the latter, incidentally, you can in a very friendly relationship respond to his using your first name by dropping the Mr. and adding san to his last name, as in Ishikawa-san.
The safest course remains: ask!
|1666 reads | 19.02.2014|