It’s extremely common for people from Hong Kong to have a Chinese and an English name, but I didn’t have an English name till 17. I just happened to have not picked an English name when I was young. I knew my dad always liked the name “Henry”, but it didn’t click for me (once we had a puppy for a short time, and my dad tried to name him Henry too. That’s a different story). My uncle suggested I should be called “Ian”, because it almost sounded like my Chinese name. Anyhow, none of these names were used. Classes were taught in English, and my teachers would just call my Chinese name, or the transliteration of my Chinese name.
I did many exams throughout my life, and my first big public exam was the The Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE). I did 9 subjects: Chinese, English, Math, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Economics, History, and Religious Studies. The exam was notorious for being difficult, and as preparation, we studied a lot of past papers. English was especially tough, and like many, I went to English remedial classes.
And it was all fine until I got to the first English remedial class.
After the first class, three students (including myself) were asked to stayed behind. Turned out that our teacher said we all needed an English name to be in an English class. She lined us up, to ask what would our names be. She wouldn’t let us go unless we came up with an English name on the spot. I was at the end of the line. I don’t remember what the first guy said, but I recall the teacher told the second guy that he could choose between “Ken or Gibson”. Second guy told the teacher a name of his own choice and happily left.
“So, Ken or Gibson?”
My mind was blank. What does “Ken” mean? I didn’t know. I did know Gibson was a guitar brand (I turned out to be playing a fender for many years and still have not gotten a Gibson), and it seemed weird to have a guitar brand as my name.
(As time went by, Ken turned out to be the better choice. I have met a few Kens over the years. I have never met a Gibson in my life.)