I enjoy living in a different culture. It’s endlessly fascinating, hilarious, frustrating, and insightful all at once. I’m still trying to understand a lot about the Chinese culture – I see it all around me of course but no one’s standing next to me explaining it or anything. Part of what is so interesting to me is seeing the differences between my culture and all the other cultures. And then I start wondering about those differences. And I start questioning if we do it the right way at all, or if there even is a right way.
Take, for instance, my Chinese lesson today. My tutor was teaching me how to address people with “Mr.” and “Mrs.” and the like and was explaining that in China, the surname goes first. I wrote that down in my notes and then offhandedly asked her if Chinese people had middle names.
“Middle names? What is middle name?” she asked.
“You know, like you have your given name, and your last name, and then sometimes you have a middle name,” I explained. She’d never heard of this. I kept explaining for a few minutes and the more questions she asked, the more confused I became.
Her: “But, why do you have the middle name?”
Me: “… well, just because.”
Her: “When do you use the middle name?”
Me: “Um, well… hardly ever, really. I guess, just on legal forms? And sometimes when you’re in trouble, your parents will call you by both your first and middle name.”
Her: “Who choose the middle name?”
Me: “Your parents. You know, like sometimes they’ll pick a name that comes from your family, like your middle name will be your grandfather’s name or something.”
Her: “No one calls you by middle name?”
Me: “Not really.”
Suddenly I was questioning why we even have middle names. What good are they? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of middle names. I think they’re fun and all. But – where the heck did that even ever start? What purpose do they serve other than to be confusing on all those forms? Why do we all have this secret name that we never tell anyone and that we never use and that gets forgotten most of the time? Why do we have middle names?!
See what I mean? Fascinating.
(Course, if you have the answer, I’m all ears. I realize I could of course google this myself, but that would be silly. Much more exciting to make all of you come up with the answer.)