Uncle Reggie stories URS: what’s in a name?
Uncle Reggie 的故事: 名字的真谛

I think that names are extremely important. So when I bring doctors from the USA to China, I help to give them a real Chinese name. Chinese names all have significance, and each word means something, so it is especially important to give a proper name and not just a transliteration, a translation according to the sound of the word in English. For example, our pediatric chief during our initial contact with China’s children’s hospitals was Dr Tom Boat. Since he had a distinguished position, I felt he should have a equally distinguished Chinese name, yet consistent with his original name: Bei Dao Ming 贝道明; Bei 贝for Boat, and Daoming 道明 for Tom, since Bei is a famous Chinese name, as in IM Pei (Bei) the greatest Chinese architect, Dao means truth and way, and Ming means clarity and light. Good name, no?

因为我觉得名字相当重要,所以当我把美国医生带去中国的时候,我给他们取了地道的中文名。中文名都有特殊含义,每个字也有特定寓意,所以取一个合适的中文名而不是简单的音译就显得特别重要。比如我们第一位与中国儿童医院接触的儿科主任是Dr Tom Boat 。鉴于他重要的地位,我给他取了一个同样特殊的中文名,叫“贝道明”。贝对应Boat,道明对应Tom。“贝”是一个非常著名的中国建筑师“贝聿铭”的姓,“道”指的是道理和道路,“明”指的是清楚和光明。这个名字不错吧。

When I took our first Christian medical mission team into China in 1989, I made sure our team members had Chinese names that had special implications. For example my name became Zeng (Tsang) Wei Zhi (Reggie) or, respectively: traditional Chinese last name, “Zeng”; for, “Wei”; Christ or foundational principle, “Zhi”. Not bad, no? Chinese words particularly are beautiful in that sense, because each sound could give rise to many words close to that sound, and each word often has triple or more meanings. Which is like an art form, often including meaning within meanings.

1989年我带领第一批医疗队去中国,给每个人都取了有特别寓意的中文名。比如我的名字是Zeng (Tsang) WeiZhi (Reggie), Zeng 是一个传统的中国姓氏,Wei 是“为”,Zhi 是指基督或基本的规则。 这个名字不错吧。从这种意义来说中文字特别棒,因为每一个发音可以对应很多字,而每个字又有三个或者更多的意思,这就像一种艺术的形式,层层叠叠环环相扣。

Now on the flipside, as I taught English in Chinese middle schools for nearly 10 years, it was my great fun to give English names to the Chinese kids. But if there are 60 kids clamoring for an English name, you have to work really fast. So I would ask them to line up, write down their Chinese names, and read them to me, so I could catch the names accurately (since my Chinese is not really that hot). Then I would think of an English name close enough to their Chinese pronunciation, basically more like transliteration. This I had to do literally within seconds because of the press of the crowd. So there were many names that popped up really quickly, like Tom, Mary, May, April, June, Harry, Larry, you name it. The kids seemed to love this exercise, thrusting their note books right underneath my pen. Of course, I thoroughly enjoyed it; what a privilege to name hundreds (or was it thousands?) of kids! I imagined myself like Adam having to name all the living creatures around him, on command of his Maker.

另一方面我在中国的中学教英文近10年,给学生取英文名成了我的一大乐趣。但是如果同时有60个孩子吵着要英文名字,动作就要非常迅速。因为我的中文并不是那么好,为了准确获取他们的名字,我一般会要求他们排好队,写下名字念给我听。然后我会采取音译的方法,想出一个发音最接近中文发音的名字。迫于人流的压力,这个过程通常只持续几秒钟。所有你能说出的各种名字就会接连蹦出,像“Tom, Mary, May, April, June, Harry, Larry⋯⋯”。孩子们看上去很喜欢这个过程,他们把本子一个个递到我的笔下,我也非常享受这个过程,能够给成百上千的人取名字是多么荣幸的事情。我感觉自己就像圣经的亚当一样,照着造物主的要求,给所有身边的人取名字。

Names with special Chinese meaning for our first medical team to China

I had more time to give more thoughtful English names to the visiting scholars that began to come to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital over 10 years during my 2nd retirement. At its peak there were 100 scholars coming every year from more than 12 major children’s hospitals in China. It was indeed great fun and a privilege to work with them, especially in encouraging them in English conversations. As part of this exercise and because some of them did not have an English name, I would try to give a name as close as possible to the pronunciation of their original name, but with an interesting angle if possible. For example, Jing静 became Ginger, Chunzhi春芝 became Cherry, etc. A lot of times I had to explain that naming names in English did not have the same complex implications as Chinese names, but was more a name which might reflect their personality, or was in remembrance of someone very famous or memorable, or was just a nice sounding name that sounds close to the Chinese name. Nothing like the deep meaning of Chinese names, actually.

第二次退休后,我有更多时间为辛辛那提儿童医院的访问学者取一些精心挑选的名字。最多的时候,中国每年有超过12家大型儿童医院的100名访问学者来访。与他们一起工作,特别是鼓励他们进行英语交流真是一件有意思而且荣幸的事情。因为有些学者没有英文名,我就会给他们取一些发音和中文接近的英文名,并尽可能找些有意思的名字。像“Jing静”叫Ginger, “Chunzhi春芝 ”叫 Cherry,等等。很多时候我得解释取的这些英文名没有和中文名同样复杂的含义,但可能反映出一个人的个性、或是用于纪念著名或难忘的人,或只是发音接近中文的好听名字而已。

However some scholars came with really interesting names of uncertain origin. One was called Sonic, and one of the English teachers said “you can’t have a name like that! “I tried to explain to the teacher that, “sorry, nowadays people can name themselves whatever they want.” I’m not sure that he was convinced, but he was resigned to that. Sonic sounds pretty modern to me.


Another scholar came with his name called Tomahawk; my guess is he liked American cowboy movies. Another was Golden, named after his Chinese name 金meaning gold. In fact when I was working in the Hong Kong headquarters of my medical mission, I noticed that the young staff certainly had interesting creative names that the older generation would have raised their eyebrows on. One of them was called Novem, after November, the month that she was born in; if you can call girls April or June, why not November? A teenager that I taught English called herself Orange; if you can call yourself Apple, why not Orange? A teenage boy called himself Stone, since his Chinese name was Shi 石or stone; sounds reasonable to me.

另外一个人叫 Tomahawk,我猜是因为他喜欢看美国的牛仔电影(tomahawk 是印地安人的钺刀)。还有一个人叫Golden,是根据他的中国名字“金”(gold)取的。我在国际医疗队的总部香港工作的时候,发现年轻同事的名字有趣而有创意,往往让老一辈瞠目结舌。其中有个人叫Novem,是因为她出生在November,既然April 或June可以做名字, Novem为什么不可以?我教的一个中学生称呼自己Orange, 因为Apple可以做名字,Orange当然也可以。还有一个中学男孩子叫Stone,他的中文名字是“石”-stone的意思,听上去也很合情合理。

I was called Reginald because my American born, English teacher mother decided that, being born in a British colony, I should have a British sounding name. In fact later on I found out that basically only Britishers really had that name, and it wasn’t till much later that mostly African-Americans began to use the shorter version, Reggie. Of course when I arrived in America, Americans cannot pronounce names with three syllables, so my name obviously became Reggie; and even Reg, though less commonly. One professor liked to call me REGGIE, with the hard G sound as in goat.


However one time, a very distinguished British gentleman heard people calling me by the name of Reggie, and he was most displeased. He exclaimed “your name should be called Reginald; Reggie is only for kids!” Americans don’t really do well with such traditional concepts. However, some Americans might call me Dr. Reggie, presumably with some indication of respect, and that might go towards pleasing the older gentleman. But when I traveled in China, the name would be Professor Zeng (Tsang), or Dr. Zeng, in line with more traditional respectful salutations. That should really satisfy my gentleman friend?


Uncle Reggie missionary stories at Vacation Bible School, @ Reggietales.org : “Uncle Reggie” is my real name.Uncle Reggie
在假日圣经学校讲传道士故事, @ Reggietales.org : “Reggie叔叔” 是我真正的名字

As I was most active in the Asian Chinese church in Cincinnati, the kids used to call me “Uncle Reggie,” which then spread to the entire church, and China scholars: anyone from age 3 to 70 would call me Uncle Reggie, which is how I am generally known today! Uncle is an affectionate term given to anyone older in traditional Asian/Chinese circles, (and in past colonial America!), but it can confuse the average American today. I was walking in the corridors of the hospital, when far down at the other end of the corridor, one of the young people who had grown up from the church was with a whole group of doctors. Of course he shouted out loudly to me, “hi Uncle Reggie.” The entire group of doctors, in surprise, turned to him and asked him, since I was getting rather well known by then, “is he your uncle?” Anglos, they need some education. When Caucasian kids come to the church, I introduce myself as Reggie, but then follow up with a staged stern look in my eye, “but, Uncle Reggie for you!” The kids quickly say “yes, Sir.” White kids need to, and can be taught respect!

当我在辛辛那提的亚洲华语教堂时,孩子们都叫我Uncle Reggie,这种称呼传遍了整个教堂和中国学者, 从3-70岁的人都叫我Uncle Reggie,这是我现在被大家熟知的称呼。在亚洲或中国(以及殖民时期的美国)uncle是一个带有感情色彩的词语,是指比自己年长的人,但对现在大多数的美国人是种困惑。有一次我在医院的走廊里走,远远的另一端一个在教堂长大的年轻人和一群医生在一起,他看到我本能的大叫hi,Uncle Reggie。所有人都很惊讶,转过身问他“这是你叔叔吗?”因为那时候我已经很出名了。本土的美国人真的需要接受一些教育。当白人小孩来华人教会,我介绍自己为Reggie,但马上会用坚定的眼神告诉他们:你们要叫我uncle Reggie!孩子们马上会说“是,先生”。所以白人的孩子也应该被教育学会尊重!

Since I traveled quite a bit internationally, I often tried to also indigenize my name, depending on the location visited. So if I was lecturing in Latin and South America, I would often introduce my name as “Reynaldo,” or even “Reginaldo.” Don’t you think that sounds cute? Or if I am in the Middle East, my name is “Malek,” which means royal or king, which is the original meaning of Reginald. Not bad either?


A most famous change of name occurred in history when a Saul changed his name to Paul. Earlier Saul had been famous, or infamous, in persecuting and arresting the first (really first, only a few years after the Cross) Christians. But on a memorable “road to Damascus” (the same city that is on daily news today) he was dramatically converted, and became one of the most outstanding teachers of the first century, hence his legendary name change to Paul. And the road he was on has become a historic phrase signifying a dramatic change of life, and name.


However the strangest name that I have heard is “I AM who I AM.” The great law-giver Moses, the greatest hero of the Jews, was in the desert when he encountered the Supreme Being. When Moses dared to ask what was His exact name, the Supreme Being gave this profound answer. Something to do with always being there, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega. Thought provoking, and many thousands of pages have been written about this name.

至今我听到过的最奇怪的名字是“我就是”。伟大的立法者摩西,一名犹太英雄在沙漠中遇到了上帝。摩西大胆的问他叫什么名字,他给出一个深奥的答案:“我是昔在今在永在的上帝。” 在希腊文的说法是Alpha and Omega, 指最初最后 ,意思是永恒,后来有成千上万页的文字来叙述,可见这名字太特殊了,而发人深省。

What is in your name? Your personality, who you are, a name that could be simple, complex in meaning, or deeply profound.