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Elvis, Cinderella or Ringo for Life : Nicknames Are No Game in Hong Kong

October 11, 1987|ANN BROCKLEHURST | Reuters

HONG KONG — If Elvis Loo had it to do over again, he probably would not pick Elvis as his name.

Even though the 35-year-old production manager for a chain of magazines in this British colony has established his professional reputation under the childhood nickname, he is not wild about it.

"When my boss introduces me to clients they always say: 'What a name! How did you get it?' I tell them it's very easy to pronounce with my surname," Loo said. "I'm getting used to it."

But he adds with some relief: "At least it's not on my passport."

Nicknames Stick

Nicknames in Hong Kong, where 97% of the population is Chinese, often attain semi-official status when teen-agers are asked to choose English names for themselves at school.

Many students make their decisions in a moment of adolescent whimsy and then find that names such as Ringo Ng, Begonia Wong, Cinderella Mak, Beau Ho, Thaddeus Lai, Aloysius Hung and Houdini Ho often stick harder than the Chinese names they were given at birth.

Houdini Ho, a senior civil servant whose Chinese given name is Hon-tang, opted for Houdini after seeing a movie about the great escape artist.

He used the name Houdini all through secondary school and stuck with it as a student at the London School of Economics.

His colleagues in the Labor Department call him by his adopted name, and he keeps a wooden pen holder engraved with the name Houdini on his desk beside his government-issue Chinese nameplate.

"I still like the name," Ho said. "It starts conversations as casually as possible."

Money Lo finds her name an especially good ice-breaker in a city as business-conscious as Hong Kong. Although a name like Money might be considered crass elsewhere, the 26-year-old actress seldom hears negative comments about it.

"I can't think of another name I would like better than Money," she said. "It's different and original, and I feel like myself because it sounds like my Chinese name, Mun-yi."

Cinderella Mak believes the benefits of having an unusual name more than compensate for all the glass slipper jokes she has had to put up with since she named herself after the fairy tale character at the age of 10.

"People may think it's funny at first," the 28-year-old secretary said. "But they can't forget me. They remember me forever."

Only Cinderella's family still calls her by her Chinese given name, Wai-ping. To her husband, friends and colleagues--Chinese and English alike--she is Cinderella and will be forever after.

More and more young Chinese in Hong Kong are following Cinderella's example and hanging on to their adopted names outside of English classes and the office.

Popular Names

They talk to each other in Chinese, but the conversations are punctuated frequently by the sounds of English names.

Certain favorites tend to crop up again and again. Baxter, Wellington, Napoleon, Priscilla, Estelle and Angelina are all popular choices. And the kinds of avant-garde names that were big in the 1960s have made a comeback with teen-agers looking for originality.

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