My relationship with Chan Chun Man
“Chun Man? Ah a Chinese name, that’s going to be hard to remember.” It was a phrase I often heard.
My name is Chan Chun Man. I have two younger brothers; Chan Chun Yin, and Chan Chun Kit. I was never particularly concerned with the name my father bestowed upon me. However, I usually associate my name to be in the cesspool of other, for lack of a better word, ‘matching’ names. To further elaborate, other denizens of this cesspool that I’ve encountered over the years include my friend, Tai Jit Meng, and his brothers; Tai Jit Chen and Tai Jit Wei, and Goh Kah Meng, his brother; Goh Kah Yean, and his sister; Goh Kah Mun. I always wished that I was the offspring of a more creative and individualistic father, but alas, I was not so fortuitous.
I actually have a hypothetical girl name too. My mother told me that she had hoped to be blessed with three girls, and if I was born a girl, my name would have been Monique. She got the idea from a late French queen. Unfortunately for her, fate reared its cruel hand and left her with three boys instead. She often joked that I was fortunate to be born a boy, as I would have made for a very ugly looking girl based on my current features. She would go on to say that I would not be able to get a boyfriend and end up spending my days with her, single, touring the world or watching sappy movies at home. My mum had an untapped talent at concocting hypothetical insults. Unfortunately, my mum did not account for the possibility of having boys, and thus left the task of naming me and my brothers to my dad.
The problems of having such an abstract and uncreative name were diagnosed early in my childhood. When I was the age of 5, my uncle suggested an English name for me; Timothy. His motives were practical, he thought that ‘Timothy Chan’, in comparison to ‘Chan Chun Man’, was more memorable and made it easier for people to address me. My mother agreed that it rolled off the tongue better, and pitched the idea to me. However, at that time I was already very sentimental with ‘Chun Man’. It was a name that my mother and relatives affectionately called me by. The idea of getting used to an alien new name ‘Timothy’ was not a thought that my young mind wanted to entertain. And, thus, I violently rejected the name.
Eventually, I outgrew the love I once had for my name when I entered primary, and subsequently, secondary school. I started to develop a philosophy towards names in general. Being introduced to class index numbers and standard school uniforms, my peers and I were stripped of our identity, much like in the army or in prison. This made me realise the bleak truth that everyone was identical. My naivety that I was special was shattered, and I realised that names were just the alphabetical counterparts of index numbers, no different from a car’s licence plate or a criminal’s identification number. The only difference was that while index numbers were only confined to the classrooms, names operated globally. The fact that I felt no affection towards my name anymore made me see the truth more clearly. In the grand scheme of things, names held no more significance than labels or numbers.
It was not until I matured into a young adult when I started to view my name in a different light. I discovered that it could be used as a tool, a sort of social testing device. For instance, should a new friend or teacher be able to remember my incredibly bland yet abstract name, I would know that I’ve made an impactful first impression on them, for better or worse. This social device had other uses too. I found that I derived some secret, sadistic, joy in seeing people struggling to remember my name, squirming under the spotlight of my gaze while they snapped their fingers and squinted at the sky, as if looking to the clouds for help. Though, sooner or later, I would end their misery and just remind them of my name. It also served as an excellent excuse for when I could not remember other people’s names. Hypocritically enough, I am terrible at remembering names, even simple ones such as Douglas or Janice. It pays to have a difficult and abstract name, as I would rarely have to feel bad about forgetting names since most people would forget mine as well.
My friends over the years have asked if I ever thought about giving myself an English name. I did consider it, but it was buried at the bottom of my mental priority list. Eventually, the notion just eluded me. I suppose I never really felt the need to be easily remembered or easily recognised. And thus, Chan Chun Man just stuck with me, and it would probably be the name I take to my grave.