Ingrid and I have done sociolinguistic research in a few different contexts, including study abroad, migration and tourism. I also find my own marriage as a fascinating space where I get to experience issues surrounding language and communication on the move on a daily basis. In fact, I wrote a chapter about it in a forthcoming book (March 2010) edited by David Nunan and Julie Choi (pre-print ;-)).
I’m Japanese, but I’ve lived in Australia since 1993, while my husband, Marcin, migrated from Poland to Australia in 2000. Neither of us knew much about each other’s country nor language, before we met at the Three Wise Monkey, aka the cheesiest bar in Sydney, in 2005. After I handed in my PhD thesis in 2006, I dragged Marcin to Japan for a year and a half, where he learned many Japanese words and phrases including “娘さんと結婚させて下さい！[Please allow me to marry your daughter!]”
Unfortunately Marcin didn’t get to ask my otoosan (father) that very question – my otoosan passed away three months after we arrived in Japan. Given the fact that Marcin was totally new to the Japanese culture and language, he coped really well, not only in terms of helping us look after my bed-ridden otoosan, who lost his speech four years earlier, but also at his funeral and the rest of our stay in Japan.
Now back in Sydney, we have been married for over a year. “My/Kimie’s otoosan” has become simply “Otoosan”: he is also Marcin’s father now. We talk about otoosan a lot. Marcin had very little time to get to know his Japanese father-in-law, so he still asks many questions about him, which makes me feel warm inside – except the last question he posed during our lunch in a Chinese restaurant the other day:
Marcin: what’s otoosan’s name? (eating Chinese noodle)
Kimie: what? (stop eating the dim sim)
Marcin: what’s otoosan’s name?? (continuing to eat the noodle)
Kimie: ……………….you mean….his name?
Marcin: yes yes, what’s his name? (drinking jasmine tea)
Kimie: ……………….you mean…..you met my father, looked after him in the hospital, saw him pass away there, helped us organise his funeral, married me, all these years, you didn’t know otoosan’s name?
Marcin: nope (still eating the noodle, looking innocent).
According to him, no one told him otoosan’s first name and every one refers to him as otoosan or Takahashi san. In Japan, I suppose, you just don’t call your parents by their first name. Nevertheless I got a little bit upset. I was about to get angry, but then I quickly remembered our marriage ceremony. In front of all our guests (including Ingrid) and the celebrant, I just couldn’t remember Marcin’s middle name while exchanging marriage vows. It still doesn’t look good to see myself on the video asking the celebrant to repeat my husband-to-be’s middle name. To this day, I secretly check the spelling of his middle name by having a sneak peek at his passport when I have to fill out official documents.
Names can be a tricky business for multilingual/multicultural couples and their families! Please share your favorite multilingual and multicultural naming stories 😉