Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What's in a name?

Opening a foreign bank account is a task that appears to be universally difficult regardless of the host country or the origin of the applicant in question. However, since the alternative is to collect money from my adviser like a 12 year old, I kick started this task in my first week in Japan.

First, get "Alien Residency Card". This piece of plastic, like the American Social Security Number, provides you with an official tag so you can be hunted down and ... well, in America, shot but in Japan probably sat on by a Sumo wrestler for any misdeeds.

Okay, took a couple of weeks but: Check!

Next, fill in bank account application form.

This was entirely in Japanese but hey, that's why I ply my coworkers with sweets. Check!

Finally ... get form returned with complaints you don't know your own name.

No, wait, that wasn't part of the plan! I got my name wrong? Do I take on an alter-ego on alternate Wednesdays I never knew about? How exciting! I check the form. No, there is my normal signature plain as day. A bit scribbly perhaps, but perfectly legible. (Intentionally so, incidentally. If a man steals my bank card at least I'll have the satisfaction of knowing he'll be signing himself "Elizabeth"). So what the...?

I take the form to our departmental secretary. My signature, she explains, does not match the name on my Alien Registration Card. I look blank. She runs her fingers along both lines:

Elizabeth ...

Elizabeth Jane ...

You've got to be kidding me?! Apparently, Japanese people do not have middle names. In fact, I discovered upon this being revealed, this can be a problem for scientific publications since the number of Japanese names is relatively small leading to many authors with indistinguishable paper citations. To avoid this, many Japanese scientist actually add a fictitious middle initial into their publication name though not, it appears, into their bank accounts.

So a new form with brand new signature that I've never used before. *Scratches head* Ho hum! Meanwhile, I'm off to ask my adviser for pocket money.

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