Poem: Names

A sense of where you belong – by Yuan Yang


When I was four and went to school

in Manchester, the kids would ask:

“What’s your name? Where you from?”

and I would say, “Ni shuo shen me?”

Which is Mandarin for the kind

of bewilderment you have as a kid

from inner-mountain-basin China

who has just come through Heathrow.


There were lots of names in the years

that followed, scrawled on my belongings

– sometimes by other people – “B.N.P.”

was not our family name,

but it showed up on our front door

all the same. It didn’t matter,

I couldn’t read English anyway.

Life was like the bold red roundabout

in the playground of our council estate,

which went round so fast

you’d almost faint:

all you had to do was hold on

and make the same sounds

as the kids around you.

Yuan Yang was born in China and used to live at the foot of Mount Emei, Sichuan. When she was six, she moved to the UK. She now lives in London, where she was a member of the Barbican Young Poets from 2014-15, and now writes for The Economist’s finance and economics section. You can find her on Twitter @YuanFenYang

Watch a video of Yuan performing this poem and others at Beijng Cream poetry night in May 2014