Name selection in China

mynameisIn the same way that I’m fascinated by westerners getting terrible Asian character tattoos, I am deeply interested in the reasons that Chinese people pick their English names (or anyone who chooses a name in another language, actually).  Of course, not everybody has an English name, but it’s rare that you find a younger person who does not.

Unsurprisingly, young Chinese people take this as an opportunity to express their individuality.  In a country of well over a billion people, there are only a hundred or so popular last names, and similar first names are common.  This means that it’s not uncommon for people to meet, go to school with, or work with someone with exactly the same name (I even met another Wendy Wong recently!).  Choosing an a name that reflects some of their personality can be quite important to some, which leads to some interesting choices.  Adjectives and nouns are also quite common names in Chinese, but they can sound odd to English speakers.

Interestingly, English names can also go back in the other direction, as Chinese people call their friends by a ‘Chinesified’ version of their English name.  I had a colleague called Echo, but everyone called her Ai-ke when speaking in Chinese.

I recently found out that another colleague, Gills, intended to call himself Giggs (after footballer Ryan Giggs), but something went wrong along the way.  I’m not quite sure what.  Some other fantastic names I’ve come across in China and Hong Kong have been Paper, Mars, Forrest Gump, Chocolate, Ocean King, and Person.

For some further reading, check out In China My Name Is by Valerie Blanco and Ellen Feberwee.  It’s a book dedicated entirely to Chinese people and the stories behind their English names.

Oh, and happy Chinese New Year!