What’s in a Chinese name?

peckishlaowai Posted in China,Tags: , ,
To name and how to name: those are the questions

Before you choose a Chinese name it’s probably a good idea to understand how you might use it in China – and when and how it would be useful to have a Chinese name. As far as I am concerned, these are some of the reasons you should consider getting a Chinese name:

  • You’ll often find yourself in situations where Chinese people ask you if you have a Chinese name – thus probably good for general conversation.
  • Pronunciation difficulties for Chinese: offering a Chinese equivalent could be helpful to Chinese that have difficulty pronouncing difficult or unusual English or other Western names.
  • If you have a business card, typically you’d have one side in English and the other side in Chinese showing your Chinese name. I guess this is a must-have in China. (Apparently having an auspicious name is even better for generating business leads.)
  • Having a Chinese name at least shows you are interested in their culture and that you’ve gone to some effort to obtain a name in a format familiar to them.

Way back in 2007 before I went to China I got a Chinese name. I did everything I should have – I had it checked and prepared by my Chinese University professor – a native speaker from Taiwan. She presented two or three options to me and I made my choice. I did think the name unusual at the time but since I didn’t know much about Chinese names to begin with, I didn’t question the name at all. I just went with it.

These were two of my choices with the surname first 富爱美 and 富爱梅。 They translate as such:
富爱美 – Good fortune, abundance, wealth / Love / Beautiful
富爱梅 – Good fortune, abundance, wealth / Love / Plum

I chose the first one: 富爱美
(Some background – all three characters “closely” match the sounds in my Western name.)

You’re probably laughing at me right now – that’s ok by me – it’s happened many times before, in fact my Chinese name always seems to amuse Chinese people or have them laugh at me. (I haven’t tried it on foreigners yet – this is a first.)

I’ll share with you some of the responses I’ve had:
Scenario 1:
I’m standing in class with my students in Nanjing, and am asked by one of the students what my Chinese name is. “富爱美” I reply. Class laughs. I think to myself “something’s wrong with my Chinese name” and I’m a bit too embarrassed to ask them why they’re laughing.

Scenario 2:
Chinese tutor (40 year old woman)also an educated University teacher in Nanjing asks me my Chinese name. ‘富爱美’ I reply. She laughs. “What’s wrong with it?”, I ask.

She replies”我的妈妈喜欢这个名子。 我不喜欢这个名子”. Great – it’s old-fashioned I think to myself.

Scenario 3:
I share my name with another professor at university. Yip you guessed it – he laughs too. “Ah you want to be wealthy, and you love to be beautiful or love beautiful things”. Great I think to myself – I sound superficial. I should get this name thing fixed.

Scenario 4:
I share my name with a Chinese guy from Australia – he laughs too. He says – “Ah, awesome, it’s like you want to embody all of the most superficial things in life, you want to be rich and you love beautiful things or you want to be beautiful. Awesome”.

Strange – I kind of thought this name would sit well with most modern Chinese ambitions – aren’t these the things that most people (not just Chinese) aspire to?

Where does this leave me though? I probably need to rethink my Chinese name – a few years down the line and I’d like to believe that I’m a bit wiser… There’s no hurry though but I thought I’d share with you my experience in getting and using a Chinese name.

Thus dear readers – I have a few questions for you:

  • Have you ever had any issues with your Chinese name? How do Chinese people react to it?
  • Does having a Chinese name, make you feel more integrated or not? Is having a Chinese name useful to you?
  • When Chinese friends learn your Chinese name, do they call you by that name or do they use use your Western name?
  • What about you – do you think my Chinese name is silly too? :) – you can be honest!

Do let me know please – share your thoughts with me. :)

Heaven and hell with Heisig – 800 hanzi update

peckishlaowai Posted in Heisig, Learning Mandarin,Tags: , , , , ,

Just because I’ve been quiet doesn’t mean I have lost interest. And just because my title indicates such extreme opposites does not mean this post is going to discredit any previous opinions I had about Heisig – but I had to make you wonder, didn’t I? How else would I get you to read this post? ;)

I’m still going at it – slowly, chipping away at every hanzi in my Heisig & Richardson book until I *think* I’ve got it stored in my memory.

As I incrementally add more and more chapters to my deck and test myself on yet more hanzi, I find there’s increased opportunity to forget what I’ve learned as well as get terribly confused. It’s all very exciting. :D With 1500 characters in the book I’m just over half-way through…

I am still loving it or rather nearly as much as I did when I wrote my first post – Small Victories: my progress in learning simplified characters with Heisig…. Frankly speaking though – it is a bit more challenging now. I’ll admit that there’s perhaps been a tinge of boredom – but then again, I get bored with stuff easily. I need variety – it’s the spice of life.

I’ve mentioned too in a previous post that the characters I struggle with would justify a post of their own – so I present – for your pleasure – a list of the little buggers (at least just some of them) that make me depressed, angry or just slightly peeved depending on how rough my day’s been ;D

#502: Formerly /

Heisig’s story is simply no good for me and mine sucks even more – in fact I did not even dream up a story of my own. I kind of remember this one just because I remember it – there is absolutely no story aiding my memory. When I’m presented with the keyword ‘formerly’ this is what goes through my head “oh this character has that politician story that doesn’t work for me – it’s the character that looks like a little robot or insect” and then I just write it cause it’s in my visual memory anyway. Sorry Heisig no offense intended – I absolutely adore some of your other stories or visuals – in fact I love the pond one – brilliant… (508 / Water and scorpion primitives = a scorpion dripping venom drop by drop till there is a whole pond of the stuff. ) I love visuals like that – those are heavenly.

#511 Alone / and Lonely /

So easy to confuse these two, isn’t it? As I was writing this post I figured out what I needed to do to remember these two different characters.

Alone /
I kept Heisig’s story which is about a pack of wild dogs, starved, surrounding a poor insect – a sad image portraying what it feels like for the bug to be alone. I kind of think of one of those bug-eyed bugs in ‘A Bugs Life’ and the hyenas in ‘Lion King’ drooling over the bug (thanks Pixar and Disney), and then imagine how the little bug wishes that he wasn’t alone and that he had some help from another insect bug so that he could escape and see the light of another day.

Lonely /
So you’ve got your uncle and the house / roof primitive above him. Well I imagine an imaginary uncle (he’s sort odd looking and unattractive) and he’s sitting at his dinner table feeling really sorry for himself singing that annoying song ‘Lonely I’m so lonely’.
I imagine that by bringing this annoying song into the story I’ll now be able to distinguish between these two characters.

#379 Stop [zhǐ]

I have difficulty remembering the meaning of this character – but am sort of ok with remembering its primitive meaning of ‘footprint’ (even though I think this footprint looks like it should belong to E.T.) As I’m sitting here writing this post I’m actually thinking of a school patrol where one older (taller) kid is holding up the stop sign barrier while the smaller kid is waiting patiently behind the older kid before she is able to cross the street. So I guess I might go with this image because the character kind of suits this image. Not sure why I didn’t think of it before but it popped into my head again as I was writing about this. I think I should blog more about difficult hanzi… Am happy to hear your thoughts or ideas please though…

#384 Look forward to /

This one might not be much of a surprise really if you know I’ve had difficulties with #379 (stop). No real bright moments here from me on this one though – maybe I’ll get this one in future if I sort out 379 stop. Personally I can’t see myself looking forward to sitting under an umbrella and stopping everything I’m doing. I’d probably enjoy that kind of thing for 5 mins and then feel like I need to be doing something. Perhaps I’m too literal about it but seriously this character won’t stick in my mind.

#392 Transcend / and #393 Surpass /

What a confusing mess these two have been. I’ve kept Heisig’s stories in both instances – and my visuals are right and they are very different but these two characters have been confusing for these two reasons:

  • Both have the character for walk on the left.
  • The meaning of these two characters both have the idea or connotation of “crossing” a certain point. So I’ve struggled with these and I’ve had them confused plenty of times and I’ll probably do it again.
    Perhaps blogging about it will make the difference…#WishfulThinking

#598 Bring Up and #395 Topic

As in ‘bring up an idea or topic for discussion’ with the primitive for fingers and the character for ‘be’. Easy enough as I think of a conference where you raise your finger to get the speaker’s attention thereby bringing up a topic for discussion. The problem though is that I confuse this character with #395 Topic . Both these stories have the word ‘topic’ in them – hence the common ground for confusion.

#568 Aspiration

When I think of a soldier’s heart I think of bravery – a very brave heart. Obviously everyone would aspire to have a brave heart but not everyone would aspire to be a soldier and so the meaning is a little out of whack with my natural line of thinking and every time I see this character I get it wrong. It’s not even like I can tell myself that I had aspirations to be a GI Jane when I was a kid cause I didn’t. I’m probably not making sense. Oh what to do :)

I hope you enjoyed my list of difficult hanzi – if you have any tips or advice – do share – it’s always great to hear other people’s thoughts :) There is some comfort in knowing that other Mandarin learners have experienced similar issues and it’s only natural and expected that people would have similar experiences – but it’s great to be able to read about their experiences and see exactly which characters had been problematic too for them. If you’re interested, take a look at these two articles as they have been helpful to me too:

Lastly, are you studying hanzi too? Do you have any posts I should read or would find interesting and what are your experiences? What tools do you use and what methods are you using? I’d be keen to hear so please leave a comment. Don’t be shy. I’m not…

The ups and downs of tīng bù dǒng moments

peckishlaowai Posted in Learning Mandarin,Tags: , , ,

‘Tīng bù dǒng’ or 听不懂 – the most comforting phrase I know in Mandarin Chinese – yet the one I despise the most. The phrase I always revert to when my listening skills have failed me – failed me completely with the most basic of sentences.

This “safe” phrase – is one that has the power to crush a Mandarin conversation right there and then – that is IF you let your confidence and emotions control you rather than you being in control of the situation.

Earlier this week I went to the corner shop and I bought a few things. The lǎobǎn (老板) of this particular shop, knows that I can speak a little Chinese and as I was paying for the things I bought he said something in Mandarin to me. I wasn’t quite prepared for what he had to say and I realized that what he had said had been too fast – I had caught NONE of it. My automatic response as you can gather from the title of this post had been ‘tīng bù dǒng’. I asked the him to repeat what he had said and the second time I at least caught the whole sentence and focused on some of the key words but I still had NO context – I actually had no idea what he had said to me. Also, I had not initiated the conversation on this occasion so I guess this didn’t help the situation either.

At this point I switched to English, and asked him to explain what he had said in English. He gave me a brief but helpful run-down. It turned out he was saying ‘wǒ yī yuè huí guó.’ (我 一月回国 / I’ll return to my country in January). I mean honestly – seriously – it’s a five word sentence and it’s all stuff that I know – something I reckon I know how to say in my sleep. I am so embarrassed that I still find myself in a ‘ting bu dong’ boat like this with Mandarin stuff that I ALREADY KNOW – have known for quite a while. I’ve passed (written) exams on this???

The only difference and real improvement I’ve shown is I guess how I handled the situation – in the past I would normally have used the ‘ting bu dong’ phrase to END the conversation as I’d normally feel overwhelmed (like an idiot) and I would have wanted to get away from the akward situation.

Now I still have my ‘听不懂’ moments but my aim is to try and stay CALM – ask questions to understand (even if it is in English), ask them to repeat and I try not to feel like an idiot (at least not too much).

I stick around too to practice some Mandarin afterwards and after all of this the person I’m speaking would normally be very surprised that I can actually string a few words together to form a beautiful Mandarin sentence. I’ll admit – it’s at moments like these when I see them slightly surprised – that I feel just a teensy bit satisfied with myself.

Sometimes studying Mandarin feels like a lost case and other times it is the most rewarding journey ever. I honestly hate the fact that I get flustered and have to say ‘ting bu dong’ when my listening skills and ability is poor. Other times I revel in the fact that I learned one crucial important word to use in the language or the fact that I am still progressing in Heisig.

Ah Mandarin – what a roller-coaster ride you give me…

Useful vocab?

Roller coaster: 过山车 / guòshānchē
听不懂 / ‘Tīng bù dǒng’ (literally listen not understand)
lǎobǎn (老板) = boss; shopkeeper; proprietor