Posts Tagged ‘chinese names’

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. :)