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English Names For Chinese

中国人的英文名字

Beautiful Roses

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

When last month I got the paycheck from Asia Knowledge – the school where I teach Chinese language to Israeli students, a little surprise was waiting for me: the section “Pay to” stated my name as Crystal Tao. Of course, this is the way that I present myself to foreigners but one can easily guess that Crystal is not the name given to me by parents. My Chinese name is Jiaqi (嘉琪).

Without thinking too much I took the pen with ink color similar to the one used on the cheque, surrounded “Crystal” with brackets and added my Chinese name in front of it. I was very pleased with the result since now it looked as some writer’s pen-name. And luckily there were no problems with cashing in the cheque.

It seems that the administration of Asia Knowledge was confused that I always sign my mails as Crystal Tao and thought that it is my real one, or maybe they are following this blog :-) . I always assumed that foreigners communicating with Chinese people know that many of them choose a foreign (mostly, English sounding) name.

To check it, I went through some profiles of Chinese girls in one dating site and counted the proportion of girls having English names. Surprisingly, it was quite high through the broad age group from 20 to 50 years old: almost half of site members had a foreign name appearing in their profiles (somewhere between 40% and 50%). Even for Chinese women older than 50 y.o. the proportion was as high as 20-25%.

The most often used names were Mary, Cherry and Jane. I also noticed that Chinese women like to take the names of some flowers or other presumably beautiful things. The result can be a usual and widespread name – like Rose or Daisy or less conventional but still pleasant to ear Sunflower. However, the most unexpected flower name that I encountered was Geranium… I closed my eyes and tried to imagine to myself how a man would pronounce – “I love you, Geranium!”

Intercultural dating is not the main reason for having an English name. As a matter of fact, some Chinese companies with a large database of foreign customers ask all of their employees to choose an English name. I think, however, that in most cases it is redundant and doesn’t bring any additional value. Let me quote the excerpt from one personal blog I recently stumbled upon:

Our “national” guide, Ming, met us at the Beijing airport when we landed. <…> Thirty-one years old, tall, very slim, cute, Chinese.

“My name is Ming,” she told us once she’d corralled us through the arrival gate, “but you can call me Kate.” Apparently the tour company had given all of their guides “Western” names to make it easier for their charges.

Which struck me as really funny; are there a lot of Americans who can’t pronounce “Ming”?

“I’m sorry, Monp? Mirg? Say it one more time, slower. Okay… Mmmmelg? Fuck this, I’m calling you Kate.”

I am quite curious why people often like the sound of foreign language. Maybe it just feels more romantic or makes it easier to create certain associations which would be harder in their own language? Or take, for example, the opposite trend when Westerners ink Chinese tattoos on their bodies? Do they feel that Chinese characters are more meaningful, mysterious or nice?

Let’s conclude this topic with an entertaining video from the series “Sexy Beijing” produced by witty Anna Sophie Lowenberg (who wisely changed her “unpronounceable” name with simple Su Fei):

Jiaqi (Crystal) Tao

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69 comments to English Names For Chinese
  • Hi Chrystal,

    I am quite curious why people often like the sound of foreign language. Maybe it just feels more romantic or makes it easier to create certain associations which would be harder in their own language?

    I have actually thought about this myself from time to time. For instance, there’s a singer who’se music I like to listen to in Italian, which I understand only barely. She also sings in Spanish, which is passable as well but her English songs I just can’t bear to listen to because they sound too cliche. There’s an association that is lacking in foreign languages. Also, I find it easier to speak about my feelings and emotions in languages other than my native one.

    I’d say that it’s because using a foreign language goes around some of the constraints we build for ourselves while growing up.

  • Yes believe it or not, Jackie isn’t Jackie Chan’s real name and my name isn’t actually Peter. The name on my credit cards, passport and driving license all say “Ching-Wa Lee”. Nice to meet you Jia Qi!

  • Ziccawei

    I think for Chinese people born or brought up since childhood in a foreign country, having an English name is ok.

    But I find something distasteful about Chinese people (in China) that seem so keen to adopt an English name. It smacks of colonialism to me.

    Yesterday evening, I was in one of Shanghai’s more well known bar/retuarants and all the Chinese staff had English names. And they were serving mostly white foreigners.

    I can’t exactly put my finger on it but it doesn’t sit very well with me.

    Kind of like having a black driver called Sam in Kenya in the 1920′s.

  • Marko

    Great article Crystal. I never understood why the Chinese people give themselves a foreign name if they don’t work in a foreign company or over the Internet. To me it’s like they rejecting their own culture in some way by doing so. I know that now is 21st century and that English is the international language and that everyone want to keep pace with the time, but I would rather as Crystal says “broke my tongue” :grin: over an over again until I can pronounce a Chinese name. It’s reasonable to give themselves foreign names when they are abroad for better understanding, but while in your native country I think it is superfluous.

  • Nice article, Crystal. I wonder if some of this can be attributed to the whole idea of “Western worship” (崇洋媚外) that has gone on for a long time in China? Something to think about.

  • SB

    There was an interesting article on just this subject in Slate last year: Apparently, in Chinese culture, there’s a more utilitarian view of names; there’s nothing wrong with people having different names for different purposes. In the west, however, we tend to view names as more of a fundamental and immutable aspect of personal identity.

    • That’s a good article. I especially liked the following quote:

      taking an English name isn’t kowtowing, nor is it simply utilitarian. Rather, it’s essential to being Chinese and achieving Chinese goals. Whereas in the past patriotism was expressed by self-sacrifice, it is now expressed through economic activity. So by working for, say, 3M, Chinese citizens are helping to build up China, and the English names they take on in the process are as patriotic as Cultural Revolution-era monikers like Ai Guo (Loves China) or Wei Dong (Mao’s Protector).

      • TLB

        Oh, so now you’re going to start bringing ideas from actual research into this blog? :shock: What’s the fun in that? :grin:

        The article corroborates my own experience with my 53-year-old fiancee: she has her “real” name, and a name she uses on the web (QQ, etc). I’ve NEVER heard anyone call her by her real name; friends and acquaintances use part of her QQ name with the added “old” or “young” depending on their age.

        It’s interesting that, in the Slate article, the author (who is not the source of the research data) in the end can’t give himself an English name — carrying forward, as an American, the existential “this is who I am” mentality.

        Cultural habits such as these come into being usually because people believe that it is to their advantage and in their own interests to do so. The anthropologist’s data gives some interesting ideas for how that could be. Thanks for posting it.

  • benj

    I’m sorry I don’t really have anything to contribute. Maybe you’re right about the foreign languages having more of a ring to it. But… I wish my students would use less daily objects/nouns as names. It’s really odd to hear “Helicopter” or “Evil” or “Predator” as a name.

    SB your name is the real reason I made this comment. LOL.

  • Rhys F

    This entry got me wondering on a bit of a tangent… English has the terms Engrish for japanese screwups in english, and Chinglish for Chinese screwups… Just look at cheap translations of the instructions on imported asian made goods!

    But what do Chinese call a foreign speakers screwups with Mandarin?

  • Interesting discussion. I’m from England and when I was growing up, many of my friends and myself did not use an English name. It’s ironic that I only needed an English name when I moved to Asia in 1996. First day at work (in HK) the HR person asked “so what’s your English name”.

    In mainland China it’s also now becoming the same way. Out of about 35 people in my office, there is not one person who doesn’t have an English name.

    I grew up in London, it’s a multi-cultural city, nobody had any problems calling me Ching-Wa and probably would have thought it was strange if I said my name was Peter.

    I kind of like how Chow Yan Fa, the HK actor didn’t follow Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan and stuck to his Chinese name. I felt kind of proud when I walked down the street in London and passed a movie theatre and saw “The Replacement Killers starring Chow Yan Fat”.

    • Ziccawei

      Good point, wo-ai.

      Chow Yan Fat is a great example of someone refusing to bow-down to western bullshit values.

      Why should someone have an English name?

      I don’t have a Chinese name and if I did Chinese people would probably think it’s weird that I do.

      • disagree

        It’s not “western bullshit values.” China is somewhat unique in this regard. Maybe the people want to seem metropolitan and modern. I dunno. Japanese don’t take on English names. Nor do Russians, Indians, Iranians, Egyptians, etc. The only example I could think of in which one of those people might be using an English name was if they worked in a call center and needed to dupe the Americans into thinking they were not foreigners.

      • Kevin

        Why should someone have an English name?

        I don’t have a Chinese name and if I did Chinese people would probably think it’s weird that I do.

        Most foreigners in China do have Chinese names. My job made me pick one for my business cards and I never really use it, but lots of people do answer to their Chinese name and use it in everyday life (even with other foreigners).

        • Kevin

          PS I totally agree about having to choose an English / Chinese name being bullshit cultural imperialism, and I think this is probably part of the reason you see Chinese people with such “stupid” English names. If I was a cocky schoolkid rather than a new employee that didn’t want to cause trouble with HR, I would definitely have chosen something rather sillier than 凯文 (actually my first choice was already quite silly, a full 8-character transliteration of my English name, but they wouldn’t let me use that).

  • Teacher in China

    You guys are all missing the biggest point: who is that girl in the picture!!?? :grin:

  • BlackSugarDaddy

    There is one thing missing in this article, which is who are those people naming themselves under a foreign names and why are they doing so. Pretty much 80% of native chinese who named themselves with fancy exotic labellings is for the sake of communication either in a working place or somewhere engaging with foreigners(not necessarily native english speakers),and of course they speak English. The reason why they use foreign exotic letters instead of their native chinese names i guess is because THEY BELIEVE some of the names are difficult to pronounce for foreign guys cause letters may be pronounced differently in different languages.

    For example I wouldn’t like talking to someone with a name like [Ziccawei].It strikes me as someone from somewhere between nowhere and goodbye,and this name sounds ridiculous in mandarin as well. “zi wei”, jacking off, masturbating???????? ugh, :???:

    So Crystal, why would you call yourself Crystal instead of jiaqi? because jiaqi might be sounding different/difficult, isn’t it ?

  • Xiaou2

    Ive always loved the name Crystal, and interestingly enough, it seems to fit you somehow.

    Crystals are beautiful. Ive collected a few of them over the years. They are said to be somewhat mystical, amplifying emotions, desires, & power… Crystals are somewhat symbolic of Enlightenment, Healing power, and Love.

    The name Jiaqi is also very interesting. (Pronounced as Jie Qee ?) What does it mean? Google translates it to: Cathy Wan, which does not seem accurate to how Ive heard Chinese names translated.

    Personally, a name like Ming is pretty and easy to pronounce. There are a few instances of Asian names which Ive found very hard to pronounce. I can only think that some have chosen different names that are easier for others to pronounce or spell. However, there are some who prefer an english name. The girl I was with last was from Taiwan, and she had chosen Lily. Her real name sounded very similar to lily though.

    As for Chinese Characters… to many westerners, they are interesting and artistic. Also, they do have a lot of meaning, which is quite different from english letters… where each letter has no real meaning individually.

    • SB

      The more likely naive transration of Jiaqi by most westerners would probably be something like “Jackie”. Among my coworkers and associates in my graduate program a lot of the ones who’ve chosen western names tend to pick something that sounds pretty close to their Chinese name (Jixin becomes Jason, Liuxi becomes Lucy, etc.)

    • Thanks for your nice words, Xiaou2.

      The first syllable of my Chinese name “Jia” (嘉) can be translated as “flowing smoothly” and it is like in the name of river Jialing – tributary of Yangzte river. My home city Chongqing is actually located where Jialing and Yangtze join.

      The second syllable “Qi” (琪) can be translated as “beautiful jade”.

  • Xiaou2

    Thank you JaiQi. Its a very beautiful name. So poetic.

    Steve

  • So where does the “Tao” come from? :shock: Some of my students choose last names to go with their English name but it’s always Lee because their Chinese surname is 李. Otherwise they just have an English first name.

  • disagree

    I don’t mind if a Chinese person wants me to call them by their English name. I do, however, think that it is becoming an unnecessary anachronism. Japanese and Koreans don’t give themselves English names, and if the name is difficult to pronounce, they will offer a shortened version. Foreigners also do this. For example, someone’s name might be Alexander, but simply tell people to call them Al. Chinese people should be proud of their names and language. Also, I prefer calling my Chinese friends by their Chinese names. If I meet a Chinese person and they insist I call them by their English name, I don’t consider them to be a potential friend.

    One thing Chinese people should do if they want an English name, is to choose one they can pronounce. Simple is better. Don’t choose a name like “Franklin” when “Tim” will do.

  • Bill

    I’m sure there are multiple reasons Chinese choose english names.

    But for those who interact with westerners, I think it’s done just to make life easier. Unless you know a little Chinese and can read Pinyin it can be hard to remember Chinese names. I can pronounce JiaQi, but nobody unfamiliar with Pinyin can. And even if they learn to say JiaQi correctly, they still have to memorize it.

    My wife’s first name is Zheng. Even if someone gets the ‘Zh’ sound right, unless they say it in the Mandarin first tone, it is still likely to slip right by her.

    I always try to remember Chinese names. It seems more respectful and shows your interest in the person.

  • Michael

    English names for Chinese are a really bad idea. They are unnecessary and often much more dull than the person’s real name. Many of the names also sound old fashioned or just plain weird to westerners, and must make the Chinese person lose prestige. I have a doctor friend called Winky who just cannot be taken seriously by colleagues or any western patients.

  • Andy

    My wife and I are expecting our first child. My wife is Chinese and I am British and have begun discussing possible ideas for our child’s name. One of things that has come up is whether their name should have some Chinese roots, or even an English then a Chinese name. The perfect solution would be a name that works both in Chinese and in English as my wife’s does. Not necessarily an easy name to find.

    • Kevin

      @Andy Apparently the most common thing to do is to have a separate English and Chinese name, using your surname and your wife’s surname respectively, and then use the given part of the Chinese name as a middle name in English. For example, if your surname is Smith and your wife’s surname is 王, you might call your child 王伟 in Chinese and James Wei Smith in English.

      • Kevin

        Replying to myself, I just realised that you’re probably in the UK. My reply was based on children with a foreign father in China, who still need to have a Chinese character-based name. But even so, having a Chinese middle name seems like a good compromise.

    • I’m American with a half-Chinese son and his name is in English with my last name on his birth certificate (he was born in China) but his middle name is the initial Z since my wife’s surname is Zhu. If a child is born in China but the parents agree to give him foreign citizenship then his name should officially be in the foreign country’s language.

  • China Shark Mike

    Okay, here are some of the crazy names my students chose Cinderella, Sunday, Orange. Yeah, I see why people wouldn’t respect these people. Friggen’ idiots. I’ve been mulling over whether to choose a Chinese name as of late. I’m caught between a rock and a hard place because I’m already the infamous China Shark so if I choose a third name how confusing would that be to Chinese. It’s so funny because my students are always shouting at me in the hallways and student grounds China Shark! I think I’ll be better off with just my American name and my alias China Shark Mike.

    • Kevin

      I made a comment about this above – they probably resent being told they have to pick a foreign name, so they deliberately pick something stupid to make a point or make their classmates laugh. It’s not like they’re using the name in daily life, right?

  • China Shark Mike

    Crystal how did you come up with the name Crystal. Truth be told in America Crystal is a big stripper name like of course Candy or Kandy is. It’s a great name yet my preconception of in my mind is a scantily clad girl who pole dances for a living. It’s ironic on how the perceptions are different from nation to nation. Personally, I think it’s a cool name so it’s really a moot point. Have quite a few students and friends named Crystal. I’m surmising that at one point Crystal might have become the in name to choose like Michael has been for like 30 yrs running in America. It is spelled 26 different ways around the world. Michael/American, Micheal/English, Michelle/French.

  • Ziccawei

    I used to live in Hong Kong and one time, me and my brother went into McDonalds and it was pretty empty. There were two girls serving next to each other so we went to one each. My one was called Kinetic and the one serving my brother was called Energy. Plus they were twins. THAT is sheer genius!

    :lol:

  • Smithcraft

    Famous people change their names to make themselves more identifiable, and I don’t see people complaining about that! :lol: Who wants to go out and see that new Archibald Leach movie? Well, there hasn’t been a new Archibald Leach movie since 1966, but you get my point right?

    A friend of mine is of Japanese and Mexican descent. He has a Mexican first name, and asked me if I thought it would be a good iDea if he changed it to a Japanese name. I think my abrupt laughter told him what I thought about that! Not only was he going to try and just pick a male Japanese name based on whether it was cool sounding, but he had no iDea about Japanese naming conventions. Now I should also note it took him more than 15 years before he shook off the English version of his name that he was given when his family emigrated to the US. He now goes by his Mexican name, although once in a great while I’ll slip and use his English name.

    And then what about when people have nicknames? Just like we have user names at forums, that most of the time are not our real names. Would you scoff at someone that has a nickname? At one place I worked at the only people we called by name were the managers. All of the workers used our nicknames when talking about, or to, each other.

    What about when people have their names legally changed? I might scoff at the guy that had his name changed to Optimus Prime, but if you think a different name better identifies you, why not change it?

    Now the problem I have with Chinese having foreign names is two fold. First, if I understand correctly, many times the English names are picked by a school or workplace, at random. If someone is going to rename me, then it’s gonna be me or someone I know, not some unknown entity. Second, many people that pick a name I think don’t know what the name means, and only go by how it sounds, or end up making up names like the one lady in the Sexy Beijing video that wanted to have a different version of Samantha.

    I let people tell me how they want to be addressed, and go from there.

    As for Chinese characters in tattoos? I don’t know, and I can’t speak for anyone else, but for the tattoo I still have in the design stage, and since I don’t have Aaanolds biceps, the use of Chinese characters will be better in terms of spatial utilization, rather than the full latin expression. Also – less needle time means less pain!

  • China Shark Mike

    TLB it might be a regional thing back in the states back in my younger years when I’de frequent those type of establishments. Certain names carry certain connotations in all cultures.

  • David

    Well as you can see my name is David. I was told by a Chinese friend that in China I would be called 大卫 (pronounced Dà wèi). Now I was worried that this might be just a phonetic translation and have no meaning at all. Kind of like the world Golf. Which in Chinese is just a phonetic translation (高尔夫 Gāoěrfū Which according to google means “High” “Seoul” “Husband” Which sounds more like a married pot smoker from Seoul). When I learned that 大 (Dà) meant “Big or Great” and that 卫 (wèi) means “Protector”, “Defender” I was happy. Because although the name is often given the meaning; “Beloved by God”, the name actually does translate rather nicely. Being that David is a Biblical name and was the first King of Israel. The term “Great protector” does fit into the spirit of the meaning of the name. I guess we all can’t be so lucky.

  • Louisa

    I actually have the opposite situation. No one except my ex-Chinese teachers ever use my Chinese name. My parents don’t even use my Chinese name. They use a shortened from of my English name. Interestingly, all my Asian American friends go by their English names, except for one or two who basically use a phonetic translation of their Chinese/Korean name. The only place where my Chinese name even shows up is my middle name, which is pretty common for overseas Chinese come to think of it.

    If someone called me by my Chinese name it would probably take me a second or two to realize they’re addressing me. haha.

    As for Chinese people choosing their own names, I find it interesting that they choose names that end in -y or -ie. Like Nancy, Annie, Johnny, Davy, etc. And Allan/Allen/Alan seems to be popular too. Though I think the coolest name I’ve found is this guy whose English name is Sephiroth, although this might be because I’m a huge Final Fantasy nerd.

    • Rhys F

      Final Fantasy hell! That’s a Kabbalistic name :D at least to a non FF nerd.

      Sephiroth is occult :P which for mainstream folks, means dark, uncanny and not to be dealt with… Ideal name for a black clad swordsman with uncanny connotions in a game :P

      I wonder how my Name would come out, anyone willing to translate “Rhys” for me? The name is welsh and means “Firey Warrior” or “Fearless Spirit” depending on which welsh name book you read :P

      • Louisa

        That’s actually very interesting. I did not know that. But for this guy at least it was a reference to the game character. I asked him and he said that FFVII was his favorite game.

        But now I’ve learned something new. I always thought that Sephiroth was a play on the word seraph. Sounds similar and the character later turns into an evil lopsided angel.

  • China Shark Mike

    Reminds me of my exwife who never took an English name while we were together. Xiao Wen, first 3 weeks dating could not pronouce it so I would just use a cliche how is my baby doing on the phone to compensate for my lack of liguistic skills. My first girl in China is named Mei and was insisting on changing her name to Jany. Had to say I was totally against it. For those doing business or communicating with foreigners is one thing but just to do it for the sake of doing it is lame. Some Chinese have beautiful simple names that I see as appropiate. However, if you want to move up in the international business world you must take an English name. The western culture worship I don’t get it myself.

  • Carl

    Since my last post the wife and I moved to Yanji so she could spend time with her parents and I could follow my deram of teaching English. Some of my students had already chose English names and the rest wanted one too. In most cases I was able to give them a name that closely matched their native name. As far as my wife Ying goes, on the website I met her on her name on there was Jean, but she never used it and I always called her by her given name. When we got married I gave her the option of keeping her name or changing it. She decided to keep her native name, use her family name as her middle and take my family name as her last. Her family still calls her by her native name and thats ok with me, I just call her Dear and she calls me BOY!!!!!!!!!

  • CanadianDumpling

    I got tired of white people trying to pronounce the Xiao sound. The X confuses the hell out of them.

  • Eddie

    I asked a Chinese girl why she felt she had to take a Western first name. She said, because Americans can’t pronounce Chinese names.

    Actually, most of us can read. We can pronounce Chinese names quite well, when they are spelled in English. Pinyin is a disaster. That’s why we can’t pronounce Chinese names. X doesn’t confuse us. We all know that words do not start with X. When we want to write the CH sound, we write CH.

    When I see pinyin I always ask “How do you say that?” Then I write it down is such a way that it can be pronounced correctly by a native English speaker. This is called the Garret-Wade system. It worked well for 100 years.

    I say, Peking. :-)

    • Kevin

      Peking is a bad example because the Chinese pronunciation is pretty close to an English-speaker’s reading of “Beijing”, and really nothing like “Peking” at all. And Wade-Giles has some of its own letter strings that sound nothing like you would expect in English – the sound that is written as “x” in pinyin is written as “hs” in Wade Giles, which is just as far from the actual pronunciation.

      If you don’t like the weird letters like in pinyin, the best system is probably something called Tongyong Pinyin, which was introduced by Taiwan about 10 years ago. It’s almost identical to standard pinyin except for a small number of sounds that have been changed to match up better to how an English speaker would naturally read them – for example, ‘zhong’ is changed to ‘jhong’, ‘xiu’ is changed to ‘syu’ etc.

      • Eddie

        Kevin, I don’t think Wade-Giles (thank you for the correction) is perfect. I doubt that Peking is the only bad example of pinyin either. For me it is only about being able to pronounce a word. What I like is what works. Anyway, I do not believe that Wade-Giles was replaced with pinyin because of a few subtle irregularities – do you?

        Why do any of these systems exist? I doubt that any of the Romanization Systems are really necessary. I’m not sure they’re even helpful. They are not Chinese, and they are not English. They are an artificial non-language. No other language feels that it needs such a construct. I do not think for a second that when I say “Vladivostok,” I sound like a native speaker of Russian. Yet, the Russians are willing to accept my non-native accent.

        Wade-Giles gave two Englishmen cushy university teaching jobs. I’m not sure it ever did much for China. Its best feature was that nobody ever knew it existed. Pinyin has created thousands of cushy teaching jobs for Chinese professors, but I’m not sure it ever did much for anyone else.

        • How about English transcription?
          I mean those phonetic symbols put between “[" and "]” in dictionaries?

          I think that most students learning English language find them quite useful.

          • Eddie

            Of course, the pronunciation keys in dictionaries are invaluable, even though sometimes they only add to the confusion. The audio pronunciation buttons found in some online dictionaries are wonderful. They are especially entertaining when comparing UK to American accent. :-)

            If I had to explain the pronunciation of “Qipao,” I would write “chee-POW.” Q is a problem. In English, a Q sounds like a K, never a CH.

            X is a problem too. We have almost no words that begin with X. Most sound like a Z (xylophone). On the other hand, we do know how to pronounce SH.

            “Xiexie” would be “SHEE-she” or something like that. Not perfect, but at least we would have half a chance of making ourselves understood.

            When speaking pinyin-to-English dictionaries become available, spelling will be less of an issue. There are a few attempts at this, but they are poor (if you know of a good one, please share). Hopefully this will happen before the “universal translator” arrives. ;-)

      • SB

        If I’m not mistaken, Isn’t Peking the Cantonese pronunciation of China’s capital? A number of common historical names for people and places in China come from the Cantonese readings because of the extensive British influence in the region and the large number of Cantonese immigrants to the US. It’s the same reason we refer to the person that modern Chinese know as Jiang Jieshi as Chiang Kai-shek.

  • Justin Liu

    The only thing that could perfectly do the job is the international phonetic alphabet (what Henry Higgins uses to write down Eliza Dolittle’s accent in My Fair Lady), but who is going to teach a bunch of 6 year olds IPA?

  • Chris

    Not sure why people in China have English names, but in USA and Canada, I think it’s just an easier way to settle into a new culture. Not everyone have a monosyllable name that’s easily pronounced, which means that a lot of people will need to use English names.

    That being said, I sympathize with your pain. Having been using Chris as the name I communicate with friends and colleagues, I find myself increasingly having to preface or explain my legal name as I continue to move into a very professional field. It’s annoying, and at times creates more confusion than is necessary.

    What else is there to be done? I think in a more culturally aware world, maybe one day there will be universal recognition of how names are arranged. It’s not very likely, but one can hope.

  • Dan Ruble

    well first off let me say I just stumbled onto this site and am enjoying it quite a bit. Second, English names not only are usually easier to pronounce, but oft time abreviated even further. friends and colleages may call a Daniel dan or danny. Robert becomes Bob, James,Jimmy, or Jim, hey maybe Jimbo.. And now we have the lovley Crysal, which is sure to be shortened to Crys.. that’s how I see it. And someone metioned the bastardization of language..Chinglish,Spanglish etc.. I thought English /Mandarin would be obvious.. Mangle- ish…Also the shortening of names, or new appelations? Cinderella? Cin ,Sin or Cyndy.. Sunday becomes Sunny, Sunnie, Sunee, even Suni..don’t forget that little heart for an “i”…As for miss Tao.. I think she would make a great pole dancer.. sorry Crys,you can’t help it if yer sexy…BTW , nice site you have here.

  • jaiolang

    I’m in Western Canada. The “name-thing” is something I’ve watched with fascination. Canada is a country of immigrants, always has been since the beginning. Throughout my life, I’ve been fortunate to know people who’ve moved here from all corners of the planet.
    while noting the trend among Chinese to change their name to the “North American” familiar, I’ve noticed that East Indian people do not. I have friends from Vietnam who’ve never even thought to change their names.
    Most Japanese I have met have introduced themselves with the name their parents gave them in Japan. Lately I have met one Japanese woman who allows a slight pronouniation variable, the name Reiko as the Hispanic Riko. A slight variation for the sake of efficiency.
    But mostly this topic seems to be the serious concern of Chinese natives.

    I wonder how many white folks visiting or living in China have adopted a Chinese name? ( beyond a familiar nickname among friends or family…?)

    I think of it as a curious cultural anomaly, and find myself often questioning the rationale and supposed efficiency of the practice. I know a young lady who’s name is Yiran, but insists on being Alice.
    Yiran is a beautiful and different name from my geographical perspective. Alice seems rather pedestrian, cardboardish in my part of the world.

    From a North American perspective, I’ve noted that Chinese society seems to value the group over the individual. Compared to most in North America, Chinese people seem very highly socialized. Work and social activety has been seen by my eyes as a movement of the group, rather than the lone individual….(in general.)
    I wonder if the practice of name change is more of a social need of the Chinese expatriate to “blend in” and become part of the group here, as a result of social upbringing back in China. (As well as creating a welcoming social format for North Americans and Europeans travelling, working and living in China?)

    It is also natural that North Americans would find this need to intigrate a little unusual sometimes. Canada/USA are still a bit about the wild wild west….extolling greater value on the individual’s ability to stand out from the crowd, the gun fighter’s self reliance, ability to move and act unilateraly.

    When people move here from India and maintain their name, nobody seems surprised. When the Chinese native does, it is noticed.

    I don’t think this topic repesents something that is either good or bad. I do thing that it represent a highly complex social dynamic, and that perhaps a greater understanding of people’s motives, actions and reactions may allow us to learn more about the inner workings of the cultures of these two very different regions.

  • 3jay

    I, for one, fail to understand the Chinese preoccupation with adopting a Western name. I don’t think a Western name has the same ‘cultural’ value as the different names Chinese would take on for different purposes in the past (like zi 字 and hao 号). For example, back in their heydays, when Japan was the growing power to watch out for, none of the Japanese ever bothered to consider such an option. They are justifiably proud of their heritage and culture and, by extension, their names, and so should the Chinese be. I tend to make a point of calling my Chinese friends by their ‘real’ names, unless they really are completely Westernised and use a Western name in every aspect of their lives. And no, pronunciation shouldn’t be an excuse: you can learn how to correctly pronounce pinyin in about 10 minutes. TV and radio news-readers should really pay attention to that, by the way!

  • woodlandowl

    I am disappointed that Chinese individuals’ names are westernized for whatever reason. I think it displays a fundamental lack of ignorance on those westerners who demand a western name for Chinese workers or, I also feel bad that westerners are ignorant enough to make Chinese feel that they have to have a westernized name to be communicated to properly.

    My understanding is that in Chinese, that written in Pinyin and pronounced, the family surname comes before the child’s given name. For instance my girlfriend’s name is Yang Lan. Her family name is Yang, and her first name, the most personal and intimate, is Lan. I call her Lan because we are very close.

    Is my understanding correct?

  • Mai Ke

    I’ve been teaching English in China for last 6 years. I’ve heard some strange English names.
    Latest is Lobelia (a flower – a nice change from Rose and Daisy). One of the oddest – Chair – a boy. Eleven – taken directly from one boy’s Chinese family name.
    A few years ago I taught a Ruler Toe.

  • Yan

    Most of chinese want an english name because of many reason

    they have a foreigner boyfriend
    They works online
    they work on business (chinese or not)
    or they think foreigner name is cute

    Personally I prefer the chinese name because sometime like crystal’s Jia qi doesnt mean crystal in english it have another meaning

    But you know in USA and even in Canada we can change our name Legally ( going to the government and changing name)

    A name doesn’t define you your family name define you

    just to tell you in my MSN I have someone called

    Very Pure
    Little Butterfly
    Pure Angel
    and another one I actually forgot the meaning

  • Kong

    Even if Chinese people picked English names “stinks of Western imperialism”, why shouldn’t they? Would it be better to act as if Western imperialism doesn’t exist? Why not just call it what it is, and admit that Western Europe and the US have culturally ransacked most of the world? It is up to local people everywhere to shape the direction of their culture. I have a great idea: instead of telling Chinese people what they *should* or *should not* do (which is pretty much the same thing Western Imperialists do), just let them do whatever they want to, yea?

    Sorry for the heavy talk. Now for something a little less snooty:

    In my experience, Chinese people generally do not use their given names at all except for formal situations. They use nicknames, or 老/小+family name. For this reason, choosing an foreign language name to be called by may be fairly arbitrary. It may just seem weird to have everyone calling them by their first name.

    I have a friend whose name is Apple, and I think that is just fine. It’s unique and a bit cute (and definitely tasty!). If she were to work in some high-powered professional field, she might consider changing her name.

    I have a question for Crystal: Is it possible that they simply did not know your Chinese name, much less know how to write it in Chinese!?

  • I have a friend whose name is Apple, and I think that is just fine. It’s unique and a bit cute (and definitely tasty!). If she were to work in some high-powered professional field, she might consider changing her name.

    Could be a good name for the employee of high-tech company :razz:

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