Ex­pat helps Chi­nese find mean­ing­ful English names

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By YU RAN in Shang­hai


In cos­mopoli­tan cities like Shang­hai and Bei­jing, an in­creas­ing num­ber of lo­cals have taken mea­sures to bridge the ver­nac­u­lar gap by in­clud­ing their English names on name­cards. This move, how­ever, has more of­ten than not elicited laugh­ter from the Western­ers.

Matt Clarke, a Bri­tish ex­pa­tri­ate who has lived in Shang­hai for more than a decade, said that he has come across his fair share of “hi­lar­i­ous” English names such as Coke, Ap­ple and Candy.

“I find it very funny that many peo­ple sim­ply pick their fa­vorite words for their English names, re­gard­less of whether such words are ac­tu­ally ap­pro­pri­ate to be used as names. But I to­tally un­der­stand that the lo­cals do this to make things eas­ier for us Western­ers,” said Clarke.

When Clarke was able to speak and read Chi­nese flu­ently, he at­tempted to learn the mean­ing of the names of his Chi­nese peers. He now also prefers to call them by their Chi­nese names.

“At the be­gin­ning, I would use their English names as they were eas­ier to re­mem­ber. But since my Chi­nese has im­proved, I now pre­fer to use their Chi­nese names to show that I’m sincere,” said Clarke.

Zhao Ronghui, the di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute of Lin­guis­tics at Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies Univer­sity, said that it might be pru­dent for lo­cals to get a se­cond opin­ion be­fore pick­ing a name.

“It is quite com­mon for Chi­nese to adopt English names these days, es­pe­cially if they have to study abroad or work in a global com­pany. But it might be bet­ter for lo­cals to con­sult their for­eign peers to make sure these names are vi­able,” said Zhao.

Chi­nese par­ents of­ten try to give their chil­dren names that have mean­ings em­bed­ded within. They do this through the com­bi­na­tion of Chi­nese char­ac­ters which each come with their own con­no­ta­tions. There are over 80,000 char­ac­ters in the Chi­nese lan­guage, and only around 6,500 are com­monly used in daily speech.

How­ever, most Chi­nese par­ents don’t go through the same ef­fort when it comes to choos­ing an English name for their chil­dren. Many sim­ply go with who­ever their fa­vorite celebri­ties are or the fruits they like.

“Al­though I don’t have an English name, I picked English names for my two sons as the teach­ers at school think it is es­sen­tial to learn English with English names. I sim­ply browsed on­line and chose the names that I like,” said Ni Jing, a 38-year-old mother.

“I didn’t re­search about the mean­ings of the English names like how we would for Chi­nese names. After all, our chil­dren can change their English names if they want when they grow up.”

The sit­u­a­tion seems to be chang­ing, though. Two years ago, an Amer­i­can ex­pa­tri­ate in Shang­hai dis­cov­ered that an in­creas­ing num­ber of Chi­nese were look­ing to have English names and sub­se­quently launched a web­site to cater such a ser­vice.

BestEnglishName.com, the web­site set up by Lind­say Jerni­gan from Mem­phis, Ten­nessee, pro­vides users with a choice of five English names based on their an­swers to 10 sim­ple ques­tions.

All the ques­tions are de­signed to help users find a name that matches their per­son­al­ity and as­pi­ra­tions, and even takes into ac­count their West­ern and Chi­nese zo­diac signs.

Jerni­gan’s web­site was vis­ited 20,000 times within six months of its in­cep­tion, and about 1,800 peo­ple paid the 18 yuan ($3) re­quired for the ser­vice.

“Most of my clients want a name that is unique and has some spe­cial mean­ing. They pay much more at­ten­tion to the mean­ing of the names than their West­ern coun­ter­parts, who may not even be aware of the sig­nif­i­cance of their names,” said Jerni­gan.

I find it very funny that many peo­ple sim­ply pick their fa­vorite words for their English names, re­gard­less of whether such words are ac­tu­ally ap­pro­pri­ate to be used as names.” in Shang­hai a Bri­tish ex­pa­tri­ate

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