Expat helps Chinese find meaningful English names
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