Se­cret of a name with a spe­cial char­ac­ter

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By WANG MINGJIE in Lon­don wang­mingjie@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Who would have thought com­ing up with a name for a baby could be a mon­ey­mak­ing af­fair?

Beau Jes­sup, a 16-year-old school­girl from Chel­tenham Ladies Col­lege in west­ern Eng­land, is said to have made a tidy sum by of­fer­ing ad­vice to Chi­nese fam­i­lies on how to choose suit­able English names for their off­spring.

Me­dia re­ports have said she founded Spe­cial Name. cn, a web­site that helps par­ents to choose ap­pro­pri­ate names for their child based on five pos­i­tive per­son­al­ity traits they se­lect. The web­site is said to have come up with names for thou­sands of ba­bies.

While a grow­ing num­ber of Chi­nese par­ents are keen on choos­ing non-Chi­nese names for their ba­bies in the hope of help­ing them study or work in the West, more and more for­eign­ers, es­pe­cially those who study Chi­nese or are in­ter­ested in Chi­nese cul­ture, are adopt­ing a Chi­nese name.

English speak­ers who study European lan­guages such as French, Ger­man or Span­ish do not usu­ally pick an al­ter­na­tive name in one of those lan­guages, but it is com­mon in China for stu­dents to ac­quire English names while study­ing English, just as it is not un­usual now for for­eign schol­ars to take a Chi­nese name when study­ing Chi­nese or liv­ing in China.

Their names are very of­ten given by the lan­guage teachers or cho­sen in con­sul­ta­tion with a na­tive speaker.

In Chi­nese a name usu­ally con­sists of two, three or oc­ca­sion­ally four mono­syl­labic char­ac­ters. The fam­ily name comes first, typ­i­cally one syl­la­ble long, or on rare oc­ca­sions two syl­la­bles, fol­lowed by the given name, which is ei­ther one or two char­ac­ters long.

Song Lianyi, prin­ci­pal teach­ing fel­low atChina In­sti­tute, SOAS, Univer­sity of Lon­don, has had ex­ten­sive in­volve­ment in giv­ing Chi­nese names to hisWestern stu­dents, say­ing there are about 50 a year who have been given their names by teachers at SOAS.

He has helped stu­dents with Chi­nese names based on translit­er­a­tion, with sounds that ap­prox­i­mate that of their names, with one char­ac­ter for the sur­name and one or two for their given name.

“Oc­ca­sion­ally you see their names given en­tirely based on their sur­names,” he says.

For ex­am­ple, a translit­er­a­tion of Emily in Chi­nese is Ai Mi Li ( ), and a translit­er­a­tion of Jack is Jie Ke ( ).

Some aca­demics be­lieve hav­ing a Chi­nese name is also a good way for for­eign stu­dents to dis­cover Chi­nese cul­ture, through the choice of Chi­nese char­ac­ters that best rep­re­sent them­selves, both in sound and in the mean­ing be­hind the words.

Derek Hird, se­nior lec­turer at the Univer­sity of West­min­ster, says his rules of giv­ing Chi­nese names to all stu­dents of Chi­nese stud­ies in­clude pos­ses­sion of pleas­ing sound and tonal qual­i­ties, as well as bear­ing pos­i­tive as­so­ci­a­tions.

Hird was given his Chi­nese name He De Rui (何德瑞), with He (何) cor­re­spond­ing pho­net­i­cally to Hird, and De Rui (德瑞) to Derek. The char­ac­ter­s德and瑞both have pos­i­tive con­no­ta­tions that sig­nify good virtue and be­ing aus­pi­cious re­spec­tively.

“Some of my stu­dents have asked for Chi­nese names, andmy rule is to have some kind of pho­netic con­nec­tion with how their name is pro­nounced, and also to use char­ac­ters that sug­gest some sort of pos­i­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics,” Hird said.

He once gave a stu­dent whose name was Dar­ren the Chi­nese name Da Ren (达仁), which con­veys the mean­ing of suc­cess and benev­o­lence.

Lu­cia Lorenzo, a post­grad­u­ate stu­dent at Shang­hai Fu­dan Univer­sity, is among those par­tic­u­larly happy with her Chi­nese name, Lu Xia (陆霞), which her Chi­nese teacher as­signed her in her first year of univer­sity.

“Lu Xia sounds a lot like my real name, Lu­cia, yet doesn’t par­tic­u­larly sound like a ‘for­eigner’ name,” she says.

By that she means one where peo­ple can im­me­di­ately tell that it is the translit­er­a­tion of a West­ern name, such asMa Li (玛丽) for Mary, or Lu Xi (露西) for Lucy.

“When you see such a name, you can im­me­di­ately guess the per­son is not Chi­nese,” Lorenzo says. “These names of­ten con­tain char­ac­ters used for tran­scrib­ing sounds, and for girls’ names, the char­ac­ters Mei (美) and Li (丽), mean­ing beau­ti­ful, seem to be ex­ceed­ingly com­mon.”

She is pleased that her Chi­nese name is short and easy for oth­ers to re­mem­ber, has a nice ring to it, and the mean­ing of the se­cond char­ac­ter Xia (霞), red cloud, is very po­etic.

Sam Hug, un­like Lorenzo, has had a rather bumpy road to get a Chi­nese name. The most com­mon way of writ­ing Sam in Chi­nese is Shanmu (山姆), which Hug dis­liked.

“Firstly, Shanmu just sounds like Shanmu, the killer whale at Sea World in Florida that keeps on eat­ing peo­ple. I didn’t re­ally want that as my name. I thought in­stead I could sim­ply find the nicest char­ac­ters that sounded vaguely like my name, and get away with that. ”

He also wanted his Chi­nese name to be one char­ac­ter rather than two, be­cause his English name is only one syl­la­ble. There is no char­ac­ter in Chi­nese the pro­nun­ci­a­tion of which ends in m, so he had a look at the char­ac­ters with the read­ing san, which sounded close.

“Um­brella, three, dis­perse— none of them re­ally made a flat­ter­ing name based on the read­ing san,” Hug said. “I didn’t re­ally want to end up be­ing called Xiao San ei­ther (a eu­phemism for mis­tress).”

Then his Chi­nese tu­tor sug­gested Sen (森), which means for­est, and he thought it would be the per­fect name, pleas­ant and sim­ple, and sound­ing vaguely like his English name, which was also one of the first Chi­nese char­ac­ters he learned.

How­ever, most Chi­nese peo­ple he in­tro­duced him­self to with this name just looked puz­zled, he says.

“Why would I be called For­est? That’s not a nor­mal name. I would try and ex­plain, and it would just take ages, and they would never be quite con­vinced.”

He quickly gave up as he said he def­i­nitely was not go­ing to be Shanmu, and Sen just puz­zled peo­ple, but most peo­ple could pro­nounce and re­mem­ber the name Sam eas­ily enough, so he stuck with that.

“I do feel slightly dis­ap­pointed that no one would letme be ‘For­est’, but I sup­pose it’s less trou­ble this way. No Chi­nese name for me af­ter all.”

Lu Xia sounds a lot like my real name, Lu­cia, yet doesn’t par­tic­u­larly sound like a ‘for­eigner’ name.”

Lu­cia Lorenzo post­grad­u­ate stu­dent at Shang­hai Fu­dan Univer­sity

SHI YU /FOR CHINA DAILY

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