How would you like ev­ery­body to call you Big Moun­tain?

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - Matt Prichard FIRST PER­SON Con­tact the writer at matthew­prichard@chi­nadaily.

How would you like to be named “Big Moun­tain”? The name— Da Shan (大山) in Chi­nese— has a bit of ma­cho flair, af­ter all. It also hap­pens to be the Chi­nese name of Mark Rowswell, a Cana­dian well-known as a talk show star on Chi­nese TV. His Chi­nese is so good that it is of­ten con­sid­ered the gold stan­dard for the abil­ity of laowai (for­eign­ers) to speak Man­darin.

But choos­ing Da Shan for your­self might be prob­lem­atic, and that goes to the heart of the dilemma for­eign­ers face when choos­ing a Chi­nese name.

First, it is kind of a cool name. But if you choose it, you might be seen as some­what of a poseur be­cause of its star power. Also, un­less you are a very large lum­ber­jack from Hei­longjiang prov­ince, it might seem a bit pre­sump­tu­ous on another level.

The nam­ing game is one that vir­tu­ally all ex­pats here play. At first, it re­ally is a game. “Oh, won’t this be fun!” And it helps us to feel like we fit in a lit­tle bit, our first lit­tle touch of Chi­ne­se­ness. And there are so many pos­si­bil­i­ties. Com­pared with most West­ern names, most of which are pretty stan­dard, even bor­ing, Chi­nese names have all kinds of mean­ings. It’s eas­ier to pick one to fit your per­son­al­ity.

In fact, Chi­nese stu­dents learn­ing English of­ten em­ploy that rule when choos­ing English names for them­selves. For ev­ery Jack or Jes­sica in English class, there may be a De­mon, Lu­cifer, Fish, Cot­ton, Lemon, Seven or Eleven. (These are real ex­am­ples from just one teacher.) Un­less these stu­dents in­tend to use their English name pro­fes­sion­ally (de­pend­ing on the pro­fes­sion, of course), these names are just a good bit of fun.

But choos­ing a Chi­nese name seems to have a bit more grav­i­tas. The Chi­nese are care­ful in pick­ing out a baby’s name be­cause they be­lieve it can af­fect the child’s fu­ture. While a Chi­nese name is a won­der­ful con­ver­sa­tion­starter, few would want to be mocked be­cause they de­cided to call them­selves Shan Dian­qiu (闪电球), or “Light­ning ball”.

For­eign­ers ini­tially en­thu­si­as­tic about pick­ing out a name can quickly be­come en­tan­gled in a maze of lin­guis­tic and cul­tural bram­bles.

Some other names that may sound great but are best to avoid, as noted by the Chi­nas­mack web­site, are the pre­sump­tu­ous: Gao Fushuai (高富帅) “Tall, rich hand­some”, or Mao Taimei (毛太美) “Hair too beau­ti­ful”. Another com­pli­ca­tion is that Chi­nese of­ten em­ploy homonyms, words that sound like other words, in their daily speech. So, Fan Tong (范统) may sound great, but it’s a homonym of a word mean­ing “id­iot”. Dai Naizhao (戴乃照) also has a nice ring, but it’s a homonym for “wear­ing a bra”. That makes it a par­tic­u­larly bad choice for a guy.

For those ready to give up, don’t. It’s pos­si­ble to pick a re­ally good name, but there are a few­car­di­nal rules. First, and most im­por­tantly, en­list the help of some of your new Chi­nese friends (prefer­ably those that don’t like to play prac­ti­cal jokes).

If you know enough Chi­nese, you can think of the char­ac­ter­is­tics you want to por­tray, and look up some of the words. Make a list and ask a Chi­nese friend for sug­ges­tions. You’ll want two to three char­ac­ters— no more— and make sure the char­ac­ters don’t have an ex­ces­sive num­ber of strokes so you can learn to write them. Pick a name that’s gen­der-ap­pro­pri­ate so you don’t end up be­ing a boy named Sue. (Though Su is a le­git­i­mate Chi­nese sur­name.)

One easy way around the dilemma is us­ing a Chi­nese homonym for your birth name, such as Luo Pei (罗佩) for Robert. But the Chi­nese lan­guage teach­ing web­site Nin­chanese notes this also can be tricky. It ad­vises against a per­son named Rose choos­ing Rou Si (肉丝), which means “Slices of pork”. Sim­i­larly, it says, Daniels should avoid Da Niu (大牛) un­less they want to be known as “Big cow”.

When I went to pick out my name, I set­tled on Ma (马), which sounds likemy given name Matt. It means “horse” — but is a le­git­i­mate Chi­nese sur­name— asmy fam­ily name. Be­sides, per­haps Alibaba founder Jack Ma will de­cide I’m a long-lost rel­a­tive.

For the other char­ac­ters, rep­re­sent­ing my given name, I went with the sound and the char­ac­ter­is­tics I wanted. A Chi­nese friend in Shang­hai helped me choose. I liked Wen (文), which can mean “Ed­u­cated man”— at the risk of sound­ing pre­sump­tu­ous. And I picked Tao (涛).

But choos­ing a Chi­nese name seems to have a bit more grav­i­tas. The Chi­nese are care­ful in pick­ing out a baby’s name be­cause they be­lieve it can af­fect the child’s fu­ture.

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