On Selecting a Chinese Name

Discussion in 'Chinese Language' started by 朱真明, Jan 19, 2016.


Stop hitting yourself

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  1. 朱真明

    朱真明 进士

    For those of you learning a Chinese dialect and/or the written aspect as well, you will eventually face the conundrum of selecting a name in Chinese.

    For those of you who were thinking of or have already chosen a Chinese name by transliterating your mother tongue's name into Chinese, I want you to lift up your left hand and move it in the direction of your face as quickly as you can. Fortunately most of you are right handed and so probably missed, but you get the point.

    If you are really proud of your given name which was forced upon you at birth and probably not well thought out, then by all means go ahead and translate your name into Chinese.

    Translating your name into Chinese affects others as well. Chinese characters are not normally read phonetically except those that are from a foreign origin (in some cases). When a Chinese reads a text, the moment they come across your name they have to pause and stop reading the characters by meaning instead they have to read it by pronunciation. Also the structure of transliterated names does not follow the normal structure of Chinese names. For eg.

    Chinese Name- 朱 (last name) 真明 (first name)

    Transliterated name- James 詹姆斯 (first name) Smith 史密斯 (last name)

    99% of Chinese names are three characters where as the transliterated name is variable depending on the foreign word. You can also see that the order is opposite, meaning that the name is much harder to remember. Because most Chinese last names are from the the 百姓, they are easier to memorise. The transliterated names completely destroy the structure and pronunciation of normal Chinese names.

    This is an opportunity for you to choose your own name that you think represents who you are. For eg.

    朱真明 is constructed in multiple ways. Of course 朱 is a generic last name but I chose it for a reason.

    Looking at the structure 朱 and 真 they are both straight and upright as opposed to 明. They are both pronounced with the "Zh" initial and both use the first tone.

    真明 has multiple connotations.

    真 refers to 1- 真正 and 2- 真理
    明 refers to 1- 明白 and 2- 明理

    Altogether the first is two first tones that sound similar showing a solid consistent foundation whilst the ending is more soft and rising indicating the soft exterior with solid interior and a rising upwards indicating progression and development.

    You can also choose your name from famous poetry or prose. As long as you follow the structure on how a Chinese name is normally structured. If someone asks about your name you can tell name the origins of your name and they will almost certainly be impressed.

    No Chinese speaker has this opportunity, their names are forced unto them by their parents.

    alex_hk90 likes this.
  2. feng

    feng 榜眼

    I would like to share some thoughts.

    As for the visual make up of the characters in a name, that just isn't something people worry about. In the past I have even asked about this when I would see someone's name that, for example, had three characters all divided vertically in three parts; native readers/speakers told me there is no way that person's parents thought about that.

    It is amazing how few surnames one comes across on a regular basis (dozens), even though according to some things I have read Taiwan has 700 and the PRC 1,400 (approximately).

    Tone mostly comes into play for the last character of the name, if at all, though the rhythm can play a roll.
    I'm sorry; this is very creative, but not something I think any native speaker would agree with: "Altogether the first is two first tones that sound similar showing a solid consistent foundation whilst the ending is more soft and rising indicating the soft exterior with solid interior and a rising upwards indicating progression and development."

    Chinese speakers talk about 單名 and 雙名 (referring to the number of characters in the given name), rather than two or three character names (referring to the whole name).

    Three character names are definitely not 99% in the PRC, unlike in Taiwan.
    For foreigners, PRC colleges and universities no longer want to use your Chinese name. It is clearly a national policy (and the PRC has a giant dictionary for transliterating all foreign names). In 2005 I got away with my regular Chinese name. At three schools since then they used a wacky transliteration (which I refused to answer to). Like you said, it's actually harder for Chinese people to use a transliterated name.

    The way people in Taiwan and the PRC pick names is quite similar nowadays, aside from the number of characters, and can be very involved in terms of meaning, stroke count, and many other factors. There are plenty of books on the subject, as well as people who will take your money to give your baby a crummy name! Some people just open a dictionary, or pick some common characters they like.

    I would urge any learner to run their proposed name by one or more trusted native speakers/readers (someone who will tell you if your name sucks!). It can be kind of tricky. For example, 忠風 would be an okay, if rather traditional, name . . . if it didn't sound like 中風 (stroke, as in 'grandma had a stroke'). Other names can be not so bad, but still unnatural. Even for someone who reads scholarly books in Chinese, it can be problematic to pick a good, natural sounding name because there are a lot of little cultural factors that can trip one up.

    A Taiwanese friend picked my name for me when I was a beginner (after laughing at the name a teacher in the past had given me), based on some character forms I liked. I am always told how mellifluous it is. It looks like a proper Chinese name, and although people think I am a girl (I'm a boy), they also think my parents must have been highly educated (to pick such a name). I've tried making my own name a number of times over the years, and other friends (who don't my name giver), tell me to stick with my current name. I have (though I'm always itchin' to pick a new name).

    My advice to learners: get a trusted friend(s) to pick a name for you, with your input. Otherwise you could end up with the Chinese equivalent of Jebediah or Gertrude, or worse since not many Chinese names are are preset like ours.
    alex_hk90 likes this.

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