Everyone has a name, though not everyone has a name that they like, am I right? Our kids and beloved pets have names.  We label things which is a form of naming.  Back to people names, Chinese names in particular.

What’s in a Chinese name?

  • Last name.  Most last names are one character, but there are some surviving exceptions of two-character surnames (諸葛 of 諸葛亮 (Zhuge Liang) and 司馬 of 司馬遷 (SimaQian)).
    • Super big thanks to Chow Kim Wan (劍韻) who helped me make this post publishable
      • 司馬, 司徒, 諸葛, 歐陽 are the common ones
      • 獨孤 is a rare one
      • Surnames have their own origin stories
  • First name.  One or two characters.
  • Meaning. First name meanings are gender-biased but is what I will elaborate on.  Parents name their children based on what they want their children to be or accomplish, or something about the birth of the child.
    • Males have a variety of name meanings ranging from 神 (deity, soul, spirit, mysterious) to 雄 (male, grand, powerful) to 保家 (protect family).  Surely females cannot protect their families; just tell Fa Mulan (木蘭) that
    • Females have less variety of name meanings, mainly focusing on their beauty, beauty associated with nature, or property, such as 玉 (jade), 月(moon), and 麗娟 (beautiful and graceful).  Some rare ones that are associated with how hard they work are something like 冬梅 (winter plum), because the tree flowers during the winter, meaning they are hard workers
    • Being born on a good or certain day, place, etc., so 生 (born, birth, life, living) is sometimes the second character of one’s given name


Jet Li 連傑 (杰).  Surname:  (plum); given name: 連 (to link, to join, to connect, continuously) 傑(杰)(hero, heroic, prominent, distinguished).  Reasonable meaning: Plum, Continuous Hero.

Maya Lin 瓔.  Surname:  (forest, grove), 瓔 (a necklace made of precious stones).

Jackie Chan does not fit, but I will share it anyway.   港生.  Surname:  (exhibit, display, plead); given name: 港 (port, harbor, small stream, bay) 生 (born, birth, life, living).  Reasonable meaning: To display, born at a port or harbor.  This is plausible because he was born in Hong Kong, which is on the coast of mainland China.  His nickname is 成龍: Become Dragon.

You have a name.  What do you do with it?

  • Read it last name first.  Mandarin Chinese, in particular, has a sentence structure that starts with the biggest unit and ends with the smallest unit.  If it is not obvious, look at your family tree.  The family name shows the ancestry and you are only one part of it.
  • Say it correctly! All Chinese languages* are tonal languages.  The number of tones vary, stress more or less on particular sounds, and some include nasal sounds.

You don’t have a Chinese name but want one! How?! What to choose?!

  • Direct translation.
    • Jasmine Hart (made up) = Jasmine 茉莉 Hart (close enough) = [family name first!] 茉莉
    • 玉雪 = Huang Yu Xue = Jade Snow Wong (writer and artist)
  • Sound translation.
    • Robert Carter (made up) = 羅伯特 luo bote (Robert) 卡特 kate (Carter) = [family name first!] 卡特羅伯特
    • 安 = Li An = Ang Lee (super famous movie director)
  • Name yourself.
    • Be creative and/or follow the rules at the beginning =  (pot, jar, vase) 勾人 (sexy, seductive) = [English + joke] Depending on your income, you can be Sexy Jar, Sexy Pot, or Sexy Vase
    • 紫瓊 = Yang Zi Qiong = Michelle Yeoh (martial arts and film star)

*Yes, I wrote languages not dialects.  There are Chinese languages because most, if not all, of the “dialects” are unintelligible when one person knows Mandarin will not know what someone else who speaks Cantonese, Hokkien, or another “dialect.”  “Dialect” means that people speaking the same language can still understand much of the spoken language with their regional accents.  In America, there are accents for the mid-West, South, East, and even the stereotypical CA accent.  American English can also be compared to British English.  A couple of words that are pronounced differently between American and British English are “vitamin” and “aluminum.”  American: vai-ta-min; British: vit-ta-min; American: ah-loo-mi-num; British: a-loo-mi-ni-um.  Small differences like that where both people speaking either American or British English can still understand what the other is saying.  That is not the case in verbal Chinese languages.  Take something as common as the number 10 as an example: 十.  Mandarin: shi; Cantonese: sap; Hokkien: chap.  On the surface, they look different, but do not forget to add the tones (and the stress of the tone), making it more difficult to express the number 10 to another person.  Mandarin speakers with Beijing accent and a Shanghai accent can be more appropriately called “dialects.”


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I began writing Elle's Adventure in China (EACh) in June 2014 as a fun summer project, but as obstacles kept interfering with my plans, I forked and forked more options. I took writing this novel much more seriously in mid-July, and want to have it officially published someday in my lifetime. As many artists put their hearts into their projects, so do I. I did not start out liking to read, but a professor suggested a book for me for homework a few years ago, and it was an amazing book. Since then, I read for pleasure, and I hope my novel, Elle's Adventure in China, does the same for as many of you as possible. The same thing goes to writing. I did not like to write until I took a course where the professor and papers made me love to write. I hope every one of you find what makes you happy and dedicated to work. In May 2015, I started my other blog, Read and Write Here (R&WH), as a place to post other things that aren't China- and Chinese culture-related and not EACh. I share some of my memories and experiences from student teaching, irregular participation in Daily Prompts, etc. I'd like to have regular people and bloggers to write book reviews and post it on R&WH someday. Keep reading and writing!

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