When you start learning Chinese, you may want to choose a good Chinese name. An easy way to come up with a Chinese name is by transliterating your name into Chinese, which means creating a Chinese name from the sounds of your name.
Here are some examples of transliterated names
Tom: Tāng mǔ 汤姆
Maria: Mǎ lì yà 玛丽亚
But what if you want to choose a more common Chinese name and not a transliterated name that most foreigners use?
CHOOSE A COMMON CHINESE NAME
Chinese names usually have a specific meaning, as all Chinese characters mean something. If you do not choose a name with the correct characters, your name may sound strange.
Since the meaning of each Chinese character is different, it is easy to make a mistake if you do not know the Chinese culture and language well enough when choosing characters for the name. If you are not careful, you can risk strange character combinations that mean something bad.
For example, there are foreigners who have chosen Chinese names that are not common in China. Some have chosen the name Cǎihuā 采花, unaware that the word is often used to refer to rapists and not its literal meaning which is “picking flowers”.
And some foreigners transcribe their names into Chinese names without understanding the direct or indirect result of the transliteration. An example is the name “Charlotte”, a name that some transliterates to Xià luò tè 夏洛特, which sounds like shā le tā 杀 了 他 / 她 shā le tā, which means to kill him/her.
And it is also important to understand that choosing a good Chinese name with good Chinese characters is seen as important in Chinese culture. Thus one has the saying,
búpà shēnɡ cuò mìnɡ, jiù pà qǐcuòmínɡ 不怕 生 错 命 ， 就怕 起 错 名
“People are not afraid of a tough life, but rather afraid of picking a wrong name.”
GENERAL RULES FOR CHINESE NAMES
Most Chinese names consist of three characters. All Chinese names begin with the family name and then the first name.
Although China has a large population, only about 100 Chinese surnames are in use. 20-30 of these names are the most common surnames in China.
Chinese first names usually have one or two characters. Most family names have one character. Some Chinese names consist of two characters, for example: 司马 sī mǎ, 欧阳 ōu yánɡ, 长孙 zhǎnɡ sūn, 公孙 ɡōnɡ sūn etc.
FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING A CHINESE NAME
When choosing a name, there are some factors to consider: the meaning of the Chinese characters, how the name sounds and what expectation Chinese people get when they hear the name.
There are also many cultural factors to know about. Few may know that different characters are often used in male and female names.
Some names are especially for girls, some are for boys. For example, for a Spanish name like Juan, this is a name that many translate to 娟. However, this character means ‘beautiful’ and ‘graceful’ and is a popular name for Chinese girls. It is not recommended that men use this name.
Chinese characters in popular Chinese names for boys include,
力 lì, “power”
雄 xióng, “hero”
子 zǐ, “son”
Chinese characters in popular female Chinese names include
夏 xià, “summer”
雪 xuě, “snow”
丽 lì, “beautiful”
If you as a man use Chinese characters that it is common for Chinese women to use, most Chinese will consider your name to be strange.
CHOOSE A GOOD CHINESE NAME
By choosing a Chinese name with Chinese characters that most Chinese recognize, and not infrequent characters that were commonly used in ancient times in China, you can prevent your Chinese friends from not knowing how to read your name.
The number of foreigners with Chinese names is growing, but not every name chosen is a good name. Many Chinese names used by foreigners can have unforeseen and rather bad meanings as each Chinese character has a specific meaning
There are also a few Chinese taboos that do not exist in Western culture. For example, using the name of parents or grandparents is seen as good in many countries. In China, many people consider it disrespectful to give a person the same name that the older generation used.
Also remember the saying “When you are in Rome, do as the Romans do” or as this Chinese saying goes, rùxiāng suísú 入乡随俗 “When you enter a village, follow the local customs.”
So when you live in China, it might be a good idea to use a name that the Chinese like and do not find strange.
GET HELP FROM A CHINESE
Since most Chinese living in China speak little English, foreigners who want to be remembered by the Chinese should have a Chinese name. Having a Chinese name is also important when building a closer and more intimate relationship with the Chinese.
Those who want a good Chinese name should consider asking for advice.
It can be a good idea to let different Chinese people check your name before deciding which Chinese name to choose. Make sure the name does not sound or mean anything terrible, and check that it both looks and sounds good to a Chinese person.
Hopefully, you choose a Chinese name that makes you proud and a name the Chinese like!
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