English names are boring. Sure, some have backstories dating back to Nordic lore or 9th century Latin, but their original meanings have been lost in time. Chinese names are different. Their poetic translations can reflect a person’s personality. When choosing a Chinese name, it’s important to find one that speaks to you. On the other hand, you don’t want to pick something obvious or cheesy— people might laugh!
Finding the perfect Chinese name is no easy task, so we’re here to help. You’ll soon see that picking a name is fun and self-reflective. You may even learn something new about yourself.
Choose a family name
Even before Confucian values of “filial piety” took root in 500 BC, Chinese culture valued family first. In Mandarin, the last name comes before the first name. For example, “John Doe” becomes “Doe John.” When choosing a Chinese surname, it is crucial to pick one of the hundred most common. If you pick an obscure one, people may not even recognize it as a name. Here is a helpful list of the most common surnames and their meanings. Try to find one that speaks to you: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_common_Chinese_surnames
In choosing my Chinese surname, I was drawn to “江” (jiāng) meaning “river.” It’s common enough to be recognized as a surname, but it’s unique. I’ve only met a couple of other “jiāng”s over the years. It has a flowing sound that matches its meaning, and I like the look of the character. Furthermore, one of my most cherished childhood memories was visiting 麗江/丽江 (lì jiāng), China, a rural village in the Yunnan Province. My name is a living memento of my experience there.
What do you want to say about yourself?
Make a list of characteristics you want your name to convey. These could be personality traits (e.g. intelligent, brave, cunning) or physical traits (e.g. tall, beautiful, strong). Any of these could be your first name! The most common boys’ name in China is 偉/伟(wěi)—“great.” For girls, 芳 (fāng)—“fragrant.” Here’s a list of common first names and their translations: http://www.behindthename.com/names/usage/chinese
Make it a metaphor
Instead of a literal adjective translation, you could also give your name a subtle meaning. Think about the qualities you want to emphasize and ponder how you could convey them through metaphor. For example, “ocean” 洋 (yáng) could convey beauty, depth, and constancy.
Be careful not to get too gimmicky. A Chinese person will know a cheesy, fake name from a mile away. One of my American friends worked in China as a stuntman, and gave himself the name 白龍/白龙 “bái lóng” meaning “white dragon.” It took him months to figure out why people would giggle when he introduced himself!
I wanted my first name to fit my last name “river,” and to convey something special about myself. I chose 明晰 (míng xī), meaning “clear and lucid.” My Chinese full name, 江明晰 (jiāng míng xī) means “river of clarity.” It reflects the peace of mind I strive to achieve.
Your name does not have to be deep and philosophical. It could merely be a phonetic translation of your English name! For example, David becomes 大衛/大卫 (dà wèi), Lily becomes 麗麗/丽丽 (lì lì), and Alice becomes 愛麗絲/爱丽丝 (ài lì sī). Here’s a list of English first names and their phonetic translations: http://www.chinese-tools.com/names.
Lost? Overwhelmed? That’s okay!
Choosing a Chinese name is hard, but it is critically important. You need a Chinese name to interact closely with Chinese people. That’s why we at Chineasy are offering to give you a perfect, personalized Chinese name! Answer a short questionnaire, and enjoy your new Chinese title!