Category: Chinese baby names
By Li Xueqing, China Daily
Mosquito, Circle, Tomato – Chinese people come up with strange English names at times, names that can baffle foreign employers and even cost them their chance of scoring a high-profile job.
An American expatriate in Shanghai saw an opportunity here and decided to launch a consulting business on the best choice of English names.
Elisabeth Wilborn, creator of one of our absolute favorite blogs, You Can’t Call It “It,” imparts ideas on how to tie your child’s name to the Chinese Year of the Rabbit. You can also find Elisabeth at The Itsy Factor, or at home with her family in Brooklyn.
How happy I am to usher in the Chinese Year of the Rabbit. It’s not a rat, a tiger, a snake or something equally frightful sounding. It’s not a pragmatic pig nor an ox, as my own children claim, but a lovable cute bunny rabbit (we like to refer to the pig year as “the year of the golden boar” by the way– so much nicer).
Even if you’re not Chinese, don’t you suspect that after thousands of years maybe they’re onto something? Not only does the rabbit sound sweet and cuddly, but it also happens to have some of the most pleasant characteristics associated with it. Considered a most auspicious sign, your 2011 bon vivant will have good taste, good fortune, and live forever. Or something like that. Those born in a rabbit year have an appreciation of beauty and make great artists and curators, favor peace over conflict, are demure, well-liked, and well-mannered. A downfall may be that their taste for luxury borders on over indulgence, but being lucky with money, this likely won’t result in dire straits. Above all, they have a tendency to be happy.
When the Chinese look at the moon, they see the hare standing underneath the cassia tree, grasping the elixir of immortality. During the autumn harvest festival, Chinese children carry paper lanterns shaped like rabbits and climb up the hills to observe the lovely moon hare, which symbolizes the start of day and the yin of heaven.
The nameberry contributor known to us as “Auburn” ruminates here on that most powerful and mysterious initial: X.
We all know this naming business is tricky, especially if your aim is to find unusual monikers which still have history — and if you’re browsing Nameberry then it probably is. You think you’ve found one, you get excited … and then you meet five Violets in a day and realize that perhaps #141 is too popular for you after all.
The letter Y has lost some of its magic after various incriminations recently, involving either the addition of Y’s to perfectly Y-free names (looking at you, Addysyn), or the apparent abhorrence of Y’s by others (Ashleigh). What about its generally ignored neighbor, though? Every time I see an X name it catches my eye. I think “Wow, X? Crazy!” X is daring and attention-grabbing; it’s a shortcut to awesome in the baby naming world.
The Jolie-Pitts clearly realized the power of this not-so-humble letter when they used it to round off their three sons’ names: Maddox, Pax and Knox. In the same vein, Max is hot at the moment, but it is X in front that is still that Holy Grail of naming: rare.
According to the site http://yournotme.com, which searches the records to find people in Britain aged over 18 with a certain name, the top 10 X names include 7 Chinese names (Xiao, Xin, Xuan, Xiu, Xue, Xiang and Xing, for the record). The others are Xavier (795 of them), Xenia (330), and Xanthe (309). In contrast, the top A name, Andrew, can boast 508,320 bearers across the British Isles.
Due to the large Hispanic population of North America, Ximena and Xiomara also chart at #311 and #909 respectively. Ximena is the feminine version of Ximeno, a Spanish name alternatively claimed to be a version of Simon or from the Basque for son, seme . Xiomara is the Spanish version of Guiomar, a name for either gender that belonged to a male character of Arthurian legend who was banished for his affair with Morgan le Fey.
The UK has its own pretty, feminine X name, Xanthe, which currently stands at #778. It should be noted that that means it was only given to 44 babies, though, due to the relatively small size of Britain. Xanthe is a lovely Greek choice meaning ‘fair hair’ and can also appear in the variation Xanthia.
Strangely enough, the US can also claim many a little Xzaviers, which comes in at #586. In my opinion it’s preferable to use unusual letters in moderation, readers. Just one in a sea of A’s, E’s, and R’s looks so much more striking than Xyzvyq, which gives the impression you were leaning on the keyboard.
Let’s say you like the basic concept of a place name, but you’re not so thrilled when it’s tied to the image of a specific locale. If, for example, you’re thinking Tulsa sounds like a nice, friendly, easygoing, Western name– but then suddenly the image of Oklahoma oil fields spring to mind, or say you think Trenton might be the perfect boy’s name—if it weren’t for the New Jersey connection.
There is one way around this. You could consider place names that are no longer on the map, either because of a name change, possibly for political reasons, or because the place itself disappeared—or may have never even existed at all.
Here, some romantic, faraway examples, mostly with non-specific images:
ANGLIA—Latin name of England
ANNAM—historic name for part of Vietnam
ATLANTIS—legendary island supposed to have sunk into the Atlantic
BRIXIA—the ancient Latin name of the modern Northern Italian city of Brescia
CANTON—Chinese city now called Guangzhou
CARAL –a Peruvian settlement considered the most ancient city of the Americas
CEYLON—old name of Sri Lanka
Several years ago, I visited a Chinese friend, Wu, who was completing a business degree in Virginia. We had originally met almost ten years prior in China, when we studied together during my college semester abroad in a city near Shanghai. Even as a college student in China, Wu had been something of an addict when it came to American popular culture, casually sprinkling his English conversation with slang expressions picked up from counterfeit DVDs of Friends. But I was still shocked when, visiting Wu in his Virginia dorm room, he proudly showed me a picture of his newborn son back in Shanghai.
“He’s so cute!”, I gushed. “What’s his name?”
Whatever your particular feelings about the merits of the name Larry for a Chinese infant, Wu’s story captures something of the capricious way that people in mainland China often choose their English names, should they decide they need one. And these days, many Chinese in large cities — even if they don’t ever plan to leave China — decide to pick a Western “nickname” for ease of doing business with foreigners, for fun, or to be fashionable.
A Chinese student in Beijing or Shanghai might choose his or her English name in high school or college (and presumably, Larry will have the freedom someday to change to a new English name if he so chooses). When I spent a summer working at a financial firm in Shanghai, it was mandatory for all Chinese employees to use their English names — even in conversation with their Chinese coworkers. The only “Claude” I’ve ever known was a 22 year-old Shanghai native in the cubicle next door.
The process by which Chinese parents name their children is anything but simple. Chinese given names are generally chosen for meaning, sometimes with the consultation of a naming expert who ensures the name is auspicious according to Chinese astrology.
By contrast, the process of a young Chinese student choosing his or her own English name is an exercise in fun and cultural freedom. Chinese shares few linguistic similarities with English, so the typical Chinese name has few built-in clues to suggest its English equivalent. Unlike an “Alexandrei” from Moscow who might use the English name “Alex,” Zhang from Beijing is under no obligation to chose “Johnny” as the closest approximation.