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Category: Chinese names

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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. 

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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:

ALBION—old poetic name for England

ANGLIA—Latin name of England

ANNAM—historic name for part of Vietnam

ARABY—old poetic name for Arabia

ATRIA –ancient city in central Italy

ATLANTIS—legendary island supposed to have sunk into the Atlantic

AVALON-another legendary island, this one featured in the Arthurian tales (though one still exists in California)

BRIXIA—the ancient Latin name of the modern Northern Italian city of Brescia

CANDIA –old name of Crete

CANTON—Chinese city now called Guangzhou

CARAL –a Peruvian settlement considered the most ancient city of the Americas

CEYLON—old name of Sri Lanka

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International Baby Names

To commemorate the Chinese New Year, which launches the Year of the Tiger on February 14th, today’s guest blogger Michael, aka Mai-kuh, a keen first-hand observer of Chinese culture, reflects on some of the idiosyncracies of international name exchange.

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?”

Larry.”

Larry? Short for Lawrence?”

“No, just Larry. Well, he has a Chinese name of course,” Wu quickly explained, “but I decided to make Larry his English name. It’s handsome, don’t you think?”

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.

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