What’s its Name?

It probably shouldn’t surprise you that in a country of over 2 billion people, 32 babies are born a minute. In my China Love post, I’d like to take a moment to discuss names. Here in China, I dare say in Asia, there are quite a few customs that differ from the western world.

name

Here are a few interesting things I’ve learned about names in China:

  • When you write someone’s name, their surname or family name goes first. This has to do with identifying the clan you were born into, which was especially important during more ancient times. Name order confuses me all the time here, and even at school, they write western names this way.
  • In the past, girls weren’t really called by a name. When your parents yelled for you to come to supper, you were called “1st daughter”, “2nd daughter”, etc.. I’m not sure if this was due to infant mortality rates or that the previous attitudes about girl children were that they would become her husband’s “slave”–so what’s the point of naming someone who will inevitably not “belong” to you?
  • Unlike many western cultures, the Chinese do not take their father’s surname and often use their mother’s instead. Also, middle names are uncommon.

In a country that names their children, “great” (Zhang Wei), “brave” (Wang Yong)  and “glamorous” (Wang Yan), I  often wonder where they get their inspiration from when deciding their English names.

  • Chinese people often have an “English” name, which comes in handy since my pronunciation is quite poor. I don’t know how these names come about, but some are rather cute, like Apple, and others seem a bit odd (see above).
  • Just like people in other cultures give their children strange names, people here also have been known to name children after special events which would be translated into words such as Space Travel, Olympic Games or even the @ symbol.

Chinese names are meant to convey special meaning, with the given names often expressing the best of wishes on the new-born. Some imply the birthplace, birth time ornatural phenomenon, like Jing (Beijing), Chen (morning), Dong (winter) and Xue (snow); Some embody the hope of virtue, like Zhong (faithful), Yi (righteous), Li (courteous) andXin (reliable) while others express the wishes of life, like Jian (health), Shou (longevity), and Fu (happiness). Source: People’s Daily

I am just scratching the surface here, but just like most cultures, the history and etymology of names are simply fascinating.

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