Choosing a Chinese name

My Chinese name is a typical 3-char Chinese name (ie a real Chinese surname, and two other chars for my name–but it dosen’t sound like my real name). I’ve seen several forigners transliterate their name–and it ends up being 5,6 chars long (gotta get every syllable ). Some do a better job (Bu Lai En == Brian? ). Just wondering how many of you have transliterated names or just took up a chinese name that dosne’t realate to your western name…

I’ve got a two character name; sounds a little more ‘mainland,’ but it’s still a very Chinese-sounding name.
I chose a character for my surname that means ‘iron’ in Chinese, becuase my last name means the same in Latin. For my name, I just chose characters (or in the end, one character) that I liked and sounded good with my surname; I didn’t want some dorky sounding ‘mai-ke’… I wanted something that actually sounded like a name to Chinese people; I’m very happy that I did that.

(Plus it’s fun watching the girls at California Fitness about return my card to me as I leave, look at the name on the card, and then look again for the ‘right’ card… )

My ex-husband’s family chose my Chinese name, Li Jen, when I was slung up in the hospital. It’s supposedly as common as mud and a bit on the trashy side (like Rita Mae), but it sounds something like my given names and I never use it except for official stuff. Besides, it suits me, and is easy to write.

I picked up a “ONE character” name for my friend.
He is a foreigner, doesn’t need to have “3 characters name” to make him “not like a foreigner”
Easier, more special and cooler.

quote[quote] Some do a better job (Bu Lai En == Brian? ) [/quote]

Thanks. 布萊恩 is actually just a nickname that people used to call me when I first came here. My ‘real’ name (on my chop and ARC) is 王書賢 Wang Shu Xian. Personally I think that 2 or 3 chracter names with a (fairly simple) proper Chinese surname are best. It makes some things easier - registering for stuff etc. I generally use my Chinese name for filling in forms, ordering pizza or whatever. It jsut saves hassle.



You got your Chinese name on your ARC? How’d you do that? I’d like my Chinese name to be somewhere… official. Can you just ask them to do that when you apply?

Chinese use many subtle factors when choosing names and if you can pick a name that takes some of this into account it will sound better.

Considerations include:

    [*]The first character is the family name, there are only 20-30 in common use. The name scans better if you use a surname like this. Common ones are 王 (Wang/Wong), 黃 (Huang), 陳 (Chen),周 (Zhou),張 (Zhang/Chang),馬 (Ma),李 (Li/Lee),[*]The last two characters are the given name, and the characters used are often qualites or virtues (e.g. faithful, strong). Girls and boys names can usually be differentiated since girls might be 'beautiful' or 'pure' and men are more likely to be 'strong' or 'scholarly'. It is better if you can stick to this pattern! The names used and the reasons for doing so require a good understanding of Chinese culture and literary abstraction.[*]For my opinion transliterated foreign names tend to sound a bit silly since the foreign sounds usually cannot be represented very successfully in Chinese. It is okay for movie stars with well known foreign names, but does not work well in an all Chinese context. The names also don't look anything like proper Chinese names and might be harder to recall. There are some exceptions, for example 'David'. See list under resources below... [*]Some traditional families use a number for each child, this is the second character. The third character is the 'generation name' and follows a repeating pattern in each generation. The characters used may be taken from a literary source. This naming scheme is becoming increasingly uncommon. For example: 張一中[*]People are often known by nicknames, not their given names. For example, 小龍 (Little Dragon). If it starts 小 (xiao3) you can be pretty sure it is a nickname. Older family members will usually be addressed by their title, for example 二哥 (second older brother) rather than their given names. Some people also use different names in business or at different times in their lives (Sun Yat Sen is a good example)[*]People often try to pick names that are simpler to write and avoid complex characters (I made this mistake!)[*]Most names in Taiwan are 3 characters, two is common on the mainland. [/list]

    I would suggest to always get Chinese friends to help out, try to avoid doing it yourself.

    For myself, my English name is Malcolm, which sounds a lot like 沒有空 ﹐ (“Don’t have time”) which is hilarious but not practical. I tried something based on 馬 XX, but not much sounds good. In the end I went with a friends family name (黃 ) and a Chinese name from a book that had virtues I liked. It is 黃海濤 (Huang2 Hai3 Tao1). The only drawback it is a little hard to write. Some Chinese tell me it is a also a little old fashioned! A cautionary tale for those who fancy the DIY approach!

    A good resource of translated foreign names is at:

You got your Chinese name on your ARC? How'd you do that? I'd like my Chinese name to be somewhere... official. Can you just ask them to do that when you apply?

When you renew your ARC just ask. There’s space on the back for amendments like change of adress. It must be pretty standard becuase htey have a little stamp that says ‘zhongwen xingming’, then they right your name and chop it. So easy! I really recommend it. I’ve had problems using my English name (especially at hospitals) when computer systmes will only allow 5 letters, and they choose, first, middle or last names, and then give me hassles because it’s not the same as the name on my Bational Health Insurance or whatever.

Adding to what Malkie said about choosing a name, I’d say definitely get a good friend to choose one. Be careful of names that old people choose or names form books. I think there’s a lot fo style and so often my girlfriend will say “oh so ‘song’” when she hears what she thinks of as old mainland style names.


Cool, thanks Brian.

I wouldn’t ask a friend to help you; I’d ask lots of friends to help you! This makes it a little more difficult (since half of your friends always like some name you come up with, and half always don’t…), but you can avoid some mistakes one friend might not notice. (I was thinking about 維雄 at the suggestion of a friend, but then another said it sounds like 餵熊 - feeding the bears!)

The other difficulty in choosing a name for yourself is that you want it to sound good, but since you’re choosing it yourself, it can’t sound TOO good… ‘wise hero’ or something sounds bad when people ask you ‘who chose your name?’ (and they will…!)

The name I eventually stuck with, 鐵鴻, was actually almost by accident (long story). Sounds a bit like a mainland name, and it sounds a bit like from those martial art novels (didn’t know at first, but I’m not complaining), but friends really like it, and it sounds like a Chinese name.
I’m not a big advocate of transcribing English names into Chinese either, but I guess that’s personal preference.

quote[quote] I'm not a big advocate of transcribing English names into Chinese either... [/quote]

A lot of people seem to feel like this. What about Chinese / Taiwanese people living in the West? Would you advocate them becoming Sandras and Jasons? I’ve always had misgivings about that.

My Chinese name withered and died from neglect years ago. Most people know me by a transcribed form of my name and the really clued in ones actually use my name.
As they bloody well should.

Originally posted by salmon:

What about Chinese / Taiwanese people living in the West? Would you advocate them becoming Sandras and Jasons?

Forget the Chinese/Taiwanese people living the West. Sandra and Jason are everywhere here, not to mention Brad.

Originally posted by salmon: What about Chinese / Taiwanese people living in the West? Would you advocate them becoming Sandras and Jasons? I've always had misgivings about that.

I think the issue is a little different. The main difficulty Westerners face is that their names cannot be written using Chinese characters due to the limited number of phonemes used in Chinese. This kind of forces the issue.

On the other hand Chinese names can be romanized and pronounced with some reliablity, especially if speaker is told the correct pronunciation (please, please don’t let this degenerate into a romanization thread). Most Westerners encounter foreign names as a matter of course, and if they want to be respectful they will learn to pronounce them correctly. French people for example do not pick new names when they use German, and would be considered wierd if they did.

So the rest becomes a matter of taste and pragmatics.

Firstly I should say, I think people should be allowed to give themselves any name they like, if they want to be Jason Wong or CK Tan, well that is okay.

I think the real problem is the Western first names chosen by Chinese. They tend to pick from a short list of common names (about 20) that can easily be written in Chinese characters. Coupled with a short list of family names it leads to hosts of David Lees and Jason Chens. The other practice is to pick very strange non-name words that they seem to like. My company have many of these and I have no idea where they get them. There are also a lot of mistakes - girls names for boys, using nicknames as formal names, incorrect spellings etc. You might also ask, why translate half a name - surnames are usually left as-is. Another odd practice is to call yourself “Dieter” or “Maurice” and then use it in English!

Practice varies outside of Taiwan, in Singapore for example Chinese commonly use their Chinese names. It did not seem very hard to pick up the names (since they are all romanized) and seemed more natural somehow. The same name could also be used when speaking Chinese, which is less confusing. When speaking English, the surname is placed last to follow the Western convention. This practice is used in business and social contexts. Honestly I would say I prefer it to the common Taiwanese practice, I think Chinese names are cool. I also notice mainlanders working abroad tend to use pinyin versions of their Chinese given names with surname last.

Can Westerners remember Chinese names? Maybe it is not quite so easy, but confusion over Kevins and Jasons can be tough too. They don’t have much problem with Mao Tze-tung, Chang Kai-Shek or Jiang Zemin, and somehow it seems more memorable than Tommy Mao, Kevin Chang and Jimmy Jiang

It seems to me that there’s been a trend in the US for more people of Chinese origin to hang onto their Chinese names. At least, in my grad classes at Stanford there is kind of an even split, with more of the 2nd gen + using English names and more of the Chinese and Taiwanese students using Chinese names. I think it’s refreshing. (My boyfriend, who teaches at Berkeley, asks me for help before each quarter, pronouncing all the Chinese names. Too bad I don’t speak any Indian dialects in addition!)

That said, my advisor told me that a Chinese name was essential for an academic researcher–and for someone conducting research with young women, I’d be better off not using 史明 (shi3 ming2), which I liked for its non-frilliness, and using something more identifiably feminine. We came up with 史明娟 (shi3 ming2juan1) which I hope fits the bill (feedback still welcome; nothing’s on any documents yet). Shi3 sounds a little like my English surname, plus I majored in history. Ming2 has the same meaning as my given name.

Previously, my Chinese teacher only gave us phonetic names, which were meaningless, but we didn’t know that. So it was pretty embarassing later on. -_-; Also, I could never remember how to write the third character. VERY embarassing. If I can pronounce “juan” consistently, I’ll be okay. (I don’t recall ever using that syllable before.)

– 史明娟

Another suggestion is go to a fortune teller, for example try HsingTien temple on Minchuan rd. by the junction there is a under-pass with loads of fortune tellers.

For a couple hundred bucks you can give them your birthdate (best if you know the time of birth too, GMT+8.00 otherwise the stars will be in the wrong place… bad fungshui) and they will come up with a list of good names.

Generally they will use a family name based on your own, the rest should end up with a lucky number of strokes, what they read in the stars, and potentially in your tealeaves too…

I ended up with

Think carefully before choosing an ‘interesting’ Chinese name. This only applies to guys - but if you settle down here and have children with a Taiwanese partner, you could saddle your kid with a wierd Chinese surname that has no relation to either your wife’s name or your own real surname. Can you imagine your poor son growing up in Taiwan as Mr. Bu, for example?! I almost did that to my daughter, but managed to get my Chinese name changed - and so hers too. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be - the rules are too complicated to go into here. But be warned.

I also went to the fortune tellers on minchuan.

With being married to a local then we came up with a simple solution. I use her family name here in Taiwan, she uses mine when in Europe, it has worked really well so far.

With the family name, date and time of birth then i could get a “standard” chinese name issued and put onto my ARC etc.

I once knew a guy whou called himself 曹操. for those of you who are not into history, 曹操 was a general/usurper in the Han-Dynasty and has a pretty bad reputation among Chinese ppl, but my friend seems to have read 水滸傳too many times and just was very fond of this 曹操.
well, considering the fact, that he gave his chinese teacher the choice between 毛澤東 and 曹操, i consider this name to be a pretty good choice…=)

I’ve always taken the position that if you speak reasonable Chinese OR are involved with Taiwan/China long-term (for instance, married to a Chinese/Taiwanese), then it might be more reasonable to go with a “real” Chinese name (i.e., normal surname and a good-sounding, two-character given name). If you’re just there for a year or two, don’t really speak Chinese, and don’t anticipate any longterm ties, (for example, businesspeople who want a Chinese name for a translated business card, or somebody just teaching English in Taiwan for a year before going somewhere else and somewhere else after that) then I lean more toward a transliteration. Either way gives convenience to Chinese people in dealing with you as they can use Chinese characters to ‘write you down’, but I think a transliteration retains a bit of distance from things Chinese/Taiwanese, and that might advantageous in some cases.

Bri, nice-sounding Chinese name!

I always debated about adding a second character to my given name. Although I was originally named by a Taiwanese teacher in the States, she gave me and one other classmate of mine two-character names. I’m inclined to add a character, but I’ve been using this name for so many years that I’m kind of used to it now, and also it seems almost disrespectful to this teacher (who is really worthy of a lot of respect) to change it. (Actually, I thought ‘huh’ was a real Chinese word for about six months: “You listen to tapes, huh?” “You write more characters, huh?” Then I found out about Taichung Mandarin.


Yeah, definitely ask many friends for advice. Otherwise some wiseass might play a joke on you.

Case in point: my roommate in college, Jason Lorentz, asked me to choose a Chinese name… I thought: Lorentz, Lorentz, 裸潤滋! (luo3 run4 zi1) Sounds really like Lorentz, but unfortunately it means naked lubricating nourishment.

Another case: while studying in Japan, I started calling my friend Olaf Dabrunz (from Germany) 歐裸婦 which is pronounced O-la-fu. Great phoenetically, too bad it means European Naked Woman. Well, at least I thought it was funny.

I would be happy to help anyone pick a Chinese name.

Hi, I see there are already some very good answers and suggestions here. Just thought I’d put in my 2 cents worth:

I was given a “name” by a teacher. It was a simple phonetic, 3-character translation of my first name. I hated it from the start and resolved to never use it!

I asked friends for a long time to help me find a “real” name but it seemed to be quite the task. Well, 2 years later I found someone who had the time and patience (which ended up being necessary through the long process) to help me.

It took a few weeks actually, brainstorming, character-referencing, etc. I picked out a surname, one in which I found to be nice sounding, a good sounding name, and one neither too common nor odd, but suitable to my liking. The next step- finding a first name- proved to be the real test and took most of those mentioned 3 weeks.

We began by picking out sounds that sounded good, and tried pairing them. Many didn’t pan out, as they meant bad or ackward things when put together, or more often “sounded like” something you wouldn’t want to call yourself.

Eventually, after hours of scratch paper and dictionary browsing we narrowed down about 5 or six sounds that were all ear-pleasing and worked well together, as well as had good, suitable meanings. After playing around with a couple favorites I found the one that I like the most, and still several months later find very pleasing to have, so it’s that!

Sounds hard, yes, but not really. Have a native speaker help you out. Find out the type of name you like, run through some ideas of what sounds you like, examples and whatnot and go from there.

Just my experience and advice, hope it helps. )