Choosing Names for Multicultural Babies

My wife (Taiwanese) and I (American) are expecting our first child. We still have not decided upon a name, English or Chinese.

We are also tempted to choose separate names for each language. Use the Chinese name for Taiwanese household registration and use the English name when we do the U.S. paperwork with AIT. Would this be a problem? My wife already does this. She only has her Chinese name on your Taiwanese household registration and Taiwanese passport, but an English name she chose when naturalized in the U.S. on her American passport.

I’d be interested in hearing about how other similarly-situated couples have handled this situation and what your thoughts are about using different names, depending upon the language you are speaking (whether or not both names are “official”).

I’ve started a Squidoo topic on this, although I haven’t developed it much yet:

We did both. Chinese name for things Chinese. English for English things.

Hi and welcome to the forum.
Living in Taiwan there are no problems giving your baby a Chinese name and an English name, I think you’d find most of the parents here do that.
Legaly or administratively it isn’t a problem at all. My son as his English name on his foreign passeport and his Chinese name on his ARC.
And congratulation on your baby! :bravo:

My boy has an English and a Chinese name. He uses each in different circumstances. He used his Chinese name all through taiwanese school and now uses his English name at his new school (American-international school). He uses his English name on his US passport and US stuff.

For the first 3 years of his life, my wife and in-laws couldn’t agree on a Chinese name that was suitable (auspicious) to all of them, so we called him 仔仔 (zai zai), which just means “small boy”. His English name is Zack, after my older brother, Zichory Zachary, who died at birth. My wife was none too keen on naming him after my unfortunate brother, and when my boy became sick at a week old and had to live in two different hospitals for two months, my wife was convinced that I was an idiot for naming Zack after my ill-fated brother, especially since my father’s older brother also died at birth and we were living in the house where my grandfather was born… my wife was convinced that we had bad luck in my family and in that house and that naming our boy Zack was just inviting trouble and ill-fortune in through the front door… We still call him 仔仔 occassionally.

Anyway, no problem with two names… one Chinese and one English.

This can be a problem. Believe it or not, or boy is 11 yrs old and still doesn’t have an “english” name.
He has a Taiwan passport with his Chinese name.
We’ve decided to let him choose oe that “feels” right for him.
So far we have said NO to:
James Brown ----
Issac Hayes ----
Sam Dave ----
Otis Redding ----
Charlie Parker ----…although this one is still in the running. I kind of like it.

But we think he will settle on one and be satisfied with it.
He doesn’t care what we call him, as long as we don’t call him late for supper!

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Our kids have Chinese and English names, and my family-name.
We put a lot of effort into finding names that sounds similar in Chinese, English and my native language - it works great, and no confusion.

Their biggest grief these days are that they don’t have my wife’s family-name, as they are big fans of the #40 Wang (NYY pitcher)

We did two separate names. One reason was that I didn’t want people to be able to pick them out on paper as being ‘different’ in either langauge. That is not something that I wanted some nameless, faceless bureaucrat to be able to do. Another was that they should be able to move smoothly from one cultural situation to another. The last reason was that my wife’s family has no sons, so I allowed that thier Chinese last name be the same as my wife’s. However, there is some alignment in thier Chinese and English names so that it makes sense.

Thanks for your replies! It is nice to hear that I’m not a politically incorrect, backwards thinking, linguistic imperiallist for wanting to select two separate names that will fit well into our two respective cultures. I’ve outlined some of the arguments against using two names or changing/altering your name for another culture on my Squidoo lens:, but I’ll repeat (i.e. paste, I’m lazy) here:

Arguments Against:

Recently, a good friend of mine expressed his strong belief that (in his words) “one should not try too hard to conform one’s name for the sake of people who may not be able to appreciate it or pronounce it properly.” In the past I taught English as a foreign language. When I started, in the early 1990’s, it was still common to have students select common English names (just as I used a French name in French Class in High School). This was just one part of the “Whole Language” approach to language instruction. But I soon learned that practice was controversial. To some it smacks of “linguistic imperialism”; to others it unnecessarily strips the students of a large part of their self-identity.

Feelings about taking on additional names are much stronger outside the classroom, but the arguments are similar. Below I list some common arguments against the practice of re-naming yourself or your children to fit a particular culture.

  1. Changing your child’s name or having multiple names is confusing to friends and family. Rarely is there a clean cultural division among your friends, family, and acquaintances.
  2. Having an odd name can build character. You can’t protect your child from all teasing and bullying, nor should you. Generally, the reason parents give their children more common or more easily pronounced names is so that they will “fit in.” A parent’s goal shouldn’t be to raise unexceptional wall-flowers who are afraid to stand out of the crowd, but rather children who respect themselves and their cultural heritage.

Some Arguments that I made for:

In Defense of Multiple Names
For many people, altering your name, or selecting an entirely new name, is an appropriate choice. Here I discuss several reasons why you may desire to use multiple names.

  1. I’ve had many Taiwanese and Chinese people tell me that they hate how English-speakers butcher their names. My wife’s name, for example, contains a sound that doesn’t exist in the English language (the Mandarin Chinese aspirated “r”), so when we were living in the United States, nobody could pronounce it unless they practiced Chinese pronunciation. She hated the way American’s pronounced her name and didn’t want to have to hear it anymore. The best solution to naming our baby might be to find a name that sounds good in both Chinese and English. But it is hard to find a good Chinese name that sounds nice in English and doing so may mean compromising on other important naming considerations such as local beliefs, family tradition, and what our preference would be if we didn’t need to consider how it would sound to Americans.

  2. If your child’s name is difficult pronounce and remember, it could have a negative professional impact. By this, I don’t mean due to racism or ethnic bigotry. Changing your name will do little to help with that and I would never advocate changing your name to make chauvinists happy. What I mean is that a very difficult name makes it more uncomfortable for people to do business with you and much harder for you to stick in their mind. This is a very personal choice for anyone doing business. I certainly respect people who refuse to change their name for business or making life more comfortable for themselves, but I also respect a person’s decision to change their name for the same reason. I have little patience, however, with people who are overly self-righteous on this point and expect everyone to make strong efforts to get their name right. If you are my friend, a customer, or someone else that I care about for business or personal reasons I will certainly make that effort (it is only polite and a good business practice). But if you are a stranger trying to sell me something or convince me to do something, don’t get upset by the fact that I haven’t studied thousands of languages and am not inclined to give a whole lot of time to getting your name right.

    I don’t expect people in Taiwan to get the English pronunciation of my name right and I don’t mind using the Chinese translation of my name. If the Chinese translation of my English name was very difficult to remember and say for most Taiwanese, or if it sounded like a bad joke, I would simply select a more standard Chinese name.

  3. Who says we have to use one name at one time our entire lives? In many cultures today or in the past, it was common for people to have multiple names for various purposes or phases in their lives (pen names, honorific names, religious names, and names for coming of age, the death of a parent, etc.) I see no reason why using multiple names should be objectionable in anyway.

Thanks again for your thoughts. Forumosa is great!

Have any of you found any baby name books to be particularly useful? Any Chinese baby name books helpful?

I was going to post this in the Naminging Multicultural Babies thread, but I’m getting fatal error messages everytime I try to access that thread.

We went to the “fortune teller” to get a list of auspicious names. Your wife might want to end up doing that.

Worked pretty well for us and our son got a pretty unique and cool sounding Chinese name.

Mine will have the two names, but the meaning will be the same. I expect her English name to be semi-permanent, not a nick name. Nothing wrong with nick-naming, but you need a real name to ground yourself. First know yourself then you can assume other identities.

For me it comes down to knowing who you are. My daughter will have a name that works for her in both languages and she will know it is hers. If it weren’t for my unfortunate last name (in Chinese) both names would be relatively teasing free too.

Her and her mom are already talking about that. To be honest, the word “auspicious” gives me the hives. I won’t select a name I hate just because it is “auspicious” but the Chinese name is really a choice that is up to my wife and her family. I just don’t have the ear for it. I like my sister-in-law’s name, for example: Wan-Ting. But both her and my wife hate it. They think it is too cute and too a common. They think it is a “market place name”. My Chinese name suggestions tend to be met with rolling eyes.

What sources do the fortune tellers consult anyway?

I’m thinking about using two family names as well. My wife’s family name in Chinese and mine in English.

I dunno. Chinese names don’t mean much to me. Too many girls named “Mei Li” who…well…aren’t.

I recall a line from Pulp Fiction when the hot Latino cabby asks Bruce Willis what his name (Butch) means.

“I’m American Baby,” he says. “Our names don’t mean shit.”

go with it.

Re deciding whether to give your child your Chinese name or your wife’s, I think these three things are worth considering:

1.) How assimilated are you? If you speak Chinese at near-native level and you are somewhat assimilated to local culture, then I suggest following the norm for naming children. It seems to be a consistency issue to me.

2.) What’s your relationship with your in-laws like? I get along with mine, but any child of mine would only be given their surname over my dead body. The practice of giving a child the mother’s surname traditionally means that the child belongs to her family, not the husband’s. In the past, permission from brides’ parents to marry was sometimes given with the condition that the first or second son would be given over to the wife’s family. That child would be responsible for looking after his mother’s parents in their old age, and would of course carry on their name. This was most common in situations when a family had no sons. This doesn’t happen as much now, but I still know of a few recent (past 20 years) cases like this in both Taiwan and HK. With the one child policy in the PRC, it still happens in a lot of villages where there are lots of boys and very few girls. Parents of girls can be pretty demanding when marriage talk begins, and this is something that is demanded from time to time.

Your Chinese name and your child’s taking of it may have little significance for you, but giving your child your wife’s surname can hold great significance to your wife’s parents and others. Depending on where you live, many people would still interpret it as you having given your child over to the in-law’s family. And to preempt those who will say that they asked their wife or in-laws if this is so and got a no answer, that is just plain BS. Many will deny that this perception or practice still exists in Chinese culture because it is considered backwards and a bit embarrassing, but it exists nonetheless.

3.) Bastard child comments. Let’s face it: if your mixed child goes to a local school, he or she is already likely to be the subject of some annoying if not insulting comments. I’ve known or known of a few mixed kids who took mom’s name here in HK, and all of them have gotten bastard child comments at school. Once kids find out that a mixed child’s surname is the same as mom’s (and they always seem to find out), the bastard-son-of-a-sailor comments start. Aside from #2 above, daddy disappearing is really the only other reason for giving mom’s surname to a child in Chinese culture.

I get along with my mother-in-law very well. She is financially independant and not traditional about these things. We have discussed and joked about the connotations in Taiwanese/Chinese culture, but I really didn’t care so long as name on U.S. passport is mine.

I hadn’t thought about Jive’s third point. Yet, it seems that the potential for teasing exists either way. Either the child gets the bastard comments, or is teased because what I’ve been using as the translation of my surname is not a real Chinese surname.

Another option is to not use my wife’s surname, but rather my mother-in-law’s surname, which is a more likely transliteration of my English surname. (The sound is the same as the first sylable of my last name.)

Simply changing the character I use for my name in Chinese is not so simple as I’m on my wife Household Registration and I’m not looking forward to whatever paperwork I’d need to go through to change my name.

This is why I did it. But as for the rest, it depends upon the family. The younger generations (at least in Taiwan), don’t pay much attention to the rest. My family is the youngest brother so they don’t have a lot of the baggage.

As for the bastard stuff - that comes with the territory and with the higher divorce rate Daddy being AWOL - not so uncommon these days as it once was.

We of course chose an English and Chinese name. We had the English names for both a boy or a girl picked out before our daughter was even 3 months along in the womb. I left the chinese name up to my wife. our daughter was born in the US, so all her official stuff has her English name on it. here, we use her Chinese name.

I wanted a name that was unique, but not wierd, and have it mean something. We decided on Sabrina. I found the Social Security site very helpful when decided on a name. It had an interactive chart that showed the populariy of each name in each year dating back to the early 20th century.

My boy uses my surname in English and my wife’s surname in Chinese.

My wife’s surname is 白.

Had my boy been a girl instead, we were going to name her 白日夢.

I love that name. My boy has already agreed that he will name his daughter (if he has one), 白日夢.

[quote=“Tigerman”]My boy uses my surname in English and my wife’s surname in Chinese.

My wife’s surname is 白.

Had my boy been a girl instead, we were going to name her 白日夢.

I love that name. My boy has already agreed that he will name his daughter (if he has one), 白日夢.[/quote]