A rose by any other name

What???s in a name?

Someone asked if Chinese people should adopt Western names if they live in a Western country like


, and how to choose the name. I think it is like asking what colour shirt to wear. It depends on the person and the circumstances.

My simple answer is, probably, on balance, Chinese people living in


are better off with an English (or French) name, but it is not necessary. The advantage of the new name is that it is easier for English (or French) speakers to remember. Canadians will feel more comfortable with a name they recognize.

The same is true in reverse. Chinese are always asking me what my Chinese name is, as if the simple transliteration of my name into ?????????

, which appears on my name card, just does not quite do it for them. I was once given a Chinese name in

Hong Kong

some 40 years ago. It is??

????????? for Kaufmann Steve Joseph. (My wife does not like it since it was chosen for me by a girl I knew before I knew my wife).

If you ask what I would like to be called, however, I would answer ???Steve???. But then when I am asked to write my name in Chinese characters I go back to????????? since I know how to write those characters quite easily,



it is different. There a foreign name is a foreign name unless you come from a country that uses Chinese characters. Mao Zidong becomes Mo Takto. Other foreigners names are written in Katakana in a close approximation of the sound. Interestingly, George Tanaka, a second generation Nissei American gets his name, Tanaka, written in Katakana just like any other foreigner.

The Chinese transliterate all foreign names into Chinese characters based on what they consider a close approximation of the sound. Khruschev was Heluxiaofu and I do not even want to think of what that works out to in Cantonese. The exception is Japanese or Korean names which are pronounced a la Chinoise. It usually takes me a while to figure out whom they are talking about when they say Tianzhong for Tanaka or Zuoteng for Sato or Xiaoquan for their favourite Japanese Prime Minister.


, of course is Dongjing to the Chinese and so on.

Many countries retain their own names for foreign countries and cities. Mailand (German)


(French and English) instead of Milano( Italian), Londres( Spanish) instead of


and so on. Yet somehow it has become politically incorrect to say


and Peking or





The Japanese are inconsistent with Chinese place names , such that Beijing is still Peking, Shanghai is Shanghai but Hangzhou is Koushuu, as are Guangzhou and a host of other cities with similar sounds.

As for Japanese people I find that I mostly use Tanaka-san or Suzuki-san. I think that Chinese are more likely to use first names than Japanese people, but I could be wrong. Often Japanese people shorten their Japanese first names giving rise to the common occurrence of Ted (Tetsuo, Tetsusaburo etc.) Tak (Takeshi, etc.) Tad (Tadao), Mas (for whatever) or use the first volley of their double-barrelled names like Nori for Noriyuki, Shin for Shinsuke etc. These are also options for the Chinese.

However, if a Chinese person has a first name that contains the Chinese pinyin sounds like ???Xi???, ???Qu???, ???Zhi??? ???Ci??? ???Si??? etc.I would think that a new name is a must. Those pinyin syllables will simply not be comprehensible to a person not familiar with Chinese.

In any case we are only talking about the first encounter. Once someone knows you, they know what kind of a person you are. ???A rose by any other name is still a rose??? as they say. But first impressions can be important. If you are applying for a job, a triple-barreled Chinese name, especially one with unpronounceable syllables will not create as favourable an impression as George or Nancy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s