Thursday, January 26, 2006

Choosing a Chinese Name, part 2

In Part 1 I talked about one way to choose a Chinese name, using lists of “transliterations,” and also pointed out some of the shortcomings of this approach. So what are the other alternatives? One is to pick from a list of actual Chinese names that are commonly used. There are several places online where you can get lists of Chinese names, and they usually also tell you the translations of the names so you can pick out something that is meaningful for you. There are also books you can get that are written specifically for English speakers who want to pick a Chinese name, often geared towards those who’ve adopted a child from China. One book I’ve looked at that I got through my local library system is Best Chinese Names: Your Guide to Auspicious Names by Liu Xiaoyan. These books give you lists of names to choose from organized by personality characteristics and other traits to help you find a more meaningful name.

One site I found has an interesting twist on the approach of looking up a Chinese name based on your English name. At the On-line Chinese Tools site, you enter your: name, “desired essence of the name” (e.g. Wealth and Fortune, Mind and Intelligence, etc), gender, and birth date. The system then provides you with a real Chinese name, including the Chinese characters, the Romanization (i.e. the name in English letters), and the translation. This site also contains some information about how Chinese names work. I put in my information and came up with 魏 奧銳. The Romanization (pinyin) of this is Wei Au rui. According to the site, this is pronounced something like “way ow ray.” Wei is a Chinese surname and dynasty name (in Chinese names the last name is listed first), Au means “mysterious, obscure, profound” and Rui means “sharp” or “acute.” That’s a much more meaningful name than “one whose relationships are only hallucinations!” (see previous post)

Having said all that, here’s what I actually did to come up with a Chinese name for myself, and what we’re going to do with the kids. First, I looked up my name “Aaron” to see what the meaning is. You can do this in a baby name book, or there are websites where you can do this. Here are a couple Behind the Name and Baby Names World. The name Aaron is of Hebrew origin (Aaron was Moses’ brother in the Bible) and means “high mountain.” I then used an English-to-Chinese dictionary to find Chinese characters for “high” and “mountain.” The two online Chinese dictionaries I use the most are Zhongwen and Mandarin Tools. Both allow you to search based on the English word you’re looking for. The character for high is 高 (gāo) and the character for mountain is 山 (shān). There are of course often several different Chinese characters for words as common as “high” and “mountain,” just as we have several different English words that convey these same concepts (elevated, lofty, tall, etc). This seemed ideal, but I didn’t want to stop there because I didn’t know if this would be considered a reasonable Chinese name to a native. Happily, I was able to find it in one of the books on Chinese names I listed above. It turns out that Gāoshān is actually a real Chinese name!

So Gāoshān turned out to be an ideal Chinese first name for me for several reasons. It has the same meaning as my English name, and it has some very pleasant personal associations for me as well. It also has the added benefit of using relative simple characters, which is important to me because of my interest in Chinese calligraphy: 山 is a heck of a lot easier to paint than 魏!

I don’t know if my kids’ names will turn out quite so well, but I’ll let you know the results!


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