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China: By Journalists Eyes - Chinese Names

Published: 26.1.2013
We had many formal meetings during our journey in China with government officials or top managements of some companies that tried to make themselves more visible through us, European journalists. In a hurry after these precisely scheduled meetings I always gathered prepared business cards and carefully placed them to my notes.

After few days at night when I studied my notes and wanted to file the business cards I was surprised. Besides four Wangs and three men named Li I gazed at two identical names – Wang Fu. Who was who? I wasn’t smart about it at that moment, however, knowledge of my older German colleagues shed a light on the whole puzzle.

Chines put first their surname. The Wang population consists of 93 million people. China has around 400 types of surnames, but the majority of its population shares only a hundredth of them. On the top are Wang (King), Li and Chang. To make it even more puzzled women keep their maiden name, children get father’s name.

My confusion was right. I discovered identification of Chinese makes problem not only to foreigners but to Chinese as well. It is not only hard to distinguish a man from a woman by name, but the problem is also in many identical names, including first names.

As on every other place in the world first names are a matter of fashion. Chinese are driven mostly by other incentives when choosing first names of their children, however, there are no regulations except a ban on writing names in roman letters. Traditionally parents name their offspring according to expectations of their children. No wonder that there are several thousands Qiang Wangs (Strong Kings) in Beijing.

As a determined fan of Czech names I shake my head when I see Kevins or Jessicas Nováková, however, a closer look on meanings of Chinese names was almost an execution for me.

It is nothing unusual to meet a retired woman named Cultural Revolution, Liberation or Defiance of America. Back then parents had to impress Mao Zedong so for example a popular girls name used to be Hong (Crimson), boys used to be named Guoqjang (Country’s Defence) or Baoguo (Protect the Homeland).

Not even in our century parents haven’t stopped naming their children Ao-jün (the Olympics), there are already several thousands of them since 2008. Another thousands of children have some more original name Black Panda (Tching-tching) and many babies are named Blue Fish (Pey-pey). Those were originally names of mascots of the Olympics.

From my point of view, children named on the basis of expectations of their parents, fare bit better. People from rural areas use names as Fu (Rich) or already mentioned Qiang (Strong). Urban children are often given name Xue (Learn) and it is common to name boys by the symbol of the year they were born. So in China there are Dragons, Snakes, Pigs, Tigers or Rabbits. This time girls fare better – they boast with names of flowers, gems and adjectives of beauty.

Creativity in names is, as you can see, unlimited in China, yet I am graceful for Czech conservatism and its Honzíks, Pepíks, Júlinkas and Kristýnkas.

Text/photo: Andrea Fantová





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