Danwei TV

Sexy Beijing - Chinese people's English names

Sexy Beijing is a Danwei TV show about love, lust, youth culture and street life in China's capital.

In this second episode -- Lost in Translation -- our heroine Su Fei goes around Beijing, asking Chinese people what their English names are, and why they need them.

Who said China is not a creative country?

The episode is also available at Danwei.TV, where there are links to other formats and download options. All Danwei TV shows are archived at Danwei.TV.

For a look at Westerners abusing Chinese and Chinese characters, have a look at Hanzi Smatter, where you can admire some of the most foolish Chinese characters ever to adorn human flesh.

Sexy Beijing is now on its own website: check the latest episodes at www.sexybeijing.tv

There are currently 78 Comments for Sexy Beijing - Chinese people's English names.

Comments on Sexy Beijing - Chinese people's English names

"No meaning, it just sounds good."

Sounds like some of the same logic behind Chinese tattoos in the West. "I don't know what it means, it just looks cool." Ha!

My first year teaching in China ('93), I inherited students who the previous year had been taught by "a dear, sweet old retired couple" from Kentucky, I believe it was, and they'd given all the students English names.

You can probably see this one coming.

My rosters were filled with names like "Agnes," "Gladys," "Grace," "Ada," "Gertrude," "Bertha," and so on--popular baby names in the U.S. in the 1900-1930 era.

I thought those were a bit socially handicapping, but "Samanfar?"

I love Smacker!

It sure is fun making Chinese people look stupid.

O lighten up jk! Did you see where Su Fei shows you the maxipads named Su Fei? Is it fun making foreigners look stupid? Idiot!

Better than the first one! Well done.

This one is very funny, but not very sexy... when are you coming to the fact?

Your comment is SO out of place.
Go have a cup of tea! Don't bother us!

Very nice work. Reminded me of names that teacher friends of mine have collected from students. In addition to the antiquated Cora, Ivy, Heathcliff, Fletcher, Agnes, Ethel, Mabel etc. there were Red Hat, Arrow, Small Fish, Yellow Pencil, Dolphin, Bear-Bear, Pig-Pig (both girls), Ranson; boys named Figer, Hoorock and Potti; girls called Cavery, Gife and Sikky; a trio of girls one teacher dubbed "the fruit sisters": Lemon, Orange and Banana; another three called Street, Precious Moment and Most; a boy named Tina and another who called himself April Wednesday (for his birthday); and three who might've taken their cues from the 7 Dwarfs, Happy, Itchy and Funny.

Several years back a pal of mine teaching English to kiddies in Taiwan went on a serious binge of Michael Moorcock's Sword and Sorcery books.

That year a certain neighborhood saw a marked upswing in children with the English names Elric, Arioch, Moonglum and Corum. Somewhere in Taiwan, a seventeen year old boy is writing "Cheng, Stormbringer" on the top of a TOEFL application.

Good job again, Su Fei. When will "Sexy Beijing: Bloopers and Outtakes" be online?

su fei: 1970s British sit-com retro chic


sounds funny at first sight but very interresting issue there.
great job !

Is this a coincidence or Su Fei learned her chinese from shandong province?

Anywhere,anytime, the only name can identify yourself is the name printed on your passport. So a non-formally-registered name will confusing others and got things mess up

Tong: What about people who have no passport? And I'm sure The Great Helmsman, Dubya, Slick Willie, Marilyn Monroe, and Muzi Mei might disagree as well. (Or am I--quite possible--misunderstanding your point?)

When I first started college in United States, one American classmate of mine always used his first and middle names' initials as his name.

One day he asked if I could give him an equivalent name in Chinese.

Unfortunately, his initials were:

B. T.

or in Chinese


which means "snot".

I really enjoyed this piece. Loved 'Samanfar'. I had a Chinese friend who called herself 'Lakefar' (lake+far). Wonder if they took the same English class. Maybe you could do a bit on Westerners with their Chinese names. I wonder how many folks called Gubo, Palanka, Ma-ke, Mai-ke, or Da-wei you will run across?

I often wonder why many Chinese with perfectly pronouncable names for us Westerners give themselves difficult to pronounce English names.

Prince Roy - I have fond memories of Gubo and Palanka's hijinks, but memories fonder still of trying to figute out exactly what the hell their names were transliterations of. 

And yes; "Da-wei" and "Mai-te" and "Ai-ling" have got to be the foreign equivalents of "Anderson," "Felix," and "Samanfar."

Is there any foreigner can pronounce correctly Chinese names? This video is stupid. The Chinese can pronounce English in a better way than you pronounce Chinese. They have English names just for fun, I cant understand why you are laughing!

Sophie's world...
Excellent great film,
if I can add the sexy part, I definitely felt in love with Maxipad, including in her panties, on the bed; is she for real (including the glasses) or could she just be an evil PR creation of talented Mr Woody Mines ?

I must be one of those increasingly rare Chinese people not to have an English name, or an Italian one for that matter!

I loved this short, however, in some ways I agree with Smacker's comment (minus the "This video is stupid") part, and the "I cant understand why you are laughin" part). Pretty much the only reason why Chinese people have English names is to compensate for foreigners inability to pronounce or remember Chinese syllables. Shame on us. Fun names like Smacker, Samanfar, etc. are just that, FUN...you'd be hard pressed to find a Chinese person that genuinely cares about their English name. So, all for you big noses out there, we should remember that its our shortcomings that instigated these ridiculous names...loved the short. Smacker (from the clip) f-ing rules!

Cestmoi: She is absolutely real.

My English name is Catherine,
i choose this name because of the novel "Wuthering Heights".
this name is antiquated?

Catherine is not antiquated: my name is Catherine, I'm in my 20s and from New York, and I certainly am not the only one. It's a nice name!

Had a Taiwanese guy walk in today who called himself 'Schpeletor'. I asked him how to say it but even he couldn't pronounce it.

Interesting. the first year i was in college my american teacher asked us to choose/make english names. some were a little more serious so we had lucy, helen, kevin, alan...some were a little on the loose so we had "water" and "sky". my chinese name is xinsong (new pine) so i had myself named "pine". a nick name. plus, many westerners find it hard to pronounce "x" in pinyin. yeah, i think people have english names (or westerners choosing chinese names) for random reasons...on many occasions, for fun. I have a germany friend whose chinese name is Hairui (the upright and virtuous official from Ming Dynasty) and an american friend who calls himself Dai Mengde (diamond). so, for those folks who seemed to feel upset, take it easy. btw, i like some americans' chinese names, like Shi Jingqian (Jonathan Spence), like Li Kanru (Ken Liberthal)...cool, sufei, keeping going!

Prince Roy: are you sure that wasn't "Skeletor?"


Those video are the best! Funny and cute! Well done!

... hi Angelina! Greetings from Italy, Angelina is a cute name! I'm very happy you like it :D

Guess I have to find a freakin' handsome chinese name to go to China ^^

Suggestion are welcome, go for it! Zaijian!

That's rich! Thanks for the laughs.

I've found that it's the most westernized, traveled, cosmopolitan Chinese who are most likely to eschew English names. And young, low-rung white collars who only speak a bit of English if any who most feel they need one.

My encounters include a Mesh, a Bunny and an Icy. Friends don't let friends keep stupid English names.

Of course, there is a long tradition of Chinese having multiple names, many will change their real/Chinese name several times in their life, plus have lots of nicknames, and the English name is just one expression of that. You'll never meet a Southeast Asian who doesn't go by a wacky nickname. "My name is Thomas, but everyone calls me Godzilla," a Filipino will say with a straight face.

well, my dad picked my English name, so I didn't have much of a choice in it. But I've come across some really weird English names growing up in Hong Kong, too, though most HKers pick the more "normal" English names. However they have this tendency to pick the nick names over the regular form.

It might make the Chinese look stupid; but I say it is the other way around - the Chinese are making fun of English names! In both ways, nobody gets hurt. Just a laugh...

My name is Liu Kang Ching Wan Li or Liu Kang. That's what my friends Rayden, Sonya, and Johnny call me because of the popular video games and movies Mortal Kombat. I have four Chinese names: Liu Kang Ching Wan. My last name is Li. I have a black belt in Kung Fu, Karate, and Judo. I also know Kendo and studied martial arts in the Shaolin Temple in China and study their culture and language in Tibet. I can also speak Cantonese, Japanese, and English. I also have a English name. My English name is Mattimus Ching Li. My mom is Japanese. My grandfather owns a dojo in Tokyo. I have long black hair and a dragon tattoo .

I had a travel agent in Beijing, and his name was.... "Doctor Who".
Tell me that people in China aren't totally "getting it". Their appeciation of irony is just so above us simple foreign barbarians...

Lisa: I'm Southeast Asian and I don't go by a wacky nickname. But then I guess we haven't met. You must meet very few of us. You should try getting out more.

Yeah, I exaggerated in saying "all" SoE Asians. Apologies. Certainly it's an amazingly diverse region. The practice seems to be universal in the Philippines, and very popular in Malaysian Borneo - about 2/3 of the people I met there had nicknames. In "Mainland" Malaysia, though, none of my friends have nicknames, although they're all ethnic Indian and Chinese, not Malays, so I don't know.

Well as a Chinese American immigrant I have a western nick name that I use due to the immaturity of most people in dealing with my name. Since Ya Ou seems to freak them out and Xu is impossible to pronounce for them. The ends the "wait let me try and pronounce it because I think I can but I end up butchering your name for 5 minutes" crap.

This is interesting but sad..... I am talking about it is just sad and unfortunate. Most Koreans, Japanese don't have English names like Hongkongers, Taiwanese and Mainland Chinese do. Why? This is a big nation and race group but people don’t seem to have sense of identity.

i thought foreigners liked chinese. now i guess i was wrong. fyi,we're not having fun with english names. we're just like many other foreigners who don't know chinese well. that is,how about getting to know instead of sneering at each other?

by the way, i'm a cantonese and my chinese name is AU WING CHI. is CASSIDY a good girl's english name? coz i've been choosing an english name which suits me. i'm just trying to express my view about it.there is absolutely no offence.

thank u!!

I'm chinese, from hong kong. i used to have a english name until i was 18, i stopped using it because i realized how meanningful it is to use the native name that my parents gave me. i like to thank you my mom and dad giving me a beautiful name. I hope more chinese give respect to their language and their parents, and their name. Don't forget where you come from. Stop trying to be cool, coz you are not. Look at the Japanese and Korean, even the Vietnamese. They are all ahead of us.

It seems that many Chinese assume that non Chinese can't learn to say their Chinese name and use a western name to counter this problem. Although I can understand that a person in a different country (especially China) may adopt a local name for ease of use but I really don't see the point for a Chinese to use a western name in China just for sake of the few westerners they (may) meet. In my company we have offices in many parts of the world, but it is only some of the Chinese staff that use a "western" name, while colleagues in Spain, Israel etc use their own names.

Perhaps the use of English names among Chinese comes down to the long tradition of China giving a Chinese name to foreign people, so therefore it would seem natural for Chinese to give themselves a western name?

Finally, I like the Sexy Beijing series, its fun and is an accurate portrayal of life in BJ for the makers of the clips, keep it up!

Perhaps an episode on Chinese names that "Laowai" use in China would be a good sequel to this episode?

South West Alex and krazykwok ,you are so right.Thank you,and what you said is really impressive.

The "Laowai"s usually give thmeselves chinese names which sound like their own english names.

I had a roommate named Thron. He said it had started as Theron (he took it out of the back of a dictionary) but somewhere along the lines the "e" got lost and it became Thron. And he was very attatched to the name. I also have a student who picked the named Vivian but she can't pronounce it and when people first meet her they think that her name is Lilian. I can understand picking a name so laowai don't murder yours... but one would think you would try to pick on that you yourself can pronounce.

I thought it's just a part of culture shock in the begining of cultural exchange.

May be we should tolerate and open our mind for different countries of the world in this century.

ok. i've just popped in randomly. honestly i don't really like the video. i mean, the way they represent. it seems like they are laughing and stereotyping chinese. ok, let me clarify, i admit that some people pick a so called wired english name, or juz a vocaburary as their "english name", its becoz, most eng name are juz sooo common, and therefore they would like to choose or, to create a unique name. also, some of them juz use their nickname (such as frog)as their english name. obviously they know that its not a proper eng name, so they juz treat it as a nickname. most of us, care our chinese name rather than english name. they juz pick it up becoz of fun, sounds good etc. so wut i wanna say are, they chose it, and they know wut it means. its not stupid. BUT, the video tends to represent those chinese in a bit negative way. and, its absolutely normal that chinese can't pronounce the interviewer's long name, as if the same case most foreigners, who don;t know or juz know a bit chinese, fail to prounonce a chinese name. at the end, the interviewer had to pick a "chinese name", Su fei. su fei, in chinese, is juz a direct translation without a meaning. its meaning is implied after it had been translated. So its juz the same.

my last comment: its the best to use ur native name as ur eng name, you chinese! i used my chinese name as my eng name, and all my foreign fds call my chinese name. its JUZ cool!

Just got back from China...was that Bei Jing? Most government signs in China are in bad need of an English editor..then again, most people don't there dont speak English, so why are all the signs in English as well? The answer I got is so foreigners can understand them. This assumes that foreigners speak English. I had an amazing time and didn't want to leave. Great piece.

you know, there are lot sof english speaking caucasian people who tattoo their names in chinese. and some of them actually have meanings lik: pear, air, cut, electricity, bridge, mind. etc etc

its funny when you dont have a full understanding of another language before you obtain a name from that language.

but i think its good. taking life too seriously seriously inhibits your experience of life.


HongKongers adopted weird English names long before the mainland Chinese: Fruit, Money, Cinderella, Apple, Coldness, Echo, Rainbow...among a few.

In contrast, it's rare for Japanese, Korean or Vietnamese nationals to adopt English names, and it hasn't inhibited the popularity of J or K entertainers overseas.

It's not fun at all.What I can see is just prejudice and igorance.
Lots of American also have Chinese name that we think is "stupid".
Chinese like to have English names have some culture and history reasons.

P.S. Su Fei's Chinese is so good and it is just like my neighbor who has dementia. It makes me feel I were in my hometown. Thank you!

I disagree that the Chinese feels the need to compensate with an English name due to foreigners sometime difficulties with their names. No, I believe the reason they have (nee choose) English names is because the Chinese like anything English, plain and simple. Have anyone ever noticed some of the garments Chinese wear that have English words on them. Talk about funny! Most are nonsensical and more often then not, it contains misspellings. But to the wearer, they are completely oblivious. If you ask them, they have no clue about the writing, but think it cool to wear something with English writing on it.

BTW, born Boi Chon Dam (Chinese born in Vietnam) and lived in the US for more than 30 years (since the age of 7). Somehow, an Aunt thought Boi Chon Dam should become Jeannette. That’s my name and I’m stuck with it.

I am leaning towards the "who the heck cares" after reading through the comments. I think all of the comments applies here as there are bound to be some people with a wacky name that they may or may not know or just don't give a D. I can see why Chinese immigrants chose to have an English name, but there is really no point of having one if you don't have frequent contact with westerners. Personally, I want to see some Spanish or French names then the more prevalent English ones. If it is a matter of pronuniation, Pancho would suffice. Yes, that was my Spanish name I picked back during Spanish class in the States. You guys know about whathisname and the giant windmills? I got it off the squire. Nowadays I go by my family name since it's Chinese and easy to pronunce. I save my Chinese given name for the non English speakers. The last resort is Pancho. :) Frankly, it all depends on the person.

I don't find this too funny. I'm a CBC - Canadian born Chinese (in my case, cantonese. Some of you may find Chinese names and their literal translations a little bit bizarre~ but really..we have no choice! Imagine our alphabet. yeh. A through Z. Randomly type a nonsense word like...say..tugipritubee. You can still read it right? Yeh? So we can be quite creative in naming our children. It doesn't HAVE to have a meaning, you might like like the made up name, "Drigara" because it sounds nice. Chinese, however, we don't exactly have an alphabet we can randomly smack together to make words. The language is QUITE hard to learn, and I've had the experience at my terribly strict and difficult chinese school. We have different parts in each "character" or "word" that we piece together to create an actual word. We can't just make up a word and randomly piece together parts- that's not how it works. It's like...hmm.. how should I say this? Let's go back to the nonsense word "tugipritubee" what if you were to take the letters..jumble them up in a bag..given the bag and jumbled letters alone, could you tell what word it was? Nope. I don't think so. So it sucks for us to not be able to make up words..so WHY NOT PUT TOGETHER A FEW COMBINATIONS OF WORDS... TO MAKE A ONE PHRASE MEANING..INSTEAD OF A ONE WORD MEANING (or no meaning, in English sometimes)?? So instead of "Henry" let's say, blablabla ooohh! it was a king's name! blablabla.. we can get something like.. "Pure White River" or hmm.. "Dirty Lawn Chair"? ..LOL hahaha threw that one in. I'm sure nobody would name their child Dirty Lawn Chair. But we never know ^_^ So in fact, Chinese names are quite unique as we piece together combinations of WORDS. On the other hand, english names are pieced together with 26 possible letters. (well. ok. unles you make your name REALLY long. then you might get more combinations with letters. not sure.)

..ANNNDDD. Yuur chinese name..is your chinese name. Don't take your chinese name..put it in pinyin..and call it your english name. Just say it's your chinese name. Many chinese people misunderstand this..and think that as long as it's in "letters" it is considered English. As a CBC who's dealt with alot of the goods and bads in both cultures...this annoys me greatly. If you put the characters "ni hao" into pinyin.. (ni hao...so you can read it..) I would still consider it chinese..wouldn't you? A LANGUAGE IS NOT RESTRICTED TO HOW IT LOOKS. I can't describe this..I really hope somebody understands me. My middle name..is my chinese name. I've always wondered..WHY? O__O I'm not saying i'm not proud of my chinese name..it's just..my chinese name..is my chinese name..why would I repeat it in another name? Logically, if my name means Flower in chinese..then in english my name might be Flower. Makes sense right? But the pinyin..ugh. Can't stand it. Like what if your first name and last name were the same. I'd find that incredibly annoying. Really. If i started typing in pin yin right now..but chinese pinyin...that's not english. You're just expressing Chinese in..a different look i guess. SO ARHGHH..WHY PUT CHINESE NAMES IN OUR ENGLISH NAMES? WHY REPEAT NAMES WHEN YOU CAN BE UNIQUE? OR YOU CAN CREATE A DIFFERENT DESCRIPTIVE NAME TO YOUR TASTE EH? MOM?! haha jk.

Your video is very good.I want to make a friend with you,could you allwd me ?

Chinese are really creative in every fields, in my opinion, name is just a symbol, i find it ridiculous to make this video, don't Englishmen have funny names?

like Stone, Red, etc.

get a life ppl how would u lyk it if ur parents named u something surprisingly weird and funny to a foreign person i.e chinese?

I am half Chinese (not from Mainland China) . I am always puzzled that there are a lot of Chinese be it in HK, China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore etc uses English names. Don't they have a sense of culture to use their own Chinese Name? And they can't even speak English but yet they wanted to have an English name. Such Pariah!

Well, you can look at it that way, or you can look at it from the perspective of people wanting to become more globalized.

The best way to see it tho, is from the conspiratorial view of the Reptilian mastermind that is now controlling earth, i.e, the Reptilians are taking over Chinese society; they have already taken over the Anglo-sphere. Trust me, it is all going to make sense, soon.

Foreigners can't pronounce Chinese names?

现代中国普通话拼音相当普及,在学术界早已取代前辈和异国用过的不同的汉语拼音系统,但对以英文为母语者而言,普通话拼音与英文发音有时相差太大,如 清朝的QING,因为Q 开头,老美看了当然念K 开头;又如新疆的XIN,老美一看就联想到FOX 或者类似的有X 字,但是这些英文的例子都有X在后头,把它跑到字的前面当然会把拼音的XIN 念成KSIN,非驴非马,中英都不像。再加上中国方言拼法,潮州,福建,江浙 ,广东等沿海地区的后代在国外到处都是,各个方言以口音用英文字母去拼音,结果是外国人习惯了姓CHIN,CHEE,CHEUNG,LEE,CHOY, KING,LAM ,LUCK, KWOK,等等的中国人。按照传统,大半中国人在海外取非凡特有的英文名字,有的惊人 如 ATLAS,PARADISE,DUKE, ATHENA,NAPOLEON;有的甚至引起大笑,如MINNIE, WILLIE, SHEENY,SHALLY,BEEBEE,ROVER, DIVA 等,英文姓名变成PARADISE WOO,笑死人。

外国英文汉语拼音多的是,如WADE-GILES, YALE 最常见,又加上台湾所谓“罗马拼音”(跟注音符号不同,在此暂时不提),所以难怪一般英美老百姓看中国人的姓名感到头痛。

Absolutely amazing. Dollar. Smacker. Someone should get a Nobel prize here for the most way-out-there English name.

Am sticking with my David. My pinyin name got the credit card company making about a zillion and one variants. Too much pain, no(t enough) gain.

Ok, but if you pick an english name, how do you guys feel when you get confused with another person who suddenly has the same name as you?

Most chinese have quite common surnames, and unique first names...for example, David Feng would be quite common.

So how do you guys feel about getting confused with other people with the same english first name and same surname?

Would you be angry?

why we take an english? ha, it can be traced back to my elementary school. our teacher asked us to name ourselves by using an english name and she said that would be easier to call us, also good for leanring.

as for me, i took two names till now. first, haze, cuz i really liked one character in one sitcom. another one is veronica, cuz--veronica mars, simply like her and love to be a detective as well. but now, i prefer to use my really name, cuz i just want to be myself and i think others will respect u more if we just use our original names even though sometimes the names will be really difficult for foreigners to pronounce.

here is another explanation. using english names is a way to show how we like or even love english, just like some ppl who come from other countries want to have their own Chinese name. the same case.

and others who choose to use an english name might like to follow the trend, u know,others can call themselves mary or susie, then why cant i give myself a name...

nice clip,great job! i love it, keeping it up! here is the deal!im a Chinese, and i have done my master degree in Australia, first of all, i admit that my name is horrible to pronounce for westerners, but, eventually we all get used to it!and none of them felt it's wired of calling my native name! some of commenters above got point i agree with, as i know, most of Chinese are just follower

Let's see... what's the original purpose of this clip?! I don't see any other but just one clip made by foreigners trying to make Chinese people look stupid here.

Those of you who left a comment here who are Chinese and have shared the same humour with this clip's creator(s)... maybe you should think about it again...

It's a totally different thing if the clip was being made by Chinese...

I only hope the clip's creator(s) had given it a second thought before doing this whole clip and then uploading it for the world to see... why bother making yourselves looking ugly and mean anyways? At least till this point I've not laughed at your mandarin yet!

Show some respect please!

I know this comment might be alittle late. But i'm sorry, this piece is completely racist. If people cannot see that this is racism, then u are completely blind!!! Some of you would tell me to lighten up...what's the harm, it's just jokes...no one is getting hurt.

But, racism isn’t strictly about colour. Here’s the UN definition of racial discrimination:

“In this Convention, the term "racial discrimination" shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”

So Sofie...why are u so damn self-rightious??? Who made you queen of the english language???

Sofie, if you think it's so damn funny laughing and mocking at other peoples name... i would love for you to walk, smack in the middle of Compton, stick a microphone in a persons face, and make fun of names like "Roshanda" or "Tabari"...let's see if you would be laughing.

I'm sorry, but, it's not that u are laughing at some names which people have...but infact the way u present it, is mocking, ridiculing, the chinese people. There is a fine line between jokes and racism...

I teach economics at a two-year college in the U.S. and I am going with a group of colleagues on a two week trip to China in May.

Your comments on Chinese adopting or being "assigned" English names was very interesting. In fact I found this site because I googled something like "Americans assuming Chinese names". I have an American friend who spent several years doing business in China. His Chinese friends gave him a name, based on a combination of how his American name sounds, and on his personal characteristics. Sorry I can't remember what it is, but I gather that his friends were sincere, and that reactions when he introduced himself were generally positive.

I thought that would be a cool thing for me to do. I am studying Mandarin conversation; I will not get very far before I depart, but if my experience in Spain and Latin America are a valid indicator, knowing even a little of your host country's language is well received by strangers and can facilitate greater interaction. So, while I am intent about trying to communicate as well as I can over there, I thought that it would be fun, and interesting, to be able to introduce myself with a Chinese name.

I shared my interest with several of my students from Taiwan (one of these was taking me for a second class, my several other students from the mainland were more reserved, and I did not want to make them feel more uncomfortable than they already do, trying to learn economics in a second language, in a second country.) So far we haven't had much success. My last name is Bounds, my first is Fred, but that did not seem to inspire anything. My friend said that the more important element is the linkage between some personal characteristics you possess and your new name. I suggested professor, or teacher, and they said that would be a title I would already have. I was born in the Year of the Tiger, but they felt that would be too strong. Thinking of myself as leading or guiding students through a field of knowledge, I suggested guide, and once more we came back to that being a title (like a tour guide). Since I last saw my students, I came up with Thirst for Knowledge, because I not only enjoy teaching but love learning as well. I will ask them what they think tomorrow.

So what do you think? Good idea, or not? If I accept a Chinese name, and use it over there, will it be well received, or will people laugh at me behind my back? I mean derisive laughter, if it evokes an outwardly happy response or even laugh that’s great. I love to laugh and look forward to doing that with people I meet over there.

just for interest, most name comes in three parts; first name, middle name and last name. The last name is usually the one we can not choose but the other two always stand for some meaning. That would be in all languages! Therefore translating the words by means of sound (pronouncing) is simply meaningless. Mostly for fun! Knowing the fact and making the fun is OK as long as the other parties understand. However, if they do not then one should really teach and or correct the mistake rather then simply laugh at it. After all, what goes around comes around! Cheers and have fun:)


I have always loved this video, because it is cute and funny and lighthearted. Sad to see so many people thinking it is offensive (one reason I don't live in the US!!).

I have had a Chinese name now for 35 years as long as I have spoken Chinese, it both sounds like my English name and also more importantly has a great meaning and sounds like an authentic Chinese name(tian rui). My eurasian children have both english and chinese names and even have my chinese surname (gao). In over 26 years of living in China (HK/Taiwan/Beijing) I have come across a lot of cool, funky and unusual English names, and even with my fluency in Chinese, find that remembering english names is till a lot easier.

2 notes on points made above:

1 - duplication of chinese given names is actually more common than stated above (and of course the 10O surnames leads to even more commonality). I can always tell from certain names whether a person was born during the cultural revolution where traditional generational 2nd character names were often dropped in exchange for revolutionary patriotic names.
2 - Chinese personal names are not used as often and informally as English personal names, as children and people are often addressed by a moniker that reflects their relationship to the speaker (Xiao Di, Da Jie, Si Mei, Gao Zong, shu shu etc. etc.). Chinese nick names serve a similar function of closeness as English ones. (actually in the very formal Victorian England, personal christian names were also only used between the closest of friends).

I believe this also has an impact on the selection of English names by my Chinese friends. The name is almost an alter ego, one that is not burdened with a lot of social and cultural baggage. It is often a fun and informal name, though for some it is also their professional name as well. E-mail communication and the internet are also good reasons for taking on an English name as Tony stated in the interview above.

Finally as mentioned above, people often have "wai hao's" other names like pen names etc. and will often change their Chinese name as they go through life.

Sorry for the long essay... just got to thinking about people's relationships with names and cultural differences.

I have not watched the video clip since my internet connection is too slow for that to be enjoyable, however here is a general thought on why I think it makes practical sense for foreigners to adopt a Chinese name when they come to China but why the same is not necessary for Chinese going abroad:

Foreign names are in usually in the 26 letters of the alphabet only, so in order to render them in an easily recognizable / readable form for Chinese - e.g. on a business card - it is practical to choose a Chinese name that can be written in Chinese characters. The choice of whether to use a transliteration - as close as you can get to your original name - or trying to find one that also has a nice meaning, is then up to the individual.

Since the Chinese language has pinyin, any Chinese person going abroad already has a way of depicting their real name using the letters of the alphabet, so there is no practical need in most cases to come up with a completely different name.

In both cases, certainly the fascination with a foreign language one is learning may prompt people to chose a name from that language and why not.

This video had me laughing. While I was teaching English in China (2004-2005), I was amazed at the name adaptations used by the Chinese. I had one student named "SARS". He knew that it was a disease, but he didn't mind. I encountered so many other strange names accompanied by explanations, some of which were relevant, most of which were obscure. After a short time I adjusted to the unique names. I was caught off guard when a student corrected me for calling him "oven". Apparently he didn't yet understand the difference between 'v' and 'w', so he wrote "Oven" on his name tag. After a few moments of confusing conversation with him, I realized that he was trying to tell me his name was "Owen". I'm going to be blogging about teaching in China and other experiences in China on my blog. Check it out.

I think this is a very interesting phenomenon and one that a few, though only a few, Taiwanese people are beginning to wake up to.

For those who can read Chinese, there's an interesting blog article, written by a Taiwanese woman, asking why it is that Taiwanese people feel the need to do it.

It's very interesting, as are the comments of her readers. You can find it here:


Has there been a serious study on the question of why Chinese people take up English names when going overseas? One can understand Christians having a Christian name but what generally motivates a non-Christian Chinese person to want to have an English name? It is not a phenomenon seen elswhere in Asia. I have asked this question of many Chinese but no one has given me a convincing answer except that "foreigners can't pronounce Chinese names". Buckie.

I'm chinese, and I have a french name! In my opinion, Chinese names are difficult for foreigners to remember or pronounce, if Chinese names are not correctly pronounced, they sound ridiculous or the meanings will be changed. Like you can easily misspronounce someone's name wrong. Like if you have a loooooooong name like Adolph Blaine Charles David Earl Frederick or something, you would cut the rest and tell people to just call you Blaine etc. So english names can be a nickname. Also, if you call your colleague his or her full name in chinese, it might not be polite, especially someone who is older than you. So if you use English names ,it is much easier to call and sounds more friendly and equal.

Just come across this thread today so here's my penn'orth! I don't use 'English' names because imho it smacks of cultural imperialism and it's patronising. It's a bit like the white colonialists in Africa calling their domestic staff 'Sixpence' because that's how much they got paid. I hate it when, usually, American teachers impose 'English' names on their students. They come to China, so for God's sake find out a bit about Chinese language and culture, why don't you? Ah but then Americans have such a weird view of the world! On the other hand, it's patronising to foreigners. Chinese names are not difficult to pronounce for English speakers, with a bit of help and practice. Did you ever meet a Westerner who couldn't say Mao Tse Dong, or Deng Xiaoping, or Yao Ming for that matter!? OK, we may get the pronounciation wrong sometimes, but, hey, your English is not always that perfect! What you're actualy saying is, hey, you foreigners are too stupid to say and remember our Chinese names. That's not very nice. So take pride in your Chinese names, refuse to have an 'English' name imposed on you, and just help us poor foreigners out a bit. Tell us what your name is, how to say it, what it means and be prepared for us to get it wrong sometimes! That way we can get to the real you, not some fake, non-existent identity. Having said all that some 'English' nicknames really are hilarious, and can be a lot of fun.

Agree, minus the sidebar America rant, with Lavengro.
It is condescending to assume foreigners can't pronounce Chinese names. How many foreigners have you ever given the opportunity to learn your Chinese name? More than likely this is some rationale that you are taught from an early age and now just repeat it almost like a mantra.
If you are Chinese and living in an English-speaking country, that is one thing, but EVERY Chinese person I met in China had an English name though they didn't use English in their jobs and had very limited contact with foreigners.
Furthermore, why do Chinese adopt only an English first name? If mispronunciations of their names bother them that much then why aren't they bothered by mispronunciations of their surnames? You might as well just call yourself Joe Smith and the transformation to a "real" westerner will almost be complete.
Finally, this whole argument that slight mispronunciations of a person's name will change the meaning is a red herring. If I say something that approximates your name, flawed though the pronunciation may be, then who cares? We both know whom I am addressing. It doesn't bother me when Chinese mispronounce my name. If you tell a foreigner in China to call you by an English name because his/her pronunciation of Chinese is not perfect (and how could it be anyway? We aren't native Chinese) you might as well tell that person not to waste time studying Chinese because he/she will never be able to pronounce the language correctly.

There's a thousand different English names that the chinese use. Here are the common ones: Joe, Randy, Alex, Michael, Apple,Orange,Peach, Tomato, Mango, Fish,Doplhin, Venus,Jupiter, Sydney, Vancouver, Brisbane, Sunny,Windy, Summer and many more. It shows the creativity and enthusiasm of the chinese people for life. China!Long Live Chairman Mao.

Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997, a fact for those who wonder why many Hong Kong people have adopted an English name. Twenty years ago people in my high school usually called me by my English name or some nicknames, but never just my given name.

I never introduce myself to non-Chinese with my Chinese name since 99.999% of them can't say it right after countless attempts.

In fact, most HK people have a name with two syllables (Chinese characters), not a first name and a middle name. Almost all professors think that Yuet was my first name, *** was my middle name when they saw me on their rosters. In fact, Yuet (in Cantonese) is part of my name. They could spend years trying to pronounce it, but they will never get it right. The more they try, the more frustrated we both get.

This isn't to show that non-Chinese are slow learners. This has to do with the way we use with our tongues to produce speech, and it's a habit. When they called out my name "Yuet," the sounds that came out were absolutely awful! I didn't feel like it represented me at all. Anyway, I don't see anything wrong if someone prefers to be called with another name other than the name he has on his birth certificates.

1. Quoting from "Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner": "Robert decided to name this boy Loser."

2. Many English names have funny meanings, ex:
"Cameron: Crooked nose Scottish surname transferred to unisex forename use, originally from the name of an ancestor having an ungraceful proboscis."

3. The 20 Most Bizarre Celebrity Baby Names link

4. The name "Gregory/Grigori/Grigoros" doesn't really mean "vigilant." In fact, grigoros means quick/fast in Greek.

A couple in the US named their baby boy "Adolf Hitler" and that made news. Someone that I knew named her younger boy "Storm" and she's Caucasian. Another friend of mine (Hispanic) told me that she wanted to name her baby "Astoria" if it were a girl. However, I have to admit that it's indeed very odd when someone named herself "Apple, Cherry or whatever."

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