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Choosing a Chinese Name Posted by on Aug 16, 2017 in Culture, Vocabulary

If you’re planning on traveling extensively in China or living there, it’s a good idea to choose a Chinese name. English is not widely spoken in China, and people there often have a hard time pronouncing English names. There are a few routes you can go when choosing a Chinese name. We’ll take a look at the most common in this post and give you some examples.

Phonetic Translation

Going to China? You’ll want a Chinese name.

The most common way to choose a Chinese name is simply by phonetically translating your English name. When an English name is written in a Chinese newspaper or read out on TV, this is the way they do it. As a result, people in China are very familiar with many English names already – it’s just that they’re familiar with the Chinese phonetic translation and not the original name.

Most men in China will know exactly who you’re talking about if you say “勒布朗 詹姆斯” (lēi bù lǎng zhān mǔ sī), but will give you a blank stare if you say “LeBron James.” You can simply type your name into an English-Chinese dictionary to find the phonetic translation. Let’s take a look at some girl and boy names so you can get an idea of how this is done.

Girl Names

Here are some common English names for girls translated into Chinese:

Anna
Bridget
Christina
Dana
Elizabeth
Fiona
Grace
Helen
Isabella
Jessica
Katherine
Lucy
Mary
Nicole
Ophelia
Patricia
Rachel
Sally
Tamara
Vicky
Wendy

安娜
布里吉特
克里斯蒂娜
丹娜
伊丽莎白
菲奥娜
格蕾丝
海伦
伊萨贝拉
杰西卡
凯瑟琳
露西
玛丽
尼科尔
欧菲丽娅
帕特里夏
蕾切尔
莎莉
塔玛拉
维吉
温蒂
Ān nà
bù lǐ jí tè
kè lǐ sī dì nà
dān nà
yī lì shā bái
fēi ào nà
gé lěi sī
hǎi lún
yī sà bèi lā
jié xī kǎ
kǎi sè lín
lù xī
mǎ lì
ní kē ěr
ōu fēi lì yà
pà tè lǐ xià
lěi qiè ěr
shā lì
tǎ mǎ lā
wéi jí
wēn dì

Boy Names

Now, here are some common English names for boys in Chinese.

Alexander
Bobby
Craig
David
Edward
Frank
George
Henry
Ian
Jack
Kyle
Lucas
Michael
Nicholas
Oscar
Patrick
Richard
Steven
Tim
Vincent
William
Zachary

亚历山大
鲍比
克雷格
大卫
爱德华
弗兰克
乔治
亨利
伊恩
杰克
凯勒
卢卡斯
麦克尔
尼古拉斯
奥斯卡
派翠克
理查
史蒂文
蒂姆
文森特
威廉
扎卡里
yà lì shān dà
bào bǐ
kè léi gé
dà wèi
ài dé huá
fú lán kè
qiáo zhì
hēng lì
yī ēn
jié kè
kǎi lēi
lú kǎ sī
mài kè ěr
ní gǔ lā sī
ào sī kǎ
pài cuì kè
lǐ chá
shǐ dì wén
dì mǔ
wén sēn tè
wēi lián
zhā kǎ lǐ

Choosing One Yourself

For those of you who are considering a more long-term stay in China, it’s not a bad idea to choose your own Chinese name. This is best done with the help of friends, teachers, classmates, or colleagues. Just as choosing a name for your child in English, there are many cultural and linguistic elements to consider. It’s not a bad idea to choose a common Chinese family name, especially if you can find one that relates to your name somehow. Then, you can be counted amongst the “old 100 names” (老百姓 – lǎo bǎi xìng) – a Chinese expression meaning “the common people.”

Some choose a serious, perhaps even philosophical name. My wife’s name is Rachel, which is super hard for Chinese people to say. After many changes, she finally settled on Gu Xiao Yang (谷晓阳 – gǔ xiǎo yáng). “Gu” is a play on her family name, while “Xiao Yang” comes from the original meaning of her name (Rachel means ‘little sheep’ in Hebrew). To actually have a Chinese name meaning “Little Sheep” would be silly, so friends helped her choose two characters that have the same pronunciation but make for a better name.

Choosing a Chinese Name

你好,我叫田乐!

Others choose one simply because it is easy to say/write. I fall into this category. My Chinese teacher way back when helped me choose the name Tian Le (田乐 – tián lè). “Tian” is a common Chinese surname and is one of the easiest characters to write. “Le” means “happy” and is also used in the word for music. Since I’m a happy, music-loving dude, it sounded good to me! People always get a kick out of my Chinese name, and it’s a great conversation starter.

Some just joke around and choose a silly Chinese name. Perhaps the most famous lao wai in China went this route. Canadian actor and comedian Mark Roswell goes by Da Shan (大山 – dà shān), which literally means “Big Mountain.” It sure has worked for him, as he’s a bona fide celebrity in China. I once had a buddy in China who had people call him Bai Guan Jun (白冠军 – bái guàn jūn), or “White Champion.” Another went by Da Feiji (大飞机 – dà fēi jī), meaning “Big Airplane.” It’s a play on words that is not appropriate for this family-friendly blog, but let’s just say he got a whole lot of laughs when introducing himself.

 

Whatever route you go, being able to introduce yourself in Chinese with a Chinese name will make you much more accessible to people right off the bat. Just as you probably have a hard time with Chinese names, people there will have one with yours. A good idea is to use the phonetic translation at first, especially if you’re just visiting. If you decide to stay longer, you can enlist the help of people you know to choose an original Chinese name.

Do you have a Chinese name? What is it? How did you choose it? Leave a comment and let us know!

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About the Author:sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.


Comments:

  1. Shelize Boochoon:

    I am currently learning mandarin whilst living in the UK
    my name isn’t a very common name, Shelize, and it doesn’t mean anything as it was made up from scratch.

    I don’t exactly know how to translate my name into Mandarin, when i put it into Google Translate it translates to “set up”

    Could you possibly help me pick a Chinese name?

    • sasha:

      @Shelize Boochoon Hmmm… that’s a tough one! Is there a specific meaning behind your name? If your name is hard to translate directly, perhaps finding a Chinese name based on the meaning is a good idea.

    • Myles MacVane:

      @Shelize Boochoon Shelize, I am looking in the free version of the Pleco Dictionary, where there are several sets of characters that you might give some though to.

      !.) She4li4zi means A. ashes after cremation, B. Buddhist relics.

      2.) She1li4 means A. sumptuous, B. al luxury.

      3.) She4li4 means to experience

      4.) She2li2 means a Buddhist monk

      But, were I you, I would choose:

      5.) She1li4 means a lynx.

      You’ll have to look up the characters yourself, but all I did, using unstressed pinyin was to type sheli into the Pleco Dictionary.

  2. Jim Wolff:

    Ji Li is the name my Chinese wife gave to me. She explained it means I am one filled with luck (or lucky one).

  3. Navpreet Singh:

    I am leaving for China the 4th of September. I have chosen a name for myself 儒 (ru), as my first name. I want to know if it is a valid first name in Chinese.

  4. Claudio Basoalto:

    My Chinese name is 柯南 … Conan .. the problem is nobody know if for the Barbarian or the Detective …
    hhahhahaha

  5. Myles MacVane:

    Shelize Boochoon, see my suggestions (above) for your given name. For your family name, I suggest bu4qu1 which means unyielding, unbending.

  6. Asad Rehman:

    Hyyyy. I am learning chines language in Pakistan
    My chines name is wang shi yuan. Given to me by my chines teachers.

  7. James DeCambra:

    While studying Chinese in San Francisco my teacher helped me choose a more philosphical one – 孔哲明. For my Family name I chose a 老百姓 name, 孔 Kong3, to parallel the Cam in my last name. 孔 Is also Confucius’s family name. For my given name she recommended 哲明 Zhe2ming2 meaning Wise Sage – it’s traditional but also transliterates Jimmy.

  8. miles:

    I found a website for Chinese names,www.uniquename.net.


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