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First Impressions: Choosing Your Chinese Name

 

Nothing is more important in leaving a good first impression in China than to have a well-chosen Chinese name. You might ask, “Why can't I just use my real name?”. The answer is that foreign names are very difficult for Chinese to pronounce. And since the Chinese consider it embarrassing to mispronounce someone else's name, they will avoid it if at all possible. That's why it is essential to have a Chinese name that the Chinese can read and pronounce easily.

An example will help illustrate this point. Imagine for a moment that you are an educated Chinese, and have already struggled many years with the fiendish irregularities of English spelling and pronunciation. Today, you are meeting some Americans for the first time, and you hope they will become your partners in a major manufacturing project. The leader of the team hands you his card, and it reads “Tyrone O' Shaughnessy.” You feel a twinge of panic: you haven ’t the foggiest idea how to pronounce his name! And for the rest of your meeting you silently hope that you don’t have to address him directly. Your only thought is, “If only Mr.O ’Whatever-his-name-is had a Chinese name, I could stop worrying and concentrate on business.”

As this example shows, having a good Chinese name is important. But how do you go about choosing one? The first thing to realize is that if you are not Chinese, you will need help. Choosing a Chinese name is an art. In the hands of askilled name-creator, the process goes something like this.

First, you find a Chinese character for your last name that matches a stressed syllable in your real last name. There are about 100 or so common Chinese last names, so this takes some time.

Next, you choose two characters for your Chinese given name that mimic the stressed syllables of your real first or middle names. Ideally, these characters should also reflect something about the person you are.

For example, an Australian business-man named Ralph Hunt chooses the name Han Ruo-fu for his Chinese name. His Chinese last name “Han ” mimics his real last name “Hunt ”(remember that the family name comes first in Chinese!). “Ruo-fu ”mimics “Ralph,” and the three characters “Han,” “Ruo,” and “Fu ”to-gether make an aesthetically pleasing combination.

A final thought. Learn to pronounce your Chinese name accurately, and learn the meanings of each of the Chinese characters in your name. If you do, you will have a wonderful conversation point that you can use in building personal relationships with the Chinese. Far too few Westerners take advantage of this simple technique to make a strong, positive impression.

Points to Remember:

 Choose a good Chinese name before you go to China.

 Take the time to understand each of the characters in your Chinese name.

 Better yet, learn to write your Chinese name – it ’s not that hard, and the Chinese will be impressed!

 Be sure to get help in choosing your name.

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