Thursday, January 10, 2013

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Difficulties of picking a Chinese name for your baby

1/10/2013 Taiwan Explorer
My hubby and I are expecting our first baby in a month and we are really looking forward to finally see her. However, this is also the time to think about picking a name for her. Because my hubby and I are from different countries and cultures, our daughter will have two names. We made a deal, that he picks the name in his native language and I pick her Chinese name. While Slovenians usually choose the name by the way it sounds, I have to say our way is much more complicated, because we are considering several factors. Today I would like to explain these factors and show you how difficult it can be to pick a Chinese baby name in Taiwan.

1. The meaning

I think regardless of the culture, meanings are always a very important factor when picking a name, in Chinese culture perhaps the most important. However, because of the nature of our language, we have thousands of characters and a different combination would yield completely different meanings. So in order to get some ideas about that let me tell you a story. One day I asked my hubby: "What kind of personality would you wish for our daughter to have?" His answers were: "Kind, graceful, pleasant and happy." Well, according these four qualities I could already get hundreds of combinations.

2. The pronunciation

Chinese language has a lot of homophones, characters, that are written differently, but pronounced the same way (something like "new" and "knew" in English). This can lead to a lot of weird pronunciations, despite the characters looking very good in written form. For example, a man's family name is 楊 (Yáng) and his parents give him a one character name 偉 (Wěi). His name 楊偉 would literally mean "Great Yang". However, the pronunciation of 楊偉 is exactly the same as 陽痿 (yángwěi) which means "impotence". So before you decide your baby's name, not only you have to consider the meaning of the characters, but you also have to check the pronunciation of the whole name and make sure, that there are no odd homophones, that would possibly cause embarrassment to your child in the future.

3. The strokes

We believe that the number of strokes can affect the good fortune of a person. Therefore, when you finish picking characters and already make sure the name would have a good meaning and no weird homophones, you have to check the stroke number as well. If the total stroke number is not a good number, the name may give your children bad luck or a dark future. We even have websites like this one, that will automatically calculate your number and tell you, if it's a good or a bad one. This website has an overview of all numbers between 1 and 81, if you see 吉 (jí), then your number is good, if you see 凶 (xiōng), then your number is bad.

4. The time of birth

We also believe that the person's time of birth would affect their destiny. When you are born, you will receive a certain 八字 (bāzì), which is commonly translated as Four Pillars of Destiny in English. Bazi is calculated based on your year, month, day and hour of birth. It's a a very old system, that was developed during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and we would usually go to fortune tellers (算命師) to discuss the meaning. Certain bazi goes well with certain names and the fortune teller will take that into consideration, together with the number of strokes. You can check this website to calculate your own bazi by inputing your Chinese name and the time of birth. There are cases, where some women choose to have a C-section in advance of the expected day of birth, because fortune tellers say that a certain day will have a good bazi.

5. Avoiding the common name

If you think a fortune teller would solve the above issues of names, you are wrong. Of course they would absolutely pick a good name for your child, however another issue would arise: A lot of babies would be given the same names. Fortune tellers would list out few names which are the best names of that year, and then according to the baby’s time of birth, pick a most suitable one. For example, in my generation, the most popular name for girls was 怡君 (Yi-chun), and combined with the family name, you would realize that there are lots of girls with the same name. I remember once I wanted to help my classmate to check their national exam scores online and started to search for her name 陳怡君 (Chen Yi-chun). Guess what? I got hundreds of results and I couldn't figure out which one was my classmate. That's because 怡君 was the most popular girl's name at that time and 陳 (Chen) is already the most common family name in Taiwan, so when you combine these two, you'll get this amazing result. We call these common names 菜市場名 (day market names), because if you go to a day market and call one of these common names, there would be several people turning back to you thinking you are calling them. There is an interesting list which lists out the most common names in 2009. The most common name for boys in 2009 was 冠宇 (Guan-yu) and the most common name for girls was 雅婷 (Ya-ting). Although 怡君 (Yi-chun) lost the top spot, it was still the second most common name that year. Even though these names are very common, they all have good meanings, a good pronunciation, lucky strokes and match people's birth time.

In English speaking countries it's not a big problem, if many people have the same name like John, Mike, Mary... However, the Chinese script has thousands of characters and our people prefer unique and special names more than the common ones. That's why some of the children who received common "day market names" would choose another name for themselves when they grow up and even change their ID.

Now you know how complicated it could be to choose a Chinese name. And while my husband quite quickly found a nice Slovenian name, I'm still struggling for several months with finding a good Chinese name for our daughter.