How Chinese choose English names

We have all met them, those who give themselves the unimaginable name. Those who involuntarily amuse people when they introduce themselves. Those who don’t care about how hard it is for you to maintain a poker face even if it’s a business meeting. Today I will try to bring some order into this phenomenon by showing you the main categories of the English name craziness by Chinese speakers.

  1. Food inspired names. Probably the largest name group. This is not surprising since we live in the paradise for food lovers, so why not just call yourself like your favorite meal, right? NO, this is wrong!! The favorite sub group here are fruit names. Lemon, Apple, Orange, Peach…, you name a fruit, I tell you their email addresses. I have also met a Rice once.
  2. Next come the animal names. Once I conducted a job interview with a candidate called Elephant. He did not have a chance (of course not because of his name). There are also plenty of Fish around (if you know what I mean).
  3. The next category can be described as the “Sorry-what-was-that-names”. Coolice, Wells, Yoyo fall in this category. Instead of choosing one of these names, why don’t you just romanize your Chinese name (with pinyin for example) since no one gets any of these names either.
  4. Names inspired by fictional characters: Who would not want to be friends with Blade or Sephiroth? I have to say these are surely cool choices, but not good ones.

Do you know of any other funny / weird names? Post it in the comments!

The Reasons – Understanding why and how Chinese choose English names

1) They want to have a cool English name because all their friends have one as well. Seriously, I didn’t know either that everyone in Taipei (at least people between 18 and ~40) has an English name. If you’re among work colleagues or friends, chances are high that you’re called by your English name instead of your Chinese name. And since they can choose whatever they want, they pick something fun or cute or cool. This is very much in line with the general crave for anything fun, cute and cool (e.g. Hello Kitty or millions and millions of mobile phone accessories). After realizing this, I actually think that it is not a bad thing to have those names. It brings some fun and colour into our lives 🙂 Try to think of the English name more as some kind of accessory. It’s not that they don’t go through any thought process and just pick the weirdest one, since they’re called by that name very frequently. But often there are also stories behind the weird names. Mr. Elephant for example told me that his nickname in Chinese was 大象 (elephant in Chinese), so he just picked his nickname as his English name.

2) It looks very differently when someone moves abroad. In this case, most of the people want to have a name which is pronounceable. It gets tiring if you have to explain your name 5 times to every person you meet. So it’s only a matter of weeks until a Strawberry changes her name to Lisa or Sara. But honestly, I don’t think we should invent an English name when we move abroad. Back in Taiwan the English name is just something like a nickname to people, but if you live abroad you will be called by that name ALL THE TIME. So either you had both a Chinese and English name given by your parents (so you grew up with this name) or just stick to your Chinese name and romanize it. If people want to get to know you they will learn it.

Finally I want to clarify that I don’t have an English name, even if it sometimes feels stranger to introduce myself here in Taiwan than in Europe. I’m the only one saying my Chinese name and everyone else says their English name.

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