English Names for Chinese: “Hi I’m Rambo, nice to meet you”

Imagine you were the top engineering student at one of China’s best universities.  You’ve studied hard, hoping some day you’ll work for a multinational and possibly get transferred to America.  Fortunately, there are many graduate jobs advertised for multinationals looking for the exact skills and qualifications you have. You submit your resume, both in Chinese and English, with your English name atop, followed by your impressive credentials.

 

Days pass, you hear nothing.  Weeks follow, without a word.  One by one, you call up the companies you applied to.  In perfect English, you introduce yourself to the American HR representative, “Hi I’m Rambo, I’m calling about your graduate position…” An empty silence fills the receiver, then a click.

 

English name for Chinese: Rambo

'Rambo' isn't an uncommon English name in China. Photo credit: kotaku.com/rambo

 

Across the Pacific in Vancouver, BC, a talented Chinese student graduates with top honours from Simon Fraser University.  Her well-connected professor arranges her a job in downtown Vancouver and now she’s looking for an apartment close by.  “Hi I’m Bambi, I’m calling about your apartment.” Click.

 

I can imagine that most downtown landlords hearing “Bambi” don’t think of that cute white-tailed deer that frolics in the woods with thumper.  No, they’re thinking lady of the night who’ll be renting their apartment by the hour.  And would you employ someone who sounds like they’ll gun down the office floor after a bad performance review?

 

Bambi is a common English name for Chinese people

Bambi is a common English name for Chinese people

Chinese and their English Names

Many young Chinese give themselves an English name while studying English at high school, with many others following when they start working.  A common reason for adopting an English name is in anticipation of dealing with foreigners who may be unable to pronounce their Chinese name.  With that in mind, you’d probably want a name that doesn’t sound too weird to westerners.  However, many Chinese with impressive qualifications, intellect and not bad English, make very interesting choices for an English name.

 

Your first name is the most tangible part of your personal brand.  There have been countless studies proving the economic and social consequences of your name, most famously chronicled in Freakonomics.  There is even analysis that can fairly accurately predict your education, income and health just from your first name!

 

The Most Interesting Chinese English Names Hall of Fame

With a good first name so important, I thought you’d be interested in the most interesting English names I’ve heard since living in China:

 

  1. Rambo
  2. Superman
  3. Creamy
  4. Potato
  5. Gaga
  6. Bambi
  7. Barbara (a 30-year old Chinese man)
  8. Spring
  9. Sundae
  10. Candy

 

Stay tuned for the top potpourri-inspired names coming soon.

Sundae - a suitable English name?

Sundae - a suitable English name?

Chinese choose names differently than in the West

While some of the names above may sound unusual to westerners, they make more sense when you consider how Chinese traditionally choose names.  Chinese place much more emphasis on the meaning of a name and characters than in the west, choosing auspicious names that will bring good fortune. Many translations are quite beautiful, with meanings such as gentle, wise and humble.  Girls often bear the names of pretty flowers, similar to western names such as Fleur and Rose.

 

Doing a search for “英文名称”(English names) on China’s Google, Baidu.com, also returns some peculiar suggestions, similar to the Top-10 above, and with names you’d only find in the pensioner’s discount queue at a swimming pool.

 

No doubt, if westerners were choosing Chinese names with little guidance, we’d come up with some gems.

 

Options available for Chinese choosing English Names

As so many Chinese people have little support when choosing an English name, I thought I’d do my little bit to help by offering a free service where Chinese can enter their name, age, gender and what English-speaking country is important to them, and suggest an appropriate English name that sounds similar to their Chinese name and is easy for Chinese people to pronounce.  It’s all there at marktanner.com/english-names-china/advice-pick-english-name-chinese.html

 

How many western parents consider China when choosing the best English name for their newborn?

Every parent has their own criteria for choosing baby names, but how many take China into account?  As the world becomes increasingly international and connected, China’s influence is growing.  At the rate things are going, the Middle Kingdom will almost certainly have a bearing on your children’s life when they reach a workable age.

 

More studies into names (and yes, there are a lot of them), suggest that an easily pronounceable name will assist with making friends and getting promoted. You may want to consider that when naming your baby – once you’ve got the shortlist, try choosing the name that Chinese people can naturally pronounce – take it easy on the r’s, l’s and th’s (not just for Chinese, but Germans, Irish, Indians, Pakistanis, Indonesians, Malaysians could also struggle).  Not Harry, not Rachel or Ruth.

 

Don’t let that put you off that name that has always been special, but its worth considering.  If you’re Chinese and you need a hand, you’re at the right place at marktanner.com/english-names-china/advice-pick-english-name-chinese.html.

 

Happy naming.

 

6 Responses to “English Names for Chinese: “Hi I’m Rambo, nice to meet you””

  • Rob:

    Quirky English names are something I love about living in China, in the same way Chinglish keeps keeps me smiling. Unfortunately in the Tier 1 cities, Chinglish is becoming extinct :-( I hope quirky English names are here to stay

    • I totally agree Rob, I’m in two minds about suggesting reasonable English names, but if the shoe was on the other foot, I’d kinda want a name that people wouldn’t laugh at

  • Patsy Lee:

    Interesting point to consider Chinese pronunciations when choosing baby names thanks Mark. I’m American Chinese and hadn’t even considered that (my first son is named Harry) although with my second child due in two weeks, it is something I need to account for. Thank you

  • I’ve had a few in my time:
    1) Piano
    2) Kenix
    3) Polix
    4) Lovely (and she was)
    5) Elephanta
    6) Red Tractor
    7) Elbow
    8) Ankle (both named by a cruel American manager at a KFC in Shenzhen, the rest of the staff were also body parts)
    but then back to my old English days there were some, especially at school:
    9) Mr. Carpenter (he was)
    10) Mr. Plum (whose wife was really named Victoria)
    but the all time best/worst I ever met was the bloke who introduced himself as “Cunt”. I took him under my wing and we agreed a more appropriate name was “Kurt”.
    Some foreigners can be right bastards when “befriending” Chinese and giving them names. But I’ve also seen a few Chinese translations given to English names. Such as the English engineer Cedric who was advised the name “Cai” would be suitable. (note to English language speakers: Its Chinese for “fuck”).
    But a crappy name to have is in fact my own. How would you like to spell out “Christopher Anthony Devonshire-Ellis” every time you go through immigration? Fred Bloggs has a lot of advantages.
    However the famous laundry in Sai Kung in Hong Kong, the well known and well established local family business “Fuk Yu” also raised a smile…

    • Jeepers Chris, that makes my list look pretty tame – thanks for the insights. I’ll be sure to have to take my grubby garb down to Fuk Yu laundry next time in I’m HK

  • I kinda always liked the name of the Nepalese restaurant run by Gurkhas in Wanchai. It was called “The Healthy Mess”.

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My wife Ellen and I are currently living in China, bumbling our way around this fascinating and fast-changing country. We kicked off our stay with a semester of Intensive Mandarin studies at Beijing Language and Culture University and are now living in Shanghai. These posts cover some of my experiences, views and curious facts in and around the Middle Kingdom. Please let me know what you think!


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