Why I Don’t Have an English Name

Most friends of mine have English names, so do many young people in China. I am often asked about “What is your English name?”. My answer is, Jian Shuo Wang is my English name.

I know this brings much trouble to my foreign friends It is not easy to pronounce it, especially the word “Shuo”. If I choose a name such as Jason Wang or Jackson Wang, it may be easier for others to address me.

However, I didn’t choose one. Why?

Prove it

The most important reason is on the legal side. I am not sure whether others are aware of this, but on the legal aspect, is there any document proving that you are the person you claim to me? My name on passport is Jian Shuo Wang, so does the national ID. If I use English name any where other than private conversation, it will bring big trouble to me to proof it.

I have some friends who used English name to register their MCSE exam. They have their English name printed on the certificate. They spent quite some time to change it to the one of Pinyin.


Name is a brand. Everyone built credibility and visibility around a name. If you have two names, you have spent double efforts to do the same thing…

76 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Have an English Name

  1. I found that most Indian, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Arabic, African… people do not use English names. Why is it so popular among Chinese? It is a quite unique and interesting culture phenomenon. Any idea?

  2. Have you considered using the initials J S? It’s memorable.

    The practice is also quite widespread amongst people the world over who don’t want a Christian name (eg, K S Li), or who have first & middle names but prefer to be addressed by their initials.

  3. Jian Shuo, one of the reasons I admire you is because you DO NOT USE an English name which otherwise is so sterotypical of so many other Chinese!

    To other readers of Chinese descent, I mean no offence. But I very seriously think that you should respect your own culture much more than the amount of importance you give to Western ‘values’. Having a “cool” name like ‘Jason’/ ‘Jackson’/ ‘Michelle’/whatever .. followed by your surname (Chen/Chin/Lee/Lin/Lim/Wang/Wong/etc) which (if I’m not mistaken) should normally be appearing first .. is most likely not going to earn you extra respect.

    If someone finds it difficult to pronounce a Chinese/Indian/Japanese/Korean/Russian/Arabic/African name – then its THEIR problem, not yours. Let THEM make the added effort to get the pronunciation right. Don’t you think so?

    I’d definitely respect those who stick to their given names/cultural-values/etc in light of ever increasing western influence.

  4. Well I have never thought of the legal responsibility before Jian Shuo mentioned it. I am not sure the practice in China but in HK, we put the english name with the complete name (e.g Chan Tai Man, David). So I guess it’s clear enough to declare who you are. Some of my friends who are Catholics/ Christians actually put the names on ID too. Well I must say that they spend a little bit longer time to fill up forms and applications……

    Well I don’t really think that using an english name means you don’t respect your culture. The essence of Chinese culture is compatibility. Using an english name, to me, is just another code that I will response. An english name doesn’t turn you into gweilo/gweipor. This little trick can’t fawn a foreigner, not even a Chinese.

  5. I am a Chinese in Canada, and I am so glad that I don’t even need an English name, because almost everybody can pronounce my first name correctly :D

  6. Interesting. I’m keen to hear people’s views on Westerners with Chinese names. What do you think Nirmalya? Should John Smith have a Chinese name in China; say, Shi Dawei? What does everyone else think?

  7. Having a Chinese name in China for foreigners will greatly help him/her to create rapport with local people. Dawei Shi (David Smith) effectly imply that you know (at least, willing to know), Chinese culture. People in China appriciate it.

  8. I think the reasons for Chinese people to use English (Christian) names and “foreigners” to use Chinese names are the same — to break down the culture barrier and make communication easier. If your name is too difficult to pronounce, it is the other person’s problem — he or she should learn better. But it could be *your* problem if the “other person” has information you need but decide not to talk to you because he is afraid that he might get your name wrong. That is why people learn foreign languages in the first place, right?

    But of course, having an English name does not always “break the cultural barrier”. When I was visiting Hawaii a couple of years ago, I met a lady at the bus station. I told her that I am Michael from Texas. She looked puzzled because she could not connect the Asian face with a Christian name and the (slightly) Texas accent.

  9. My girlfriends family had put their heads together to find a suitable chinese name for me, as they couldn’t pronounce my name correctly, even after many tries !

    The name they found was so, that it made me the “most trustworthy and honest”…

    I tried to speak it to other chinese, but they didn’t believe my personality to be THAT good !

    Anyway, the point is, that if you have business where communication with others can be much improved by having a “nickname”, it is ok to do so. It is awfull to hear others try to speak your name right, if they just can’t.

    In Korea they can’t say F,V and R. Make your own combinations with these words, and see that it is not possible to speak out !

    In China, R is the problem – try “Robert Redford”, he will be Lobert Ledfort.

    Chinese have names for foreign artists thay even I can’t understand !

    And Bill Clinton don’t sign his name on documents with Bill, but uses his real name William.

    But only use the name on your business card along with the chinese name, both IN PINYIN and in chinese letters. Most people makes it impossible for others to remember the chinese name, if they omit the pinyin name, then only the nickname will be remembered, and then you’re asking for the receiver only to use this name.

    If someone omit the pinyin on the namecard, I always ask for the chinese name,

    then they feel honoured and respected ! So it is necessary.

  10. Regarding whether John Smith should have a Chinese name (Shi Dawei) in China, I don’t think that’s a matter of ‘should’ or shouldn’t.

    I agree with Michael’s comment on having an English name does not always break the cultural barrier. But I don’t quite agree with the “.. it could be *your* problem if the “other person” has information you need but decide not to talk to you because he is afraid that he might get your name wrong..”. — If the other person has genuinely tried pronouncing your name and really cannot (quite unlikely), then such a case isn’t it common practice to comeup with a nickname only used by a few to address you (till they get a hang of your name)? My boss is a Chinese. Initially he found my name hard to pronounce, so he used ‘nim’ till he could manage pronouncing my name correctly.

  11. I admit I am a Chinese having a not frequently used English name.

    I started to use the name “Robin” in my first English class in the senior middle school, when the English teacher, not a foreigner, asked all of us about our English names. From then on, we never used Chinese names in the English class.

    In my point of view, an English name for a Chinese, is just something interesting, and it could help in some ways. For example, the English teacher mentioned above had an English name, Shirley. So, we never called her “*** Lao Shi”(for those who do not understand Chinese: “Lao Shi” is the pinyin for “teacher”, and it can be used as a salutation in Chinese), instead, we just called her Shirley, which, I think, brought her and us closer to some degree.

    However, when asked about the name by others in real life, including foreigners, I never gave them the name “Robin”. The ironical thing is that, we usually call each other among Chinese groupmates, who used to be in the same group during an English bridging course, by English names. We do not mean to do like that. However, in most of those cases, the reason is that we use the English names so often that we can not recall their Chinese names but the English ones.

    I like my Chinese name – “Zai Ming”, and luckily, it is not difficult for foreigners to pronounce, so it is not necessary for me to give out my English name. Actually, I use it more as a back-up and a nickname with some close friends in real life and foreign friends met on line.

  12. I disagree with Nirmalya greatly. She has a certain perspective because her own name is not very “Western”. It’s not just the Chinese who choose to have a more Western name if they do business or associate with the International world. All the Eastern European immigrants Americanized or Anglozied their names into a combination that’s much more easily digested by Americans or Western European. The Jews did it. The Greeks do it. Why shouldn’t the Chinese do it as well?

    I went to the US as a toddler, so my name is completely English. Only my family/surname is Chinese because of my family heritage but both my first and middle name is very English. It makes it so much easier for everyone involved to pronounce my name.

    There are a lot of African Americans who are choosing to use extremely weird names which I can’t pronounce. What is the point? Just to drive the point home that they are different?

    in JSW case, where he is a Chinese citizen, I can understand his desire to keep his Chinese name, but for Chinese who immigrant to other western countries where English is the primary language, I would highly suggest they legally change their name to something the natives of that country can easily digest. No point in purposely making oneself stand out like a sore thumb.

  13. My question is still unanswered. Actually it has been a question in my mind for many years. I met many Japanese and Indians and I was very surprised that NONE of them use English names. But most Chinese at similar age and similar position have. In China, it is very popular that Chinese call other’s English names even in “pure Chinese” conversations and within China. In fact, you will find that usages of Chinese people’s English names and usage of foreigner’s Chinese name are very different. I never saw foreigners use Chinese names when they talk to their people in their language. Is it unique for Chinese (especially Taiwan and Hong Kong) to use English names in their own country and when use their own language? Any similar cases in other country?

    For immigrants, I fully understand the reasons as stated in some of above posts. But still no one answered why most Japanese/…/Indian immigrants insist to use their original names given by their parents(not like most Chinese).

  14. The discussion is getting more and more fun.

    I guess it’s sth about ‘high language’ and ‘low language’. I don’t know the case in other places so I will use HK as an example.

    HK had been British colony for 99 years. English is definitely the ‘high language’ for education and business purposes. Cantonese becomes the ‘low language’ which are used for daily life. Well at first, maybe people thought an English name meant prestige. But I am sure nowadays, it’s just for the sake of convenience. Funny enough, my primary and secondary school classmates call my Chinese name while my university friends and colleagues call my English name. Guess it’s an interesting topic huh!

    For those knowledge thirsty, you may go and search for ‘bilingualism’, ‘code-switching’, ‘langua franca’ on the net.

    P.S. Nirmalya is a HE, not a SHE! :P

  15. Karina, you bring up the best point–which I forgot to mention in my previous post–and that is the ability to distinguish sexes by the name. For the life of me, I can’t tell the sex of foreign names and most Americans/Westerns couldn’t tell whether WangJianShuo is male or female. Equally, I could tell Nirmalya was male or female, but I tried to guess it was female. I guessed wrong. That is another extremely important reason why someone should use an English name when dealing with native English speakers, so that they can recognize the sex of the person when seeing the name.

    If I were to write:

    Dear Ms. Wang Jian Shuo.

    I don’t think WJS would be too happy.

    If he referred to himself as Jason Wang, I’d know immediatley this person is a male and I will refer to him as a Mr Jason Wang.

  16. I think Lance has a point. We have a Chinese girl here who insists using her Chinese first name “Juan”. But “Juan” is an extremely popular male name for Hispanic people in Texas (and in other parts of the world). It really confuses people. :) Similarly, another girl we know uses her first name “Qiao” …

  17. Perhaps we’re missing an important point here. By way of illustration, Akio Morita, Sony’s co-founder, was probably the most westernized Japanese industrialist of his generation, & actually moved his whole family to New York to learn more about American society. He never used an English first name.

    The choice of one’s given name has more significance than as an identification badge.

  18. Let me offer two points on why more Chinese than others use an English name. (Though not all Chinese immigrants take up this practice, it recently being somewhat trendy among some in the States to emphasize the original cultural name; and immigrants from other cultures also modify their long or odd names including Indians who shorten their names and also Mr. Goldwater as an invented last name, his ancestor’s original European name having meant urine.)

    First, Chinese language uses characters, and this may come as a shock to some foreigners, NOT pinyin. Characters in a name have meaning and certain calligraphic value associated with them. When a Chinese person’s name is transliterated into roman letters (by Pinyin or any other system) only the sound is preserved whereas the meaning (including a faint hint of sex) is completely lost. This may give us a disappointing feeling and some may say why bother keeping it and let’s go all the way. For example, Wang Jian Shuo’s name is not Wang Jian Shuo. It is 王建硕. That character Shuo has a beautiful, literary spirit in it and the character Jian probably is a kin linker. All these aspects are lost when romanized. I cheer him for keeping using Wang Jian Shuo, which is not difficult to pronounce, but if he says OK this is already far from my Chinese characters so I might as well pick an English name, I would also understand. This latter case may become more motivated if the Chinese name is pronounced incorrectly all the time or causes confusion.

    Secondly and more importantly, Chinese traditionally do not warship the singularity of their names. Let me explain. A name is an identifier. It serves as a distinguisher and also an entitlement. Christian westerners value the entitlement part more, whereas Chinese seem to value only the distinguisher part. Therefore, to a Chinese one does not necessarily have to stay with a fixed name as long as he/she has a distinguisher. Many behavior stems from this. For example, Chinese do not have a standard set of characters/words set aside for use in a person’s name, unlike Chistians and the Japanese. And do you know that educated Chinese in the old times always had two or three or more names (名, 字, 号, 谥号….) that are used according to situation/context? Finally, Chinese often insist on giving their foreign friends a Chinese name and in doing so there is absolutely no rule, all invented and anything goes. Thus, Bill Gates is BiEr Gaici but Bill Clinton is Mr. KeLingDun; David Smith is Shi DaWei but Claire Chennault and Theodore White were General Chen NaDe and Journalist Bai XiuDe, respectively. So to sum it up, Chinese are not rigid at all about having a unique name with a naming rule.

    Related to Christians valuing the entitlement part, westerners select names from a selected pool and relate the name to certain other person (the Chrstian Sainte, the parents or grandparents, etc.). Unlike them. the Chinese, trying to find a distinguisher, rarely pick the name to overlap (to be identical is a No-No) with the parents or grandparents or a famous person. The distinguisher tends to be unique therefore any different word can be considered and a meaning association but more often a uniqueness invention is attempted. It will be hard to imagine an American picking random, meaningful, or invented words for names. Hi, my name is Quarterback, what’s yours? Oh my, mine is Yella Peony Carrington. On a second thought, I’d better not speak too soon. Maybe some super human, say Bill Gates, will name a son, in the hope that he grows up gripping yet another monopoly, something like Macrobill or Microhard.

  19. Regarding reasons stated by Karina and Lance, I don’t think they make point. There are pros and cons for English and Chinese names. I can list a lot of advantages of Chinese names as well. Would you please explain:

    1. Why almost all Indians(including immigrants) do not use English names(the ‘high language’), although India was British colony too and English was the official language(similar to Hong Kong)?

    2. Why most Japanses including Akio Morita and younger generations do not care about his/her sex being mis-identified by western people?

  20. This New York Times article (courtesy sinosplice.com) may help explain why a Japanese would try not to lose their Japanese name. http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/17/international/asia/17ASIA.html?ex=1092196800&en=974a7b56ef47c8d7&ei=5070

    For those how can not access it, here is the article:

    Japan and China: National Character Writ Large


    Published: March 17, 2004

    TOKYO — Of all languages in the world, Japanese is the only one that has an entirely different set of written characters to express foreign words and names. Just seeing these characters automatically tells the Japanese that they are dealing with something or someone non-Japanese.

    So foreign names, from George Bush to Saddam Hussein, are depicted in these characters, called katakana. What’s more, the names of foreign citizens of Japanese ancestry are also written in this set of characters, indicating that while they may have Japanese names, they are not, well, really Japanese.

    By contrast, in Chinese, no such distinction is made. There, non-Chinese names are depicted, sometimes with great difficulty, entirely in Chinese characters. Foreigners are, in effect, made Chinese.

    At bottom, the differences reflect each country’s diverging worldview. In contrast to the inner-looking island nation of Japan, China has traditionally viewed itself as the Middle Kingdom of its name, the center of the world. If it is natural for Japan to identify things or people as foreign, viewing them with some degree of caution, it may be equally natural for China to take “Coca-Cola” or “George Bush,” and find the most suitable Chinese characters to express them.

    In Japan, the rigid division between the inside and outside in the language underscores this country’s enduring ambivalence toward the non-Japanese. The contrast with China is stark, and speaks also to the future prospects of Asia’s two economic giants as they compete for influence in a world of increasingly fluid borders.

    While today’s Japanese travel overseas with an ease and confidence that would have been unimaginable only two generations ago, they remain uneasy about foreign things and people coming here. Safer to label them clearly as foreign.

    Not so China.

    “China is a big continent and has an inclination to think that it is No. 1 and that others are uncivilized,” said Minoru Shibata, a researcher at NHK, Japan’s public broadcast network. “Therefore, they feel that giving Chinese names to foreigners is doing them a favor.”

    China and Japan represent the two nations that still widely use Chinese characters in their writing. The Chinese, as the creators of this system, still use them exclusively.

    Come to Japan, and things get extremely complicated. In their everyday lives, the Japanese use three different sets of characters in writing — four if the widely used Roman alphabet is also included.

    First are the Chinese characters, called kanji here. Japanese names are written in kanji. Currently, the number of kanji permitted for names stands at 2,230, and selecting a character outside this list is illegal. Parents have been pressing for an expanded list, though, and so the justice ministry said recently that it is considering adding between 500 and 1,000 characters.

    Second is a set of phonetic characters used for Japanese words. Third are the katakana, the set of phonetic characters for foreign words.

    “There is no other language that has three sets of characters — only Japanese,” said Muturo Kai, president of the National Institute for Japanese Language.

    In the United States, parents’ freedom to name their children may be absolute. Here the government and the media set the boundaries of names and the way they are written, thereby also setting the boundaries of Japanese identity.

    In the media, the names of George Bush and Saddam Hussein are written in the characters reserved for foreign names. But so are the names of people of Japanese ancestry, like Alberto Fujimori, Peru’s deposed president, or Kazuo Ishiguro, the author of “Remains of the Day,” who left Japan at the age of 5 and is a British citizen. Their names could be written in kanji, but are instead written in katakana, in an established custom indicating that they are not truly Japanese.

    The distinctions are sometimes difficult to draw, as they touch upon the difficult question of who is Japanese, or, rather, when does someone stop being Japanese. If Mr. Ishiguro had kept his Japanese citizenship all these years, would his name be written differently here? Why is the name of Mr. Fujimori, who holds Japanese citizenship and now lives in exile here, not written in kanji like the names of other Japanese? The media have no set criteria.

    Are the criteria citizenship, blood, mastery of the Japanese language or customs? Or, in this island nation where leaving Japan has always meant leaving the village, does one start becoming non-Japanese the minute one steps off Japanese soil?

    There is a strong argument to be made for that. Children of Japanese business families stationed overseas for a few years invariably encounter problems returning here. Schoolmates often pick on them and call them gaijin, meaning foreigner or outsider. That problem has decreased in recent years, as more and more Japanese have spent time abroad. But those children are still considered to have suffered from their years overseas, in contrast to, say, an American child whose experience living abroad would usually be considered a plus.

    Chinese identity is a different matter. Whether you are a fourth-generation Chinese-American student at Berkeley, or the children of Chinese operating a restaurant in Lagos, Nigeria, you are considered Chinese, or an insider, upon returning to China. Your name will be written in the same way as everybody else’s. Unlike Japan’s, Chinese identity transcends borders.

    “Chinese people have a strong feeling of comradeship toward overseas Chinese,” said Naokazu Hiruma, who is in charge of language use at the daily Asahi Shimbun and studied in China. “Overseas Chinese have a long tradition, and they remain Chinese even after generations have passed. Japanese regard second- or third-generation overseas Japanese, even though they are of Japanese origin, as `people from that country over there.’ ”

  21. I understand that the Chinese way to translate a Japanese person’s name is by taking the kanji characters of the original Japanese name and pronounce them the Chinses way, disregarding its Japanese pronounciation. Can anyone tell me how the Japanese would translate a Chinese person’s name?

  22. bigbro, Japanese generally use katakana for Chinese names. Sometimes, they put the original Chinese name side by side with the katakana version, but never the Chinese name alone.

  23. WilliamW, it seems your statement is wrong. In Japanese, Chinese names remain their original form, i.e. Kanji alone. It is same for Japanese names in Chinese language. It is easy to distinguish Chinese and Japanese names by surnames and number of characters. Most Chinese names are 2-3 characters while Japanese names are 4-6 characters.

    Please visit the Japanese site for detailed usage:


    bigbro, your first post makes some point on explain why Chinese use English names more popular than others. Yes, maybe Chinese see names in a more flexible way than others. But I still think the argument is not very strong. Alternate naming is only an ancient heritage, which ancient Japanese also have (though not as much as Chinese). For modern people, I don’t find much influence and link from it. Instead, I find that Chinese people has kept much less traditions than Japanese, Indians, Malays, Arabics etc. This may be the true reason!

  24. I didn’t expect this entry to get so many comments. It seems a good discussion. Maybe part of the reason why Japanese uses original name is, the translated words still seems readable according to English pronounciation rule. What about these Chinese name: Lv? Zou?….

  25. Do the Japanese not use katakana for geographic names? I see kanji for China, Beijing, Taipei, etc. America is also in kanji. How do they call New York and Chicago?

  26. WilliamW suggested to use J S Wang as English name, however, it has the same problems as I described – legal identity and branding. Moreover, JS has been used commonly refered to Jianshang (bad business man) in BBS, so I have to avoid it.

    bigbro has a great point that a lot of information was lost after the name is translated to pinyin from Chinese characters. We can be pretty sure about the gender of a person by reading the Chinese character name itself, but not sure about the gender after it is translated. Certain characters are generally reserved to be used in male names or female names, but there are many characters mapping to the same Pinyin. That brings trouble.

  27. Keep the name you have been given from birth – why do we want to make everyone the same. People are quite capable of addressing people with the correct name whether they are Chines, Thai, Nepali, Cuban, French or English. However they may need some help!

    Let’s enjoy the variety of customs and names are just one of them.

  28. Just to clarify, Jianshuo, I meant to suggest that you may encourage your (non-Chinese) friends & colleagues to address you as JS in conversations (“call me JS”), thus avoiding the pronunciation hurdle. In writing & other formal situations, your full, legal name should of course be used.

    And certainly not on BBS… :)

  29. bigbro, Japanese use kanji for some places & katakana for others. eg, 中国 is pronounced chuugoku. New York is in katakana.

  30. WilliamW, thanks for your indication. It forced me to have a study on Japanese media. I found that Kanji is still the primary form. There are very rare cases of katakana only version for Chinese names(I never found so far). Some are mixed as you indicated. However, most media and offical sites use Kanjin only version. For example:

    Embbasy of Japan in China







    http://www.asahi.com/international/jinmin/TKY200408040272.html 胡錦濤

    http://www.asahi.com/international/jinmin/TKY200408070216.html 王在希,陳水扁

    Asahi is the site using katakana most frequently. I also found that katakana is used only once in one article(if the name appear for the second time, it is Kanji only). I guess that it is used to help pronunce in case the reader can not speak it out in Kanji pronunciation (as you know, more and more younger Japanese are unable to read Kanji). If I remember correctly, there was no such a katakana form for Chinese names on Japanese publications 20 years ago.

  31. Jianshuo, I suggest you to use just WJS to avoid the notorious JS. Pure-letter indentity is also common in English (e.g. JFK). WJS is better than JSW as it is consistent with your domain http://www.wangjianshuo.com.

    BTW, do you konw IM Pei? He is a good example who has no English name but is still very famous, which is partialy helped by his Chinese name. I believe that WJS can also be a well-known brand.

  32. Could it be that the katakana is there to help pronunciation not just for younger Japanese but also to help everyone correctly pronouncing the kanji in the original Chinese pronunciation? I am making this guess by analogy to the way in which Japanese names are translated into Chinese whereby the knaji is used directly and pronounced as Chinese characters the Chinese way, which often is different from how they are pronounced in Japanese.

  33. I feel funny commenting so many times under this one, but Wang Jian Shuo’s mention of Tong-Yin Zi (homonyms, characters sharing the same pronunciation) brings up one of my long-ago fascinations. Many of these homophonetic characters create confusion in translation, a problem further multicomplicated by losing the intonation, and it may become hilarious and even impossible when one attempts to retranslate these transliterated nouns back into Chinese. Thus 王建硕 is translated into Wang Jian Shuo, which could be retranslated by someone not knowing his original name into a name like 汪简说. (WJS, do you see that this little loop has returned your name in the pronunciation of your native province of Henan, right?) Once an American who joined in the Chinese Revolution worte an autobiography in which he mentioned meeting General 李先念 before the hard faught battle of Xianhua Dian (鲜化店战役). Someone translated the book back into Chinese where the place was translated as 鲜花店, wasn’t bad because at least it did not manifest into a battle of Not only different words can result fro

  34. I feel funny commenting so many times under this one, but Wang Jian Shuo’s mention of Tong-Yin Zi (homonyms, characters sharing the same pronunciation) brings up one of my long-ago fascinations. Many of these homophonetic characters create confusion in translation, a problem further multicomplicated by losing the intonation, and it may become hilarious and even impossible when one attempts to retranslate these transliterated nouns back into Chinese. Thus 王建硕 is translated into Wang Jian Shuo, which could be retranslated by someone not knowing his original name into a name like 汪简说. (WJS, do you see that this little loop has returned your name in the pronunciation of your native province of Henan?) Once an American who joined in the Chinese Revolution worte an autobiography in which he mentioned meeting General 李先念 before the hard faught battle of Xianhua Dian (宣化店战役). Someone translated the book back into Chinese where the place was translated as 鲜花店, wasn’t bad because at least it did not manifest into a battle of 献花点. Not only different words can result from retranslation, words can regroup, too. 延安 is translated into Yanan, which could be retranlated into 亚南. An innocent small township by the name of 庆恩县 would translate into Qingen Xian, but could risk coming back as 秦亘西安.

    Reposted, sorry it was a wrong click.

  35. Another point in answer to Chen’s question is that Japanese and Korean names are easier to pronounce for English speakers. In order to pronounce Chinese names you must pronounce the tone, which most English speakers can’t hear, and which isn’t revealed in the Pinyin. Also, in reading a name written in Pinyin, you have to know how to pronounce zh, c, x and q, which are totally unrelated to their English pronunciation. Because I can speak some Chinese, I like to find out people’s Chinese names, but because I am a native English speaker, I do tend to remember English names. Also, the distinguisher factor of Chinese names means that names do not fall within a set range like English (as mentioned by someone previously), so except for the major family names, every time you learn someone’s name you are learning a new word! This value of distinguishing your name, and your name being able to be any word means that I have heard some hilarious English names in New Zealand: Green, Apple, Lion, River, Ocean, Lance (a girl), Hero, Love and so on. Has anyone else come across some funny names?

    I love having a Chinese name, even if its not very distinguished. It really makes a difference relating to Chinese people both in and out of China as they feel confident in pronouncing my name correctly (kai Li, 凯丽).

  36. From my own experience, I think, there is another difference between Chinese names and English names.

    Even as a Chinese, sometimes it is hard to remember others’ Chinese names. Unlike English names which can be remembered easily by the “sound” of the words, it would become easier for a Chinese speaker to remember a Chinese name through seeing the “image” of the words – the chinese characters. This is due to the different natures of Chinese and English languages, with the former as a “image” language and the latter a “sound” language.

  37. I really like the discussion here. There’re so many entries!

    As bigbro pointed out, the pinyin itself can’t really tell you what’s going on. Besides there’re quite a no. of existing pinyin systems being used. The pinyin system used in HK is different from the one in China, not to mention other places with Chinese people.

    Your name is given by your parents (most of the case). Of course there’s special value assigned. But a name is also used for identification. Why don’t we allow others to call us first, then tell them the little story behind our names?

  38. You don´t need a new name, you already have your own.

    I don´t know what Jian Shuo Wang means in chinese, but represents you. That´s all.

  39. Related to Robin’s point of making it easy to remember, it also makes it easier for non-Chinese speakers to SPELL your name. Everyone considers it a serious matter of respect to be able to write a friend’s name correctly.

    We have been debating the to change or not to change question, but don’t forget the important point that Wang Jian Shuo raised in his original post, the legal issue. If you are applying to a school, for a visa, passport, driver’s license, loan, etc., please do use your legal name. Use your legal name in formal/official matters until you actually change the name legally in a court. When you buy an airplane ticket, you must book it under a name that is consistent with your identification card or passport because nowadays they will check your ID on the airport, strictly.

    I believe the previous discussion has come to a consensus that there are practical advantages for having an English alias if your name is difficult (to pronounce, spell, or remember) or confusing and that Chinese culture does permit having an arbitrary alias. Please notice that there really isn’t a disrespect of mother culture or unpatriotic issue here, purely a language issue 99% of times. On the other hand, if your name is problem-free, then I recommend keeping your original cultural name, to save trouble. What trouble? For example, you work in academia and your achievement is tracked by publications, then a consistent name would help ensure a linear tracking. This falls under Wang Jian Shuo’s subsection of Branding.

    When and if you want to pick an English name, make sure you select one that you can pronounce (and spell) precisely. Believe it or not, many Chinese students cannot correctly pronounce names like David, James, Joan (Joan Chen couldn’t pronounce hers at the beginning), Jane, or Shawn. A lot of Chinese have trouble making the V sound in Victor, Harvey, and Dave. Also, because Chinese characters are all single-syllable, if you choose a single syllable English name, your listener might still think you are introducing yourself with a Chinese word as a name, especially if your pronunciation is less than perfect (this happens to me). So names such as Joe, Sue, Jay or Pooh really may not be good choices. One trick is to find a longer English name, say Christopher, Michael, Elisabeth, or Christina, which tells others with certainty it is an English name and reduces the chances of wrong pronunciation since long names have intonation and the “textured” sound hides imperfection in your pronunciation. These are not rules, just some minor details for you to consider.

    The other side of the long name trick is that if you choose to keep using your Chinese pinyin name and it is a two-character given name, writing the two words as one (Jianshuo instead of Jian Shuo) actually might make it smoother for a foreigner to pronounce, in my opinion. Single syllable words feel choppy when spoken, the multi-syllable ones are of “textured” sound that allows for imperfection.

    Why are there so much to talk about under this one entry? Because biographic and geographic names are the only area where Pinyin and English clash. Again, note I am not calling it a clash of cultural values or political ideals. I can think of only one other area of vastly unparallel language phenomena: biological (animal) names, where the Chinese nouns for any one type of animals are all rooted together (猪, 公猪, 母猪, 猪崽, 肉猪, 猪肉, 猪油) but in English each is a totally unrelated noun (pig, boar, sow, piglet, hog, pork, and lard).

  40. I only recently stumbled onto this blog. I found this posting to be rather interesting and while it has been quite a while since the original entry was made I thought I’d add my thoughts. There is a large Chinese population of my university, and I have noticed many people using english names. I don’t think it’s really all that bad, but I do not like using them. I want to use a person’s correct name, and would prefer to be told I am saying a name incorrectly until I learn it properly, rather than use an english name to help me say it more easily. Of course, very few of these people are going to want to put up with me saying their names incorrectly for that length of time. There seems to be a conflict between what makes me more comfortable, and what makes the person whose name I am butchering comfortable (luckly as I meet more people I find my pronounciation has gotten a little better and it doesn’t take too long to pick names up anymore).

  41. As a western ex teacher of often reasonably large groups of Shanghainese students in recent years I found that it was virtually impossible for me to remember all my students Chinese names. I greatly valued the student’s Chinese names.

    I think it allowed me to get to know the students quicker. In time I did learn many student’s Chinese name. It was a convenient way to be able to address each learner quickly without the initial difficulties of poor pronunciation…Interesting topic of discussion.

  42. Is your wife a Chinese? why does she have an English Name “Wendy” regardless the legal issues you ever mentioned previously?

  43. the above question is referred to Mr. Wang Jian Shou who claimed he is not getting an English name concerning there might be some legal issues..

  44. that’s exactly the point, should we have the choice of what we would like to be called rather than sticking to the name that was given at the time we were born?

  45. I just found this blog by accident and have to commend Wang Jian Shuo on his excellent source of inspiration and information. Bravo!

    Ok, all kiss-ass aside, I can give my 2 cents.

    Regarding bigbro’s posting on Aug. 10, 2004 1:55 PM: a teacher of mine in university often had this problem with her name Xing Zhi Qun. She took the English given name of Janet, and kept her family name of Xing, but found that even this was difficult for some people as she often received mail addressed to Janet Crossing!

    I have a similar, but much less funny problem with both my Chinese and English given names. People translate from pinyin “ma ling” to English, and they come up with all kinds of crazy things: Mali (African country), Malin (way too close to “malign,” which they also sometimes use), Marlin (a kind of fish), and on and on…not to mention the “better” guesses of Mary, Molly, and Marlene. In Chinese, the same problem arises: I get names like 马铃(薯)- potato,马林 – an Olympic table tennis player (a man), and 马力 – horsepower to name a few.

    I heartily agree with bigbro’s other post on Aug. 12, 2004 2:25 PM that says: “Everyone considers it a serious matter of respect to be able to write a friend’s name correctly.” If this is true, then I have a lot of friends that really don’t respect me at all! :) The problem is, my name in both languages is rather unusual and people have real trouble dealing with names that don’t “fit into the mold.”

    This might be one of the reasons Chinese people and foreigners in China prefer to have a name in the other language. To help avoid having people get it wrong, to ease in remembering it, and to help make one more easily identifiable to people that speak other languages.

  46. The naming discussion above has been fascinating. I spend a lot of time on the Net but I have never messed with blogs. I found this one by coincidence while looking for an article on teaching correct American English intonation. Having taught several years in China I always wondered about why the Chinese take English names. It certainly does help to identify the gender and to address the person as Mr or Ms if one is corresponding by e-mail or snail mail. I too found that many of my Chinese students had difficulty pronouncing the name they had chosen or had been given. Now, it happens that when I am in a Spanish-speaking environment, I choose to use Esteban insted of Steven.

  47. Very interesting discussion. I am an English person living in Japan. It is true that when dealing with people of a different language it is sometimes necessary to make some compromise as to how one is addressed. In Japan, for instance, I expect to be called Kurisu here rather than my real name Christopher. The same type of mangling goes for my surname. However, I would never consider adopting an Japanese name to substitute for my English name. The legal aspect does not worry me so much as what you call “branding”. I call it personal identity and cultural identity. I wonder whether the whole phenomenon of Chinese people using different names in English is somehow related to an lack of comfort with their real names being mangled in the foreign pronunciation. That is an ill informed comment but I just put it out there to be knocked down. Could it be interpreted, rather than being an expression of open mindedness, as a type of exclusivity? Rather like using a handle on a website discussion board. Wouldn’t it be more open just to accept that foreigners are going to mangle the pronunciation of your real name? I once remember reading a poem about cats having two names: the one humans gave them and their secret name that no human would ever know, which was their real name for themselves. I hope no-one takes offence at the comparison. What happens if an English speaking person had a relationship with a Chinese man and they started to know them by their English name? Do they call them by that unreal name for the rest of their lives. Anyway, down to practicalities: I have to say the initials idea sounds one good compromise or is it possible to pick out one or two syllables from your name rather than insisting on all three. Three syllables is terribly difficult to remember in a foreign name. My grand mother still calls my Japanese Wife Ikea (a famous Swedish furniture shop) rather than Ayako!

  48. Really interesting, this topic.

    I am a Chinese and have an English name since 8 or 9 year old.

    My father was then in the States for a long while and found me some little friends to start mailing each other. He thought it could be easier for me to communicate with those kids in an English name, so I got one which is very close to my Chinese given name in pronunciation.

    I have been using it since then, although legally only the Chinese name is valid. Since I am not so famous, the branding issue is irrelevant to me yet :-) … I believe I have a great Chinese name, and the English name is rather plain, but still the English name brings me convenience, at least no harm.

    For foreigners that know some Chinese language or have been very close to me, I would explain to them what my ‘original’ name is and what does it mean.

    Chris, I don’t think I need to worry about losing my cultural identity, as people would be able to tell what cultural background I’m having by seeing my surname. Most of Chinese people who has an English name, I believe, is just for convenience in communication. There is truly no serious reason hiding behind it. Let’s do not try to put it to such a high level, please.

    bigbro, I liked your comments :-)

    p.s. I do not know any Japanese around me who uses an English name, but I know many Koreans are using, especially those working in western companies.

  49. I’m not sure about “high level” but I will persist. Another explanation of the difference in this respect between Chinese people and most other nationalities, was cultural confidence. A Japanese person suggested that it was because Chinese people did not feel threatened by other cultures that they felt so free to change their names. The Japanese person I was talking to remarked on how relaxed Chinese people were in a Japanese context in having their Kanji provounced using the Japanese rather than the Chinese pronunciation. This was decidedly not the case with most Korean people, they said.

    The idea that cultural confidence might explain this runs counter to the ideas I suggested earlier and in this whole discussion I do feel that I am speaking from complete ignorance (never having lived in China and only having been friends with Chinese people in a Western context).

    However, I would stand by my earlier comments in one respect: many Westerners and indeed other nationalities would experience being told one name and later finding it was not the “real” name afterall as a rather disorienting experience. They might interpret it as a rather exclusive rather than inclusive practise, even though it seems very inclusive to rename oneself at first sight.

  50. When i was nine years old and arrived to Montreal/Que. Canada all members of my family lost one of their names “Henriques” no questions asked ? so i was at birth registered as Ana Maria Henriques da Silva and the immigration decided to register me as Ana Maria Silva…why ? so now 30 somewhat years later i have decided to apply for my original name and i must pay…I MUST PAY ? first they take my name without my consent and now i must pay ? please if you know, on principle how i can have this done for free, it is my right e-mail me…i have been given a name with 13 letters, i have suffered and still suffer unbelieveble bad luck in this country.. ca it be because my name has 13 digits ? and after having gone through the family humiliation of disrespect of my family name and my right to keep it in 1962 it was taken from me no questions asked..it still bothers me..and it bothers me to have to pay to change it…go to my site and e-mail me,thanks / Ana

  51. I am contemplating giving my adopted chinese son an english name. What do you think? He is four right now and will be almost five when I adopt him. I think I won’t, but then will all the kids in school make fun of his name?

  52. I’m a second generation Chinese living in Indonesia. I have worked and studied in the U.S. for more than ten years. Here in Indonesia back in 1960s, Chinese name’s prohibited by the government due to assimilation process. So, my parents (as many folks in their age) changed their name to sound more like locals (both first name and surname). For example, family name Wong (Wi, Hwang, Wang) changed into Wijaya, and for first name it’s easier, they can choose whatever they like. I found out that most of my Chinese American friends have Western first name too, although they retain their Chinese surnames. Well, on the contratry from mcgjcn’s post of not taking this on higher level, I believed that Chinese identity is in crisis. “Making fun of Chinese name” are not only happening in the U.S., but also other countries where overseas Chinese resided for generations.

    The Chinese lost their empire due to wars in the beginning of the Century to the West. This created an “inferior” mentality to Chinese (both overseas and mainlanders). It’s a humiliation to Chinese all over the world, which created a whole new searching for identity according to the place they chose.

    We often don’t see Japanese with a Western name, instead they are proud although foreigners have difficulty saying their names. That’s why we hardly see Thomas Miyazaki around, instead of we see Yoshihiro Miyazaki. I was given a Western name by my father who adopted local Indonesian name. When I went abroad to study in the U.S., people found my name is easy compared to my Thai counterpart such as Itthiphoung Jeamjunjasiri. So at majority’s expense, my name is Nick, instead of the Wong Chi Zi.

    So it’s an issue of SHAME. Shame of being a Chinese.

    Soon, it’s started to change. Chinese in Indonesia and overseas are now converting their children’s name into Chinese again. Well, it’s obvious that China is now powerful in economy and military. The proud of the Chinese is restored. It’s not impossible that in the next hundred years or so, we see Westerners adopting Chinese names?

  53. Isn’t it better to be called what you are?

    Most of my Chinese classmates gave themselves funny names like Summer, Apple, Rainy, Stone and Dolphine when they came to Australia becase they presume it would make them stand out (for all the wrong reasons I think) since no one else uses it (we all know why)…. and this is something I cannot comprehend. As far as I can remember, it is always the China kids who got themsleves into such trouble.

    And then there are also some Hong Kong kids who gave themselves names like Yuki, Yoko (ND: These are Japanese names even though they call it “English” names) and other weird names like Zata and such (Alien names that reminds you of Star Wars or Godzilla) because it makes them stand out… but at least it’s not as bad as having a class full of fruit-named kids or weather-named kids. I can just imagine the look on the poor English teacher’s face when these kids first enrol for language classes.

  54. Agree. I dont have english name ‘coz I’m not born with that name. Lots of my friends have English names picked by themselves, without knowing the meaning of it. Some keep changing their English names as they keep on finding more “sophisticated” ones. Why do I never see an Indian or middle-eastern or South American or Thai or Japanese people using English names? The only Asians with English names are commonly Hongkongnese or Malay-Chinese, who legally have both Chinese and English names on their passports. One of my friend is called Alex Kee Kon Koh (Chinese-Malay) because that’s his proper name. I understand that some Chinese names are hard to pronounce, but what about Thai names? Thai names are long and difficult to pronounce, but I never know any Thai who choose an English name for themselves.

    If your Chinese name is REALLY REALLY hard to pronounce, then maybe adopt an alternative name that’s similar to your original (one of my Thai friend shortened his first name to Pooh, although sometimes it sounds like Poo, does it matter?) I know another Chinese guy whose name is Xi. His western friends call him “Zee” as they don’t know how to pronounce Xi. He prefers it because Xi sounds like She in English. But he never uses English names. Another example, a Chinese lady I know is called Dan which is a common Chinese female’s name, but in English it’s a guy’s name. Anyway, these guys never tried to “make things easier” with a made-up English name.

    I used to have an English name in school (to make English classes “easier”). One of my English friend said to me: your name is chosen specially by your parents, it’s you and your culture. I won’t use your English name because it’s not you.

    I agreed with her, and since 17 I never used my English name ever, despite the fact I had to spell out my name thousands of times to people, and correct their pronounciations thousands of times…We should be proud to teach the westerners a bit of Chinese…

  55. To sd:

    I know westerners who have Chinese names in China, only the ones who speak very good Chinese though! And, their Chinese names were worked around the English pronunciation, e.g. my boss Mike’s Chinese name is “Meng Kang”–taking the M and K but it sound like a proper Chinese name. The other guy Simon Jones is called Zhong Xi Men, again sth derived from their original names. Fair enough if the Chinese do the same, but what we are seeing is people name themselves whatever they like, and even change their English names like change outfits.

  56. To Lance:

    It is true that you can usually tell a person’s sex by looking at his/her English name.

    But there are also unisex English names. e.g. Kerry can be a man or woman. I knew two female Kerry before I met my boss. When I applied for the job I though he was a female! and what about Alex and Andy and Sandy etc? I don’t need to give all the examples do I?

    And what about Galic/Welsh/Gaelic originated names? Not all English speakers can pronounce them, can they? People always got my husband’s name wrong because it’s the Welsh spelling of Sean/Shaun. But since it’s Welsh, even the general British do not know how to pronounce it or tell its sex. He’s had many letters addressing him “Miss” “Mrs” or “Ms”.

    I don’t think your “good point” is that good at all.

  57. You know how I come to you blog?I am looking for a webside to help me to choose an English name only ‘coz I wanna be special.After watching this , I started to change my mind, ‘coz I am proud of being a CHINESE!

  58. Hi!

    A lot of posts on this site mention African names. Here in South Africa, people have developed quite an interesting workaround: many people are christened with both an African name, and an English or Afrikaans name. The result of this is that you might come across “Mmabatho Mary Madlala” or “Nduduzo Johannes Nkosi”, and you would address them by whatever name rolls off your tongue most easily…

  59. you may add an english name to your prc passport. just bring some evidence, such as your business card, certificates, company letter with official chop, etc.

  60. After reading most of above comment,

    I agree that the name is just a code for a person. It means that it could be very serious but also pointless, just depends on your requirement.

    If you want to emphasize your own national-cultural characteristic, especially when you live abroad, you want to be distinguished from other people, you may use it!

    If you want to involve yourself into local culture and make you acceptable and make people easier remember you, the best choice surely is having an local language name.

    Different people have different attempt and usage for their names in various occasions. So is the meaningless to argue that whether we should use English name and Chinese name. It just dements.

    In sum, from my viewpoint, “name” is just a tool which serves people, it’s unnecessary to so much care about something that so call “culture”. What is culture? Culture is just our real life; it is flexible, but not frozen by some lifeless conception.

  61. I totally appreciate those who kept their Chinese name. In my case, it really doesn’t matter about gender issue, because Dr Xu Wang is what appear in all letters. But the thing is that ‘XU’ (my first name) in English represents ‘F*CK’ ‘YOU’ (under certain American culture) and its so difficult for other people to pronounce it correctly. But that doesn’t matter, what matter is that, I’m not English, so why should I name my self in English then.

  62. So much has been written here already and my view is always on the subject of inferiority complex.

    It doesn’t take a genius to tell but only if the person has the will, will he/she admit it to end all justifications!

    The English names are used because they are trendy. The decision to use them are also in the hands of the minors who usually have no ability to comprehend what their implications of their actions are. ( Ie. monkey see monkey do )

    I have been asked by my “friends” to adopt an English name too, for them! Their reasons are aplenty, ranging from being difficult to remember, to convenience, to trendy, to being more exclusive, etc.

    My answer to them all is this. My name is given to me by my parents and it should only be that! Nobody has the rights to tell me how i should have a name change for them. I wouldn’t be able to face a westerner with a high self esteem if i have to stoop so low as to call myself John, Joseph, Dick,Tracy or whatever, just to suit him.

    If anybody has problems with my name, ask me what and how it is! Then pronounce it like the way it should be pronounced. Not all English names are easy to be pronounced. Try asking the whites to put a Chinese name in front of their English ones. Would they want to do that just for some very lousy reasons.

    I am ashamed of this huge segment of the Chinese population who do not have enough pride in their Chinese names!!! To you guys with English names, don’t trick yourselves, have an identity please !!

    Its YOUR NAME we are talking about, for god’s sake!

  63. Using an English name has nothing to do with losing my identity. I’m still using my Chinese name, aren’t I? I won’t replace it with an English name. But as an English major, what’s wrong with my having an English name when my foreign teacher asked me to? It’s just for convenience. Many foreigners also like to have a Chinese name. Don’t take it too serious. It’s completely your own choice. Nobody will force you if you don’t like one. Likewise, you cannot criticise others just because they do what you don’t. Let’s show more respect to each other.

    P.S. When you write “God”, do capitalise G please.

  64. Hello Melody. What a melodious sounding name but sadly, it doesn’t fit your personality. If using an English name does not have a bearing on your identity, why don’t you just go pick on an Indian, Indonesian or Italian name instead. Not that i have anything against these countries but your NAME represents you! Which IS your identity. Why don’t i hear you adopt a host of different names for different countries, JUST FOR CONVENIENCE? Why stop at only an English name? In relation to what u have mentioned, if i cannot criticize others, then i must be living in YOUR WORLD!! What respect do you deserve when you took a CHEAP SHOT at trying to correct my English like u authored a dictionary. Even if i make an error, it’s acceptable as this is not my mother tongue. At least i’m not like you calling myself a Chinese , branded as a westerner. Please. Please. Go look at yourself in the mirror!

  65. Melody. You asked,”as an English major, what’s wrong with having an English name when your foreign teacher asked you to?” It’s obvious from here that you will do anything, HOWEVER CONVENIENT, to justify your adoption of your ENGLISH name. I’m left with the obvious thought of wondering what you will do if you are doing some Indian studies or if you are in Indonesia for some years as an analyst, for example. Will you have an Indian or Indonesian name if your associates insist that you have one? For a person like you, you should have a name for each and every country in the world. You appear to be concerned that matters should be simplified for others, to make it easy for them to call you.

    According to you, a name is only but a name. There’s nothing really to it. How trivial. One shouldn’t even need to take it too seriously, u said! I’m speechless.

    The truth of the matter is, YOU ARE AN OPPORTUNIST!! You will take advantage of any given opportunity to justify yourself even if it means that your principles are sacrificed!

    It’s YOUR NAME we are talking about, for crying out loud!!

    P.S. Awaiting your reply.

  66. I have chinese name…. does that mean I lost my identity?

    Should I be slave to whatever original name, my parents may have dreamt up?

  67. Firstly Xiong, if you have a Chinese name and you are a Chinese, it would mean that you have not lost your identity.

    Secondly, nobody is to perceive that he or she is to be a slave to anyone or anything. Why should you, therefore, feel that you can be a slave to your own name, at all? You are, in fact, told to be proud of it. It’s yours.

    Thirdly, if u were to have children and are searching for some names, would you be looking into your dreams for them? I’m sure you would spend a lot of time and research to painstakingly select the best possible names that you would feel, YOU & YOUR CHILDREN, can be proud of later.

    Am i right?

  68. Firstly Xiong, if you have a Chinese name and you are a Chinese, it would mean that you have not lost your identity.

    Secondly, nobody is to perceive that he or she is to be a slave to anyone or anything. Why should you, therefore, feel that you can be a slave to your own name, at all? You are, in fact, told to be proud of it. It’s yours.

    Thirdly, if u were to have children and are searching for some names, would you be looking into your dreams for them? I’m sure you would spend a lot of time and research to painstakingly select the best possible names that you would feel, YOU & YOUR CHILDREN, can be proud of later.

    Am i right?

  69. i like your articles, you seem to be a person who knows both sides (chinese and western). i am living abroad, too, i do not have an english name either, simply becoz i do not feel comfortable when somebody call me by an English name, i do not look like a “michelle, lucy or roxy” at all! that just doesn’t sound like me…

    but for othre ppl who choose to use it, i think it’s their choice. i have a lot of friends who feel comfortable in their english names, i guess it’s ok as long as it’s ok for them… however, for those who doesn’t even speak good english, i think it’s funny to use an english name…

    luckily, my name is not hard for westerner to pronounce..hehe..

  70. It’s a good topic for us to talk about!

    On my first english class when I was 12, our english techer gave an english name to everyone of us…my name was James….he call our egnlish names during the class.

    My frist job in Shanghai is a foreign capital company, the frist day I went to work, my boss asked me do you have english name? I said no, then he gave me one, named Rey.

    Now, I change it to Michael, just simply because I like it.

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