Choosing a Chinese Name
Best Resources for Selecting a Chinese Name
Selecting a name in Chinese is much more complicated than selecting a name in English and families in China and Taiwan put a great deal of thought into selecting their children's names, often hireing experts to help. Yet it is surprisingly difficult to find English materials about the process of selecting a Chinese name.
This lens will also introduce some basic considerations in selecting a Chinese name and serve as a springboard for further exploration by highlighting the best resources on the Web and in print to help you select the perfect Chinese name for your baby or for yourself. It is a valuable resource for multicultural families, parents adopting Chinese babies, and English-speaking students of Chinese. Please take a moment to add any additional resources that you know of and help rank those items already listed.
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Best Chinese Name Books - Chosen by me voted on and added to by you
Disagree with this list? Change the ranking or add your own favorite Chinese name book. Only the top five will appear.
From the Non-Chinese Partner in Bicultural Family
Selecting a name in Chinese is much more complicated than selecting a name in English. For the most part, English speakers select a name from among a few hundred (at most a few thousand if the parents are more adventurous) common names. The historic meanings of English names are generally of secondary importance to what the parents personally find euphonious and perhaps their desire to honor another family member.
While a name's euphony is important to Chinese speakers, so to are the meanings of the characters used, the radicals in the character, the time and date of birth, the Chinese astrological sign of the child and his family members, undesirable homophones the name could be confused with when spoken, the masculinity/femininity of the name, and a variety of other considerations.
Unlike in America, in Taiwan it is very important to select a unique name for your child. It is very rare in Taiwan to meet someone else with the same given name (but very common to meet someone with the same surname; much more common than in the U.S.). While in China, single-character given names are common, in Taiwan two-character names are strongly preferred.
Given the thousands of characters available to choose from in creating a name and the number of possible two-character combinations, it is easy to select a name that few others will have, but difficult to decide upon a single name. It is very common for families to seek out the services of one or more experts in helping them with this process.
It is surprisingly difficult to find English materials about the process of selecting a Chinese name. I could find only two commonly-recommend books on Amazon and almost no well-researched and detailed Web sites. The following is one of the few good Web sites that I could find on the topic. Read it if you are interested in learning more: http://www.chinasprout.com/html/naming.html
The Role of Astrology in Chinese Name Selection
The Chinese horoscope is a cycle based upon years rather than months. Each Chinese lunar year has an animal associated with it. For example, I wrote this on December 2006, which falls in the year of the dog.
While I do not believe that a name determines one's fate, enough people in Taiwan do that having someone born in the year of the tiger with a pig radical in one of their name's characters might be as awkward in Chinese as naming your child "Harry Johnson" in English.
I'm not sure if that bit about the tiger and pig is true; I just made it up. That's my point. I have no ability to judge a Chinese name's laugh factor, pleasantness, or uniqueness. So I had no problem letting an expert put together a list of "good" names for my wife and I to consider when deciding a name for our son.
As Xiaoning Wang writes (quoting Edward Hume) in his popular article Good Meaning Characters Do Not Always Make Good Chinese Names: "'Never make up a Chinese name without consulting Chinese friends!' Maybe your Chinese friends cannot give your child a great name, but they definitely know if you are giving your child an appropriate Chinese name. Just like an Italian or an Irish knows what a typical Italian and Irish name should be."
I would add: even native speakers of Chinese often consult experts when selecting an appropriate name for their children. Simply selecting a name that sounds nice and has a cool meaning is not enough. The Internet makes it easier than ever to contact native speaker for advice in this matter. Take advantage of it.
Naming a Forest Dog
An Example of the Role of Astrology in Chinese Name Selection
One of the most common surnames in Chinese is "Lin", the character for which are associated with "forest" or "woods". Lins who have a child born in a dog year, have to take care to counteract the potential negative astrological implications.
As the dog is a domesticated animal that thrives best with people and requires shelter from people, it is an issue when someone with the surname Lin is born in the year of the Dog. Lin, as stated above, means "forest." While most people don't think of a surname's meaning in normal circumstances, when selecting an auspicious name, it's various meanings and symbology are scrutinized very carefully.
Have a dog running around loose in the forest is not an auspicious image. It implies being lost or perhaps a feral condition (wild, dangerous, uncivilized). Either way, not something that most Chinese parents would want their child associated with.
The solution is to select a names whose characters contain countervailing radicals. For example, the name "Yijie" is a good name for a child born in the year of the dog as each character contains the "person" radical. If you look at the image above, on the far right is a character made of two strokes, looking something like the "carrot" symbol on your keyboard (above the "6", or like an exponential symbol, or like an editor mark for insertion, whatever). The character is a very stylized depiction of a person standing with legs apart.
A radical's shape will change to fit the character it is used with to maintain an aesthetic and practical square-based shape. The two characters in the middle are the person radical as they look in the characters themselves, which are pictured on the far left of the image.
The person tames/domestics and cares for the dog. Therefore the symbology of a Lin born in the Year of the Dog is neutralized by the person radical found in both characters of his name.
Top Recommendations for the Beginning Chinese Language Student
I'm one of those people that wastes a lot of money buying more materials than I could ever reasonably use. The good thing for you, however, is that I've compared many different materials. Below are my recommendations for beginning student of Mandarin Chinese. The materials I chose are especially helpful for self-study.
Even better, you can add your suggestions and, if you used any of the below-listed materials, you can vote them up or down the list.
This workbook provides an affordable way for the beginning student or Chinese to learn Pinyin. It is also useful for native speakers who want to learn Pinyin.
I'm using this software to brush up on my Chinese now that I've moved back to Taiwan after being away for MANY years. It is an awesome product. I highly recommend this software for beginning Chinese language learners. As a matter of fact, I created a lens about it: http:
This is the textbook I used when I studied Chinese as an undergrad. It is a very good textbook. Please note that it comes in both a Pinyin and GR version. I recommend that you get the Pinyin version as you will need to learn Pinyin eventually. Although the authors recommend the tonal spelling GR version to help you learn tones as a beginning Chinese language learning, if you know the TOP system, you can use the more practical and widespread Pinyin system and not have to waste your time with the convoluted GR system that is becoming increasingly rare. You can rewrite the Pinyin vocabulary, phrases, and sentences in the book to help with memorizing and reading the tones.
The rolls royce of Chinese electronic dictionaries. Touch screen, handwriting recognition, multiple input methods, basically everything you need to look up Chinese characters.
The interactive multimedia BESTA S701 is a Chinese <-> English <-> Chinese bidirectional dictionary, personal organizer and language teacher including Chinese Mandarin, Japanese and English voice synthesis. Designed to assist people whose learning, speaking Chinese/English. It is one of the most sophisticated reference, language and business tools currently available. It's making the most sense of the complex information necessary when learning any foreign language.
FEATURES: (Best for both of Chinese and English Learning)
Built-in "Sentence Translation" and "Smart Comparisons", a good reference tools for English and Chinese translation or learning.
Built-in reputable Oxford Advanced Learner's English-Chinese Dictionary 6th Edition
Built-in English Chinese Dictionary with approx. 300,000 searchable words or phrases
Built-in Chinese Dictionary with approx. 60,000 words, phrases, and 8,000 idioms
Pre-download The Contemporary Chinese Dictionary making easier for Chinese learning
Built-in Chinese-English Dictionary, American Slang Dictionary with Chinese, Japanese and Korean definitions and Internet Dictionary
Multilingual Travel Dialogues with human voice pronunciation
Overall word searching technology across the dictionaries and Grammar Cross-searching in the sample sentences of English-Chinese Dictionary
Databank in Words studio, such as TOEFL, GRE, etc. to improve your vocabulary power
Downloadable Animated Grammar and Phases for English learning through a real scene and animation
Built-in or downloadable Synonym-Antonym Dictionary, Structure of Words, Structure of Sentences, English Proficiency Test & Interactive English.
If you want a more basic and affordable model, check out this one.
This Chinese <-> English <-> Chinese Electronic dictionary BESTA CD-616 includes 36 dictionaries with over 670,000 entries. Includes speech synthesis for 9 languages including Chinese, English, Japanese, Korean and more. Dictionaries: English - Chinese - English: over 270,000 entries and 64,000 expressions. Chinese Mandarin: over 13,000 words and expressions, with Zhuyin and Pinyin reference. Oxford Advanced Learner's English-Chinese Dictionary: 60,000 words and 84,000 sentence examples. Cambridge Encyclopedia: 4,000,000 entries and 24,000 grouped phrases. English-