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What's in a Baby Name?

Updated on July 13, 2011

History of Chinese Names

Traditional Chinese names have two parts to it. The first is a generation name which is common to all the children in the same generation of the same sex. The second is a name unique to the individual and must not have been used by anyone else in the family's ancestry. For instance, my hubby and all his male cousins have the generation name of "Kah" - Kah Sing, Kah Wan, Kah Wai, etc.

Old Chinese families usually have a long family tree recorded with all the names ever used. Each generation name has already be pre-determined. The individual name is then selected by a wise old man who looks at the date and time of birth of the child and picks a meaning that is harmonious to the child's predicted fortunes.

How I Chose My Baby's Name

When we found out I was pregnant, my hubby and I came to an agreement that the name we chose for our son had to sound good in the languages that we could both speak. Living in a multi-cultural country where many people are multi-lingual, we felt it was important that our son's name would not translate into anything silly in another language. For instance, I once met a dentist whose name was Saw Lip (read: "sore lip"), then there was the other dentist called "Peng San", which means "faint" in Malay. Worst still was my hubby's friend whose Chinese name meant something like "falling into the toilet bowl".

We also agreed that his name had to be one that could not be twisted to be poked fun at because we didn't want our son to have a hard time at school. Kids in school can be quite cruel when it comes to teasing and we didn't want our son subjected to unnecessary teasing due to his parents folly in choosing a name. For instance, one of my old school teacher's maiden name was Miss Stupio, which was often converted to Miss Stupid by her students. Needless to say she was only too eager to change her name when she got married.

Besides giving our son a Chinese name, we decided that we should also give him an English name for ease of pronunciation at school. Since the Chinese name was to be chosen by the wise man (although hubby and I agreed that we had to have veto rights if it sounded horrible in English), we were left with the English name to choose. We did that by running through a baby names booklet that came free with a pregnancy magazine my friend gave me. Every night, I would run through the list of names from a letter and the hubby and I would pick out the ones we liked. If we both liked the name, it went down into our list of possibilities, if one of us disliked the name, it was discarded.

The first name we both liked was Damian. Unfortunately, Damian in the Hokkien Chinese dialect did not have a good meaning. The Chinese believe that anything that does not have a good meaning can affect a person's fortunes. For instance, the number 4 sounds very similar to the word "die", which is why many Chinese dislike houses with a number 4 in the address.

The next name we both liked was Ethan. It was all good until we discovered that between the two of us, we had 8 friends whose sons were called Ethan. A quick check on the top 100 names for baby boys revealed that Ethan was in the top 10 most popular names. Not wanting our son's name to be too common for his age group, we went in search for another name. We finally agreed on Gavin.

When our son was born, the wise man said that his fortune displayed too much gold. In order to create balance, we had to add "wood" to his name. In Chinese calligraphy, there is a symbol for the word "wood" and it could be combined with other characters to form other words. The wise man then came up with a list of potential names we could name our son and we picked the one we liked best from the list.


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    • babynology profile image

      babynology 4 years ago from New York

      I actually enjoyed and reading through in this posting. Many thanks..

    • figur8 profile image

      figur8 9 years ago

      Gavin's Chinese name is Khye Wern which converts to the meaning "calligraphy". It's actually quite an unusual baby's name. Most Chinese baby names are usually more meaningful, like strength, pretty, smart, etc.

    • SparklingJewel profile image

      SparklingJewel 9 years ago from upper midwest

      So what is his name that is for wood? Gavin is very nice...would you share his full name with us?

    • figur8 profile image

      figur8 9 years ago

      Thanks G-Ma! As a mother I know I'm too partial about my son to be objective but it's always nice when other people think so, too :o)

      As for the part about the names, until I married my husband, I didn't know that this was how Chinese names were chosen either. Both my parents aren't very traditional so they never followed the old ways.

    • G-Ma Johnson profile image

      Merle Ann Johnson 9 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

      What a wonderful story and answer to my request. It is so interesting to me how names come about. and by the way what an adorable boy you have there. He is lucky to have you as his mama. God Bless You...G-Ma :o) hugs