31 May 2011


Dear Chinese guy,

I am going to have a baby in the near future with my Shanghai-nese wife. Given that you have experienced both cultures, Could you recommend a boy or girls name that would share both British and Chinese culture. We have yet to decide if the UK or China is the best place to raise a family and giving the baby two names, I feel would be rather alienating.

David G

Dear David

That's a tough one namely because what may sound great in one language can sound shitty in another. And may well get your child beaten up (in the UK that is, I got beaten up a long and the kid who was called Wang was beaten up even more than me). Children can be so incredibly cruel, in fact children today are still incredibly cruel sometimes!

For example Ming 明

Which can mean shining or to indent/inscribe/write . In itself a fairly common upbeat name a neat Chinese name. Except in the UK this will likely get you called a Minger and thus violence and or insults and or humiliation of your child in the UK.

Or Dong 东

Which means East, but its pretty obvious as to what the connotations are in English. My dad has a friend who has a son called Dong. Southern Chinese say his name as dung. Also something with lots of potential for verbal abuse. Heh it is perfectly acceptable to put your dong in a woman's hand in the street in Vietnam.... because it is the currency of Vietnam.... I mean what else were you thinking of?

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Your child may hate you for this as well and will go to the deed poll office! Of course as they grow up it may or MAY not stop the verbal fun making for instance. My old boss who had me by the balls used to be quite nasty about it. My cousin Ho, yes Ho, still calls himself Ho, even though there are many negative connotations

On the flip side some coolish sounding Chinese names are also subject to odd remarks. My uncle for instance was called Yun (Wun in Cantonese) (云). Which means cloud, he was apparently made fun of because of this, what? You're named after a clouds? (Children being children will ALWAYS find a method in which to demean, humiliate or find advantage over somebody!).

Or simple ones like May 美, you have to be careful as to what the second part of the name is. I know a girl who is called May. The other part of her name is gold (I don't know how it is spelt. Hey baby can I have a look at your passport please?) Beautiful is also short for America as in
(beautiful country). Gold as with silver is considered to be money. American ~ gold = dollar. Which makes her sound like a exotic dancer with a made up stage name. Her parents are 2nd generation Chinese in the UK and thus did not understand the implications of naming!

Those are a couple of limited examples I can think of off my head. There are many more. For instance a old friend I lost contact with 15 years ago (he went the 2.4 children mortgage route. I chose a different path) who shall remain unnamed had a name which in Sichuanese Mandarin from Chongquing meant Hero of ones family. At least thats what I think it meant as said it was 16 years ago since we last met. Oddly enough you move south a bit. And when spoken phonetically (not the characters themselves) it sounded like Chicken scent. Though only I am tactless enough to actually mention it, I am completely tactless foot in the mouth.

Think long and hard, and consider the pronunciation in the various flavors of Chinese and then the pronunciation in English and run it through urban dictionary and see what comes up. I comically remember over 20 years ago a kid called Feltch. 20 years ago it probably meant something else.

My other thought is there is nothing wrong with having two different names. Lots of people have multiple names. For instance my mum uses both her married name with my dad's surname and yet also in parallel uses her own name as per Asian tradition. While my dad has a completely different unrelated name in English as well as in Chinese.

Even famous people do it.

李小龍 Bruce Lee for instance - His Chinese name reads Lee Shi Lung (Lee , small dragon)
except that wasn't his birth name 李振藩 he was born Lee Jun Fan

It was fashionable in the 1980s and 1990s to have an English name as well as a Chinese name, they do not have to be the same or relate to one another.

Myself I have three names. With more unofficial handles. I'm considered weird because my English name and Chinese name are phonetically identical and mean exactly the same thing. But seriously do some research think long and hard and if you can't think of anything just use two different names.


  1. David, try asking for naming advice here:


    or here:


  2. Back in school, once met a Korean girl with last name Ho, first name Dong something. She decided to just take the first letter from her first name in Korean (Dong), and use it as her nickname.

    Dong Ho. It was tragic, and I had to tell her... she had no idea.