If you are reading this blog, chances are you already know what a Chinese name is. If you don’t, here is a very simple explanation. You know how it can be hard for you to correctly pronounce Chinese names, right? Well, this is the same for Chinese people with your name, except because its probably even worst. Chinese has a lot less possible sounds built into it, so is very likely that your name has sounds they never have to pronounce before. This is the reason why foreigners that deal with Chinese people often decide to give themselves a “Chinese name”, so people can call them something that isn’t confusing or awkward to say.
I had a general understanding of this before, but it was not until recently that I met someone who could not, by any means, understand my name. I was holding off getting my name until I got to a higher level, but because of this incident, I decided it was time to give it a try. Be mindful that this is a recording of my personal experience in choosing my Chinese name, not a step by step guide. There are thousands of great guides around the internet for doing that, written by people with a lot more knowledge of the culture than me.
First thing I did, and I really recommend anyone on the process of choosing a name doing, is finding a Chinese friend that knows you well to help you. No matter how good your internet guides may be, the input from an actual local will always be more trustworthy on if a name is appropriate or not.
My initial reading on the subject revealed that names are usually structured on three characters, of which the first represents the family name. This is an important part of the name, because is the one that makes people know this is a name on the first place. Contrary to the last part of the name, this name should be taken from a very specific list, the list of the 100 common family names, as it would make it instantly recognizable. For me, choosing this character was kind of easy. My first family name is Valencia, which is the name of a region in Spain and thus gives me no way of picking a “similar” meaning, but my second family name is Blanco, meaning white. White in Chinese is Bái (白), which is as close as you can get to the pronunciation of “Val”, so it was very clear to me that this was the character best representing my family.
For the second character, there was an advice I heard that was crucial. If this is going to be my name, I should be able to recognize it as such. For this to happen, It needed to be something that doesn’t sound that different from my actual name. Have you seen any of those online Chinese name generators? They may not be very good at making an actual name, but they are great for finding characters similar in sound to your name. Thanks to a liberal use of such generators, and after checking with my friend, I decided upon the character Diǎn (典), which roughly translate to law.
For my last character, things where not that easy. There was no real sound that managed to both capture the way my name sounds, and also sound nice in Chinese. It was at this point when I turned to my friend for direct input. Seconds later I was bombarded by a barrage of possible characters. Now this is the real reason you should get help from a good friend. Of course, having a “culturally acceptable” name is good and all, but the real reason for getting this help is that is both very fun and very exciting for all the people involved. With this crazy amount of options, we went through each revising their meaning, and thinking how would they work into my personal image. Choosing a Chinese name is not just selecting and array of sounds after all, is choosing what is the first impression you will project into people. After a very entertaining afternoon, I ended up selecting Yǔ (宇) as the last character in my name, meaning “universe”.
Putting the whole thing together, my name ended up being Bái DiǎnYǔ (白典宇). Although this is probably not fully correct, my personal interpretation on the meaning is “Law of the White Universe”, in which I wanted to show my passion for writing and designing worlds, as in “writing the laws of a still empty universe”. My friend’s opinion on the name was that it sounded beautiful and intellectual, and its only possible downside was sounding a bit old fashioned. I was OK with this outcome, and thus decided from that day onward that this was going to be by name. Not one given by someone else, but one I choose myself.
Do you have your own Chinese name? How did you come up with it? Did you get help? Share your experience with naming yourself on the comments! See you next week with more stories about my experience learning in Qingdao!
-Diego/Bái DiǎnYǔ (白典宇)