What's in a name?

If having a baby is difficult, sometimes choosing their name seems even harder. And when you've got two cultures & languages in the mix, things get even more complicated.

Choosing the English names for our two daughters has been my job, with MrsB holding the power of veto. The first time around, before we knew the baby's sex, I was suggesting "Huw" if it was a boy. It's a friend's name, and has a link to Wales where I'm from. "No!" says MrsB, "any Chinese person that hears you call his name will think you're swearing at him". Lucky it was a girl...

On the Chinese side, I carelessly suggested the baby could have MrsB's surname, since my Chinese surname doesn't have any great family history attached (in fact it stretches all the way back to 1989, when colleagues at my first job here decided I needed a Chinese name). "What? And have people think he's illegitemate?". Oops, wrong again.

I've also been to blame for some of the delays in choosing Chinese names. I'm embarrased to say that "Too hard to write" has been one of my guidelines for names to be avoided. Then with my limited Cantonese vocabulary, some choices conjure up bizarre images as I guess what she's saying. Despite MrsB's "Don't be stupid, it doesn't sound anything like that", those names have been dropped too.

I did question the choice of MissB Snr's Chinese name. Unlike English names, Chinese given names are made out of regular words, so hers literally the two characters "happy" and "child". I thought she'd feel odd about this when she's say 50 years old, but MrsB assures me it's ok. MissB Jr's names have also caused us a few headaches. I'd decided early on that I liked Ann as a name. Ann it was for several months as the bump grew, till a relative pointed out that when a name has a single syllable, Cantonese speakers add "Ah-" to the front. We decided that we didn't want the blame for giving her a stutter from hearing Ah-Ann, so Ann was struck from the list.

For her Chinese name, MrsB had a couple of ideas before the baby was born, but one was dropped soon after. The chosen character "had too many mouths in, and MissB is already noisy enough" !! (The character for "mouth" appears as a part of many other more complicated Chinese characters.) I only found out the final choice yesterday, when MrsB returned from the registry office with the birth certificate. There were still two choices when she left the house, so I'm still not sure how the final decision was reached.

After writing this, a flash of inspiration: Something that irritates me in the playgrounds is local Mums calling their children "baby" when they are already three or four. I've just realised it probably means they haven't been able to choose a name yet!



Daughter Tall's Chinese name

When Daughter Tall was born, Mrs Tall and I had both English and Chinese names ready to go. So when we sent around the announcement emails, etc., we included them. But a week or two after she was born, Mrs Tall's brother warned us that the Chinese name we'd chosen was easily distorted into a common schoolyard insult.

Well, there was still time to rectify this error by changing her Chinese name, as we hadn't registered her names yet. But the problem was, we'd been too clever. Instead of using DT's full Chinese given name as her English middle name (a common practice with mixed kids), we'd made it only the last syllable of her Chinese name, since the final syllable of her English name sounded just like the first syllable of her Chinese name. Make sense? It did to us!!

Now, by changing the middle syllable of her Chinese name, we were left with her English middle name being just half of her Chinese name, if you see what I mean. But we decided it was too late to change her English name, since we'd announced it so widely.

Anyway, I think we'll just avoid explaining this all to Daughter Tall for some time to come!

One other note: I made exactly the same suggestion to Mrs Tall about Chinese surnames (i.e. why not just use Mrs Tall's?) and got just as heated a reaction. I should have warned you about this, Mr B!

Kid names & "baby"

My husband's surname is quite hard to write (~ 18 strokes using fantizi) so we also had the "not too hard to write" as a guiding principle. I didn't want my kids to have nervous breakdowns in kindergarten learning to write their names.

I got to select the English name, while my husband had right of veto, and he got to select the Chinese name (w/ my right of veto). Both could however submit names for discussion.

I had a great Chinese name for my son, very poetic and gentlemanly, all my colleagues agreed. But then one said "what's your husband's surname again?" NO. You can't do it, it sounds too much like a phrase that means someone talks way too much.

We also looked at "Name Your Baby in Chinese" by Lin Shan. I think it's published in Singapore.

This is also a good site Get a Chinese name to look for pointers.

As for "Baby". In my natal family, the 3 youngest kids were 1 year or less apart and were collectively known as "the babies" until they were in early adolescence. My brother ( only 1 out of 6 girls) was also known as "The Boy" "Boy" "The Beaux" or "Beaux".

My mom's uncle, also a single boy-child, was nicknamed "Bud" (short for brother). He is in his 80's and is still known as "Uncle Bud". It's kind of like "Uncle Sonny" in the Sopranos...

Funny how complicated naming

Funny how complicated naming a baby can be... Actually, we still didn't have BB chinese name ready till we were in hospital, and we thought we made it easy!

As parents, we chose her western name, and actually found it quite easily. We wanted something easy to pronounce in French, Cantonese and Putonghua. We settle on Maylie.

Then the chinese grand-parents were to find the chinese name. You would have think it would have been easy. Well, not so because of some obcur reasons of numbers of strokes that the name was suppose to have to be a "lucky" name... Most people just think that her chinese name is Mei Li (in Putonghua), but it actually is Man Lei (Gracious Jasmine).

Now the funniest of all is my husband discovering in the playground that some chinese baby in Hong Kong actually doesn't have a chinese name! He finds that really strange...

We're in the middle of this right now...

We have been trying to get this done for a few weeks now and it's ridiculously complicated. One thing that contrasts about our search is that I've down a few names because the characters were too simple (common). For example I like 潔晶 more than 倩晶. Not to mention that the former sounds nicer in mandarin. :)

I came to this website by

I came to this website by accident, but living in HK for nearly 13 yrs, having a local wife and a 5 month baby girl, I find the discussions very interesting. For me getting the baby name had to go for several rounds of selection. First I wrote 20 names in a sheet of paper, so did my wife. Then we exchange the paper. I strike out the name I do not like from my wife's list and she did the same. We then pool all the remaining names and did a ranking, each of us separately. We add both ranks and decide on the first three names as the possible candidate.

Finally, we named our daughter Amelia.

she got a middle name based on Chinese (Dik - On), but in the end it look more English (Dion). Well her grand parents, who speak putongha call her "Amy or Mimi" rather than Amelia or Dion.