Grandparents naming our baby

Hi, stumbled on this forum by chance today so hope someone can help me!

My wife and I are expecting our first child in a few months, we live in the UK and I am BBC (parents live here) whilst she was brought up in HK (where her parents still live). The problem is that my parents (dad...) are heavily traditional Cantonese-chinese, whereas hers are not at all (they are from Beijing/Shanghai originally).

So on the subject of names, we have started thinking about English and Chinese names already although we don't know if it is a boy or girl yet. I spoke to my mum today and she mentioned that traditionally the grandparents choose the baby's chinese name, which I had no idea of. Fine, except my wife has strong ideas about what names she likes and in particular she hates the usual cantonese type names that mean prosperous, strong, success, etc (including making fun of my own!). In addition she does not get on that well with my dad because of his traditional outlook (the wedding preparations got difficult at times...). Her view is that he is stuck in the 70s when he came over to the UK and no HK parents are like that any more. Therefore I have 2 problems - how to persuade her to this and what if my dad does not pick any names we like.

Anyway I haven't raised the topic with her yet and have no idea how to do this without upsetting her unnecessarily. I do want her to be happy about our baby but I also realise that it is a mark of respect to let the grandparents choose (as apparently happend with me and my siblings when we were born). My dad has even commented to my mum that if we don't let him choose, then don't expect to bring the baby back home to them!! (although we live about 3 hours away)

I really feel in a difficult position and unable to resolve this to keep all happy. Regarding my first problem, I'm thinking of saying to my wife that I heard from my mum that this is the traditional way and that I feel it is important to respect that. No doubt she will refuse but I have to convince her it is my desire to do that and not just my dad's. The second problem on what if we don't like any of the names is that I could suggest that we have also thought of some names and what does he think of them. Alternatively can he think of some more names if we don't like the first set. However it is likely he will still be really unhappy if we don't end up picking one of his.

I'd be keen to hear from anyone who has similar experience and advice on how to approach this.

Grandparents naming baby

I don't envy you - that's a tough one.

I asked MrsB's view. She has heard of grandparents naming the new babies, but only occasionally. So it's not a widespread tradition here, but it sounds like it is a strong tradition for your family.

It'll be worth checking with your mum how much leeway there is on the naming, ie what is most important to your dad. eg does he want to consult a feng shui master to know the right number of strokes in the character, but you can choose the character? Or he wants to make sure the name 'sounds like' something, but you can choose any character with similar sound? Or he wants to choose the exact name? I'm wondering if there is anyway he can choose some aspects of the name, while your wife chooses others, and they both feel they had a major say in the decision.

Do you have any cousins with children? Who chose their names? Are there any where the parents chose the names instead of the grandparents? If yes, can you get those uncles / aunts to talk to your dad about how things have changed?

If you or your wife argue directly with your dad, I'm guessing it gets to be a major face issue and he will just dig his heels in? So probably best to work through your brothers / sisters / mum / uncles / aunts to see what can be done.

Can other readers give any help?

Good luck, MrB

Thanks for your quick reply.

Thanks for your quick reply. To clarify a few things - I'm eldest of all my generation, the first (and only one so far) married and now it will be their first grandchild. Also my dad is also the eldest of his siblings... so there is probably a lot of anxiety to keep the traditional way going. I don't know how exactly he plans to choose a name but your suggestion of maybe sharing the choice of elements of the name sounds good, although not sure if this will work in practice. I guess if we come up what qualities we would like our baby's name to have and suggest that to my dad then at least we avoid any major surprises or dislikes.

Another problem is that I find it difficult to express such ideas to my dad as my cantonese is not great, and my wife doesn't speak much to him either so there would be the potential for some arguments. It always seems to come back to my dad saying theses things are chinese traditions and we should continue them, if we don't then he seems concerned at losing face with other relatives or friends. Whereas my wife doesn't care or know about such traditions, all her friends have different ways of doing things so why should she also be restricted?

I do tend to let my wife do as she likes so my gut feeling is that this time I need to put my foot down and insist that my dad has some input, to give respect and also maybe bring us closer together. At the same time I don't want her feeling upset now she is pregnant...its so difficult to balance both sides. any other advice much appreciated.

Grandparents naming baby

Hi Anon,

Mr B asked if I had any thoughts on your dilemma. Its stressful isn't it - balancing regular life and then the elders view of life based on 1000's of years traditions and beliefs - especially when we only get a very limited view of those beliefs growing up overseas.

My brothers and sisters tend to believe a lot of stuff is made up to keep us confused or aware we're different.....

Anyway -  yes I have heard that its traditional for the grandparents to name the baby. Mostly  trad. village mentality as they're considered to be aware of their and the previous generation's name/trend. I think its to prevent clashes of everyone being named the same e.g. "Lucky life Chan" over three generations of several family branches in the same village.

On the subject of trad. older generations and BBC's - seriously how much time have you got? My first thought was let the parents choose a selection of names and include your wife's choices. You need to make them aware that you'll at least consider the names. If you and your wife do not like the final choice- then don't use them. [last I heard - the parents give the names on the baby cert]  This way - you've let the grandparents do the right thing but your BBC ways were just too strong. Its worked for my family for quite a while now.

Thing is, you need to stop this becoming a big issue at so early a stage and even more stressful than it already is.  Somehow, there is this strange equation between high drama and living in the cantonese mind. As this is your father's first grandchild of his firstborn then its very important to him that things are done right [in front of his family, friends and peers] but guess what - he's never had to deal with this before so the obvious thing is to demand and expect everyone else toes the line. So anything contrary to his request is going to be perceived as downright anarchy. This is where the friends and family involvment is crucial and can provide added support to your reasoning.

Oh - and that 'I'll never let you and my grandchild darken my doors' thing - its one of those sweeping statements quickly made,instantly regretted but can't be withdrawn. Seriously, can a grandparent be stubborn enough not to be involved with their grandchildren. [your call]  At the very least they want to be involved to make sure the kid is brought up with trad. chinese values as perceived by the grandparents which the parents aren't qualified to teach!  You're going to have to make sure your mum and wife are a strong unit on that though. I think your mum would be absolutely horrified and distressed at not being able to see her first grandchild.

Keep your parents involved in the whole pregnancy and excitement loop. You'll be glad of their support in the long run. Kids are rewarding to both generations and help break a lot of perceived barriers. Involved in doesn't necessarily mean in control of. [I can see Mr T squirming at the grammar now]  A lot of friction occurs when the older generation just don't seem to believe that we're capable of managing our own lives in an adult fashion.  Just one of those things we have to handle in our own way.

BTW - congratulations to you and your wife on the pregnancy. Let us know when things are peacefully resolved!




I think it really varies from family to family. Some people have family w/ a set generational name for all boys born in a certain generation, other families are more  casual.

Maybe find out more from your dad about how he hopes to name the baby? In my case, my m-i-l went to a temple and found out that certain Chinese characters would be "lucky" - so my husband and I chose from among those.

Consider the Chinese vs. English name. When we had kids, my husband and I agreed that I could select the English name, but he had right of veto and he (or his reprsentative) got to choose the Chinese name, but I had the right of veto. So, maybe you could work out a compromise w/ your wife - she can select the English name & have veto rights over the Chinese name and vice versa? If you live in the UK, the English name will probably be more significant in your kid's daily life.

In the end we both agreed, and for our second child we had yellow post-its all over our living room walls for a while, trying out various combinations. 

Thing to emphasize to your dad - must be willing to present an assortment of names (say 3 or 4) that he considers acceptable. Let him know your wife's concern w/ "typical" Rich-Lucky names.

Other things to consider in choosing the Chinese name 

 * It should sound good in both Cantonese & Mandarin 

 * It should not give your kindergartner writer's cramp.


Extra points - if the sound or meaning of the English/European name is related to the Chinese name. 



Good advice skmama.

Good advice skmama.