Can Chinese Names and English Names Co-exist?

04 Sep 2015

I recent saw this question on Quora and liked the following answer by Raj Bhuptani:

Do Americans prefer that Chinese people use their original Chinese name or an English name?

> I think either name is fine, but personally something that annoys me is when a Chinese person gives his Chinese name to his Chinese friends and his English name to his non-Chinese friends. The reason for using an English name should be that you prefer the English name, not that you think your Chinese name is too hard for an American to pronounce. In addition to feeling a bit patronizing (“My name is Mingyuan, but you can call me William”), using different names with different friends can lead to confusion when you have both Chinese and non-Chinese friends (in college, more than once have I had an epiphany along the lines of “Ohhhh! Lucy and Lu Xi are the same person?!”)

I totally agree with this answer, but I also understand that Chinese people with a name like “Xu Juan” or the like basically have no hope of Americans pronouncing their name correctly, so it’s kind of a dilemma.

I personally arrived in China eager to use a Chinese name (I chose 潘吉), but over the years started to feel it was a little silly, and just reverted to my English name. In my case, “John” is quite easy for Chinese speakers, and now, pretty much only my in-laws call me by my Chinese name (which is fine).

It’s safe to say, though, that most Chinese names are harder for English speakers than most English names are for Chinese speakers.

Solution: The world needs to learn Chinese! (ha… OK, maybe just pinyin?)

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. “The reason for using an English name should be that you prefer the English name, not that you think your Chinese name is too hard for an American to pronounce.”

    [citation needed]

    “In addition to feeling a bit patronizing”

    [citation needed]

  2. It is normal for Chinese to be called differently be different people. For ezample, Didi, Gege, Sook sook. It depends on the peaon’s relationship to the addressee.

    Kien

  3. I’m in the opposite situation. My first name contains two syllables that don’t really exist in Mandarin, and so I either put up with people butchering my name or coming up with their own Chinese version of it.

    The first two years I was in China I decided not to have a Chinese name because my name was my name. Eventually though, I got tired of no-one ever pronouncing it correctly and or making up their own transliterations and so I decided that if they were going to do that, I might as well at least come up with something that I liked rather than letting people make their own random choices.

  4. Brit Simons Says: September 10, 2015 at 10:43 pm

    It’s hard to give a good answer to such an essentialist question–it assumes all Americans share the same preference. Speaking for myself, and not for all Canadians, I would say I am happy to call people whatever name they want me to call them. It is quite literally paternalistic to tell someone that you will call them what you want to call them regardless of their preferences–does any other than a parent have the right to name you? That said, I would probably refer to someone who introduces himself to me as Condom Wang, “Mr. Wang”.

  5. I don’t personally care which name my friends and coworkers prefer to use. I usually just go with whatever name they use when introducing themselves to me, although I try to make a point of learning/remembering each person’s Chinese name even if they normally use an English name when talking to me. That way I can avoid the confusion that arises when a mutual Chinese friends refers to him/her by Chinese name.

    My ultimate goal is to successfully learn both the English and Chinese names of all my students and their parents. That’s going to take a lot of additional effort though; right now I feel like I’m doing ok just knowing my coworkers’ surnames (not even most of their Chinese given names).

    On the flip side, I normally introduce myself using my English name followed by “or you can call me 卢卡斯.” I then leave it up to the other person to decide which one to use, but since my “Chinese name” is just a phonetic translation anyway I often find that the two sort of blend into each other in terms of pronunciation.

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