The Name Nazi Defied
Some time ago I become known as the “Name Nazi” at ZUCC, the school in Hangzhou where I used to teach. Allow me to explain.
If you know anything at all about teaching in China, you know that Chinese students usually have English names. You also know that the names they choose are often ridiculous, bizarre, and/or funny. A few real-life examples: Fantasy (boy), No-No (girl), Snoopy (girl), Icy Cat (boy), Shiny (girl).
After grinning and bearing it for two years, I decided not to put up with these names anymore. When students I taught had ridiculous English names, I told them they had to change their name. They would often protest, saying they had used the name for years already. I would tell them, “well, you can keep it, but you can’t use it in my class. Pick a real name.” Then I would hand them a big long list of popular baby names that they could choose from.
I would try to win them over with reason. My reasons are below.
Why Choosing a Silly English Name is not a Good Idea
- If you ever go overseas, you will be laughed at. You’ll think it’s funny at first, but you’ll eventually realize your English name is stupid and change it. Why not sooner than later? Save yourself the grief.
- How people are named in a language is a part of the culture. By ignoring this process, you are completely disregarding a part of the culture. While this may not be outright offensive to native speakers, it certainly isn’t impressive. Why not take the chance to learn about the culture of the language you’re studying?
- Names are chosen in a certain way. We choose names from baby name books, relatives, movie stars. We do not choose names from dictionaries or take the names of cute cartoon characters. Just as Chinese people would never choose a name like 孙悟空 or 烤面包 for their babies, you shouldn’t do it in English either. It’s not impossible to create a good English name, but it’s also not an easy thing to do, and if you’re not a native speaker, you probably cannot judge what sounds good and what doesn’t.
- Names are a kind of vocabulary. When you hear “Mary” you know instantly that it’s a woman’s name because you learned it long ago as a woman’s name. You know it’s not a verb, or an adjective, or any noun other than a person. It’s firmly in your “name vocabulary.” The more English names you hear with frequency, the bigger your “name vocabulary” grows. This is an important part of your English development. Your classmates’ English names should all be contributing positively to your “name vocabulary,” not junking it up with ridiculous non-names.
So those are my reasons. That’s why I’m the Name Nazi. People say I take the issue too seriously, but honestly, you really do get tired of the stupid names after a few years, and my class is not playtime. I’m a serious teacher, so I expect my students to take learning English seriously in my class. And that includes names. We have fun in my classes, but not by calling each other stupid English names.
Flash forward to last week. Gwyneth Paltrow recently had a baby girl and named it Apple. Apple!!! What a dumb name! (Other people agree with me on this one.) “Apple” is one of the non-names I used to forbid during my tenure at ZUCC, and for some reason Chinese girls used to looove to choose that name. And now Gwyneth is directly attacking my efforts! Arrgh!
At my new job I continue the mission of the Name Nazi. Many of these Chinese kids get their English name in kindergarten. I’m making sure none of the teachers are assigning ridiculous names (and oh, you better believe they were). The source I use for “good names” is the Social Security Online Baby Name page. It’s great.
Speaking of names, I recently discovered a new Japanese band with a pretty cool name (keep in mind the guys who named the band are not native speakers of English). Asian Kung-Fu Generation. No, you haven’t had enough of emo, because Japan is not through with it yet! They have pretty cool retro style artwork on their CDs too. Check out this song called 君という花 (A Flower called You).
Yeah, but if we didn’t push the boundaries of what’s an acceptable name, we’d all be named Rutherford and Mildred now.
But yes, you’re right. Another disadvantage of a weird English name is that it saves time for a new foreign teacher. I hate going through a new class, asking them their names.
“And what is your name?
“Ina? Don’t you mean, um, what…what’s that name, Tina?”
“Are you sure it’s not Tina?” [writes Tina on the board]
“OK, I’m going to go ask your parents.”
Multiplied over several students over several classes.
Speaking of great Japanese bands…have you heard The Pillows and seen the anime they’re music’s featured in…FLCL/Fooly Cooly/Furi Kuri…great stuff that…seriously…
Oh yeah, I just remembered. Here’s a funny story. I’ve been seeing this Chinese girl and I met one of her Chinese friends and her name is: 鱼爱水 I wasn’t sure if it was actually those particular characters when she said it, but she clarified things when she said it literally in English.
Go the name nazi!
I had a student who called himself Hammer when I arrived. A few months down the track he tried to change his name to Begonia. Fortunately that one never took…..
I hear ya! I’ve got one student who calls himself DO Do. That’s right, no joke. We’ve tried for months to get him to change it and yes, we have explained what that means. He likes the name, go figure!!
I endured it until I met: Sniper, Dangerous and Asks in the same class. That was it. I couldn’t take it anymore!
Most Memorable Name: Lonely Cottage
Most Inapropriate Name: Willing
I’m with Wayne on the huge hassle caused by trying to figure out the students’ names at first.
mumbling + poor pronunciation + invented random word = ???
A recent trend I have noticed is product placement: in one class I now have a Gucci and a Ferrari. Name Nazi, maybe I could hire you for a period to come in and set things straight.
To be fair you should note that Chinese routinely slap nonsense semi-phonetical transcriptions of their given names on foreigners that are totally weird in Chinese.
There are even dictionaries of ‘standards’.
Yet another fascinating cultural chasmlet?
Neat trick! I don’t know if it works on everyone else’s browser the same way but, when I put the cursor on the names in Chinese characters, I got a translation. “DUH! It’s supposed to work that way”, you say. Well, it didn’t work on the song name near the end but it worked on the others. Can you do that for all the Chinese for those of us that enjoy reading your blog but have not the language ability to fully appreciate the Chinese? Thanks.
Maybe some of these people get help from Dave Barry in picking their names. He keeps making comments in his columns about “That would make a neat name for a rock group.” when he comes up with an unusual combination of words. Looks at some of the ones that we have: Bare Naked Ladies, Third Eye Blind, Less Than Jake, Deranged Woodchuck (or was it something about a weasel?), Vertical Horizon . . .
I’m sure that you can think of others.
first of all, as a teacher, you shouldn’t be laughing at your students and having a little bitch session on your blog. although i find it ridiculously funny myself, it’s more appropriate for you to guide them and teach them about the english language and that’s what you are getting paid for.
secondly, i think the gwyneth paltrow case is worse, no? she’s a native enlish speaker hence her understanding the ridiculousness of naming her kid APPLE. but those chinese students, they don’t know what their name means. i’ve been in their same position so i should know. they don’t understand the concept of stupid english names. so don’t make such a big fuss about it.
Of course, names change and we all become old fogies in due course. I remember telling a student a few years ago that “Stone” wasn’t really a good English name. He claimed that there’s a TV correspondent with that name, and I discovered to my chagrin that he’s right (Stone Phillips, I think). And apparently “Madison” is one of the most popular baby girl names in English now.
And, of course, this goes both ways. I was very proud of my self-bestowed Chinese name — 马开文 until a very gracious friend in Beijing asked me, “Did you come up with that yourself?” Figuring that wasn’t a compliment, I switched to 马凯文, which even I can see is more appropriate.
There’s also a phenomenon in English in which parents are far more inventive in naming their daughters than their sons. That’s one reason that names often shift from being “boys’ names” to “girls’ names” over time. Parents will give their daughters a “boys’ name” but not the reverse, so names like “Kim” or “Taylor” or the dreaded “Madison” becomes girls’ names over time.
Taken to its logical conclusion, this implies that pretty soon all boys will be called “Dave.”
I wonder if there’s anything similar in Chinese? Some names are obviously girls’ names (anything with a 美 or a 小 — I wonder what the other tips for a male or female name are?
Starting with this post, whenever you see a word underlined with a blue dotted line, hovering the cursor over the word will produce a “tooltip” with more information. I figure this is a good way to provide footnotes/translations/character readings.
Congratulations, you completely missed the point.
“If you ever go overseas, you will be laughed at. You’ll think it’s funny at first, but you’ll eventually realize your English name is stupid and change it. Why not sooner than later? Save yourself the grief. “
Whose false is this? dumb name or insensitive/narrow minded people in the English speaking world???
Whose fault? It’s the foreigner’s fault for picking a stupid name.
The English-speaking world is extremely open to unusual names, but everything has its limit.
Newcomer, I am completely open to my students in China having silly names like Feel, LaLa, Ice Wolf, and Pepsi.
In a somewhat related subject, the morons who choose to leave their hypersensitive opinions on blogs are very obnoxious, especially when they are completely hypocritical. Newcomer, I am going to take a stab in the dark and guess that you are Chinese. If you feel that English speakers should have an open mind and embrace any name, then the opposite, Chinese embrace any name, should be true yes? WRONG. When I was in the long process of picking a name, my extremely clever suggestions were shot down left and right for being dumb, confusing, too typical, etc. The room for open-mindness in Chinese names is apparently very small. Name yourself something stupid in English if that suits you, like after your favorite video game character (Solid Snake), another of my students. Just don’t expect to be taken very seriously by anyone. And get off your cross.
Some funny English names I’ve heard: Bear, Leg, LaLaLa, Cherry, Galis
A weird Chinese name I heard a classmate name himself (I was taking Chinese in the States): 米饭 (rice).
The argument cuts both ways, but John is definitely right when he says that this issue is a cultural thing. How can you expect to be proficient in another language without adopting at least a peice of the culture?
I had a friend in fourth semester Chinese named Jaime, the Spanish name. The teacher found out that he had never been given a Chinese name and insisted he take one, so Jaime thought up…
It was promptly vetoed. Like wulong said, this cuts both ways, but I don’t think anon should be so sensitive about it. Part of the learning process is making mistakes and looking like a fool, and the job of the teacher is to point out your mistakes and correct them. Thank goodness for students exploring the language and trying out silly names. But thank goodness for Name Nazis, they are just as necessary.
On the whole I disagree with the name nazi idea. While it’s necessary to inform your students, sometimes quite forcfuly, that their name is odd, threatening or just pathetic (Hungry, Gas Chamber and Beckham come to mind in my classes), I think it’s a bit drastic to forbid a name.
Although I don’t agree with the idea, a purist might suggest that it’s better to forbid the use of English names, and just help help your sudents anglisize their Chinese names.
They will certainly decide to change their names soon enough if it ever matters, so why step on the one bit of free speech they actually have. Enforcing uniform American names gives a very false picture of the diversity of names in all English speaking countries. There was no one called Wendy until Peter Pan was written. As a teacher, isn’t it a better idea to let your students learn from their own mistakes, rather than imposing your own standards on them.
When i was in Chenzhou with my classmate (was teaching in chenzhou last year). We didnt heard of those odd names. Only Blackhorse, Waterman and such.
This kind of phenomon(forgot how 2 write again) is NOT new. We had always odd names, example…
Before the “invader” of North America, North Americans had such names as Small Fat head, The Pawned Beer etc.. Is just like Third Eye Blind. Its just a stupid translation into a “English/British” language.(English is from England right?)
I dont mind if they have strange names, we will laugh at first, after that we accept it. Its just like a nickname. (In ZJU im also known as The Dutch Destroyer //girls//)
Sometimes is very important to take an acceptable name. Like doing business or something like that. But if you live in West China and once a year there comes a foreigner… WHO CARES!
Are there students who call themself The Gay Playboy or Horny Big boobs? I hope not, but it wise 2 inform them. Dont force them, just tell them what are the consequenses of it.
Do is a name in The Netherlands, a cute singing girl. Foreign names has no meanings and chinese does sometimes! In my class there is one foreigner names who has “pinyin”-ed into chinese. I had to laugh because it means something like.. Your mother is a dog.
I like your enumeration of those four rules. I would add
5. You are choosing an English given name, which will then be used in concert with your Chinese surname. It’s difficult to sort out grades when three people turn in papers with only the name “Rose.” This seems to happen on those variety shows, too, introducing the Chinese hosts by their full names, and then “Jim, from USA.”
In most of my classes while I was teaching, I too found very few names that would be accepted by anyone other than Frank Zappa. I gave advice, but didn’t put my foot down for anyone other than “Hitler” (for given name vs surname reasons), and “Superdonkey” (English class, not C-S).
孙大龙: Your Wendy example is apt; however, it does have a close relationship with Gwendolyn and other Welsh derived names. Even if the students choose a made up name, there are certain sound combinations that are recognized as “name-like” and others that are not; what seems to be a block for many Chinese students is that they want their names to mean something, when names in English don’t, really, regardless of what the books say.
I have a “Shiny”, too. I wonder what they’re thinking? Trying to translate 明 perhaps?
I wish someone had talked me out of naming myself Cao Cao when I first started taking Chinese. People I know from that class still call me “Mengde”.
Morning Gu was one of my all time favourites. Had the odd monkey, and milk. Another one I can remember was meeting a ‘brain’ I asked him to spell that and he saiod ‘B-R-I-A-N’
I replied, ‘ah, Brian!’ he said, ‘no, its Brain’ I agreed with him.
I’m not in a position to tell my coworkers that their names sound stupid, but I sometimes wish I could. Culturally-insensitive or not, introducing oneself as Phantom does not make a good impression on the US-based team.
On a side note, I’ve met three different people named Cobra in Taiwan, but one was surnamed Fang. He knew (and liked) the meaning of his name, and pronounced Fang the English way when introducing himself. I’d almost be scared to tell him to change it.
Cobra Fang is great! It’s the kind of intelligent creativity I would allow.
For those who are not convinced, being a name nazi is a necessary evil. Why? As has been pointed out, a name is both a cultural thing and a vocabulary item. Taking a word out of the dictionary and using it as your English name/Chinese name is a recipe for disaster because you have failed to take into account the cultural aspect of the full range of meanings a word can have. An example: A student of mine wanted to call himself Simple, because he looked in the dictionary and liked the meaning. Should I allow that? No, because when the word simple refers to a person, it more often than not implies ‘stupid’. I can not allow one of my students to do that to himself. I forced him to change it. He chose ‘Frank’ as an alternative. Not great, but better than Simple.
What about the name dick?
I often mock my friend Hannah with that song, to t he point that she’s renamed her journal “私というハナ”.
At any rate: Another great Japanese band is GO!GO!7188, another band with an “interesting” name. Between them and つしまみれ, I’d be pressed to believe that Japanese girl music is all kickass wonderful.
First of all, I have to defend Gwyneth Paltrow’s baby daughter. Apple is such a cute name!!! I found out her baby’s name from a friend couple days ago. She was like:”I swear that Gwyneth Paltrow is so stupid that she named her daughter “Apple”. That was the dumbest thing.” Ultimately, we need to respect her choice. Maybe the word “apple” is symbolic of something imporant to the couple. paltrow ans Martin are native speakers, I believe that they didn’t choose the name because it sounds cool just like the students that you had in the past years. I agree Chinese students in China come up with weird names (My Chinese friends here didn’t make that mistake), but it’s not their fault because they don’t know the meanings of the names. I blame the weird names on the Chinese media and the celebrities. They have names like Coco, Mango, Orange, etc.
Apple, what a cute name!!!
Read the news article I linked to re: the decision to name the baby Apple. You’ll find that it was not at all “symbolic of something imporant to the couple.”
I think some Chinese students may confuse choosing a real English name with an internet name. For them, both names are fake, foreign and fab. So why not have some fun with it? Back in the dark ages before Internet, believe it or, Chinese students actually picked normal names.
While I think you may be taking the whole name thing a bit too seriously, I can certainly understand. Why not take it as an opportunity to give culture lesson and explain to the students that it is not uncommon for people to have a nickname and a “real name” used for legal puposes. A nickname usually has a story with it that usually makes it easier to remember their name, an that may have some merit.
For example, I had to have a Chinese name for a kung fu tournament in China a few years ago so my sifu gave me a “Chinese name” that I use on documents – 區大山. But my Taiwanese girlfriend of 6 months doesnt speak English and therefore has a hard time pronouncing “Brad” it always came out as “bread” which when I explained what it meant, she translated into mandarin for the folks at home and I became “mien bao”… so thats what people started calling me. So now I explain that “my name is 區大山, but people call me Mien bao”
When I was in Taipei, this girl introduced herself as Eurydice, and I believe one of her friend also has some Greek goddess name, but my all-time favorite will be Qhair. Qhair??? I don’t even know if it’s an English name.
Not conforming to standard. In matters of thought and conduct, to be independent is to be abnormal, to be abnormal is to be detested. Wherefore the lexicographer adviseth a striving toward the straiter resemblance of the Average Man than he hath to himself. Whoso attaineth thereto shall have peace, the prospect of death and the hope of Hell.
-THE DEVIL’S DICTIONARY – Ambrose Bierce
one question iq test; which does not belong: celery, lettuce, civic, lexus, captain, black sky, kangta. answer: kangta. why? because it’s not in english. if you’re going to pick an english name, DON’T NAME YOURSELF USING THE KOREAN LANGUAGE! all the others are names that some former students of mine picked out for themselves. bangs head on keyboard
just to play devil’s advocate now…
i had a student whose chinese name was a popular soda during her parents’ time. in essence, it would be like an american actually naming a daughter pepsi. there was also another student who refused to answer to any name other than the one his father gave him (even though the fortune teller gave him another name which is his legal name). now that doesn’t sound bad, but the name he preferred was shao jie (sorry no chinese characters on this computer). everyone (including teachers) would joke about how his name sounded like miss (xiao jie). so, if a student’s chinese name is odd already, why can’t their english ones be, too? just watch, in 10 years, the name apple will surpass jennifer in popularity. be happy gwyneth paltrow didn’t name her kid orange juice (oj).
something slightly constructive…
one of my name rules was that if you couldn’t pronounce it properly, it can’t be your english name. rettuce, cerery, and rexus were thus rejected.
Hey, I can agree with you to a point about this. Names have cultural overtones, and choosing them at random from a dictionary is a bad idea. However I think you may (deliberately or unwittingly) be making the issue narrower than it is. For example, for some time it was a tradition on certain English-speaking families to name their children after full verses of the bible, far weirder! Yes, they did it with the benefit of knowing the cultural import of such things, I’m just trying to say that the rules are not so set in English. Personally I think that choosing an English name is itself a rather odd thing to do. The traditional way to “absorb” a name into a language is simply transliteration, for example my own name David is now a perfectly common English name. I don’t see why Chinese people should be forced/encouraged to choose an English name, unless of course they can’t bear our horribly mangled attempts to pronounce their own.
My parents were smart when they went about naming me. I’m American-born but my parents insisted on me learning Chinese; I have like a middle school reading ability but anyway…
My name in Chinese: Mei. As in ‘mei gui’, roses. Not ‘beautiful’ or ‘plum blossom’.
My English name: May. As in the month. Pronounced the same both ways, except for a slightly different inflection. I’m covered!
My school has a lot of recent Chinese immigrants coming in, and they usually keep their pinyin Chinese name. My American teachers always end up mangling it though, so usually they come up with nicknames like “Hank” or “Robert.” My brother (immigrated over when he was 13) ended up as “Frank,” which isn’t TOO different from “Feiou”.
Apple is a dumb baby name. Gynneth Paltrow and Chris Martin deserved to be shunned by decent people. I would have given Allison as a first name and I wouldn’t have even considered giving Apple or Blythe as a name to the child. Blech to both of those putrid “names.”
Blythe is a name that comes from Middle English, and in turn from Old English bliþe (“joyous, kind, cheerful, pleasant”), and further back, from Proto-Germanic *blithiz (“gentle, kind”). Its cognates include Old Saxon bliði (“bright, happy”), Middle Dutch blide, Dutch blijde, Old Norse bliðr (“mild, gentle”), Old High German blidi (“gay, friendly”) and Gothic bleiþs (“kind, friendly, merciful”). No cognates outside the Germanic languages are known.
Also, I don’t care if this comment is over ten years late.
I think Apple is good name…
have u heard of the expression:
“apple of (one’s) eye”
e.g. her son is the apple of her eye
which means one that is treasured.
so dat’s why I think it’s neat, even though u prolly won’t change ur mind…
Lillian is confused about this subject. First of all, Gynneth Paltrow’s child is a girl. Secondly, her child’s name is being made fun of all over the internet because so many people dislike this stupid name. Just think about how the poor child will be laughed at when she goes to school (including daycare, college and/or trade school), applies for jobs, rents an apartment, gets a driver’s license or state identification card, buys a car, rents a car, obtains hunting and fishing licenses, gets a boat license, buys a boat, rents a boat, gets a private pilot’s license, buys and/or rents an airplane, gets bank accounts, applies for loans, applies for credit cards, gets a mortage, owns a business, invests in the stock market, buys insurance policies, travels, votes, runs for public office, serves on juries, goes shopping, socializes with people, etc. The child deserves a serious name for these serious activities.
Here are some of the funniest english names:
John (means toilet)
Mike (audio equipment)
Doug (what the dog did to the vegetable garden)
Russel (to make a noise in the bushes)
Bill (an unwelcome letter)
Sue (what lawyers does to other people)
Mark (a stain on your shirt)
Roger (stick something up your a***)
ALSO, if I were not catholic/christian, why would I choose a biblical name like Luke or David. Names like Gucci, Porsche, Beckham, etc. are all REAL names from REAL people – so lighten up and stop being a NAZI.
Naming oneself is an individual expression, and I personally think that if everyone could rename themselves when they were older they would choose unique names even in their native language.
I had a kid called XXX. But later he changed his name to YYY. I think he’s called ZZZ now.
“Apple” might be a grey area.
I’ve known one person called Apple, and now know of another Apple in my city.
There are common precedants for naming people after vegetation.
Consider Pansy, Daisy, Rose, Fluer, Saffron and other flower names.
Besides, surely apples are sweeter than olives? Olive itself may no longer be as popular a baby name as it was 80 years ago in the English speaking world,
But Olivia isn’t unusual.
Surely, naming a child after an artifact of nature is more orthodox than taking a name of a cartoon character.
I would gamble that in the majority of written histories, this precedant will be displayed.
I am named after a colour, for example.
The colour after which I am named is, I understand, indigo. And I know someone called Indigo,
Although, off the top of my head I can’t think of may plant-food names, I can think of other names taken from natural phenomena.
Rain, Amythest, Meadow, Marlowe ( a drained lake), etc.
I think that the not-uncommon name “Nana” in Japanese culture also means apple.
And, then there are English names derived from other languages, that also refer to natural phenomena.
Mary means ocean, Glen means a valley.
As for “Shiny”, ther e are names in English that bear that meaning.
It is a possibl e meaning for Clair and Clara.
Bright is also an English name. More common as a surname.
Helen, a greek name, common in english means shiny.
As does Bert, an old german word. This word forms a part of some other english names too, like Gilbert.
I have a family member called Lucien. His name is considered acceptable in english. It is an old latin word that can be translated as “shiny”.
Liz – I find a delicious irony in your quote (of one of my favourite english-speaking writers), in that, were he to be young in todays world, his name would cost him some derision.
I don’t think kids with unusual names will be teased nearly as much these days as they used to… because unusual names are becoming less unusual. In my daughter’s class, there is a Zen, a Saffron, and a Daisy, I know someone with a daughter named Raven, someone else with a daughter named Holly Mouse, and a kid called Zack.
In Victorian times, Lettuce was a proper girls’ name, which would meet with some derision nowadays.
By all means gently steer students away from things like ‘gas chamber’ if they picked it for the sound without knowing that the meaning could be offensive, but on the whole, if someone wants a name that isn’t on your list of words that are usually names, then it isn’t really anyone else’s business.
Names become names by being used as names… there are very few names that didn’t start out as a word that wasn’t a name.
I see your point, but I really don’t think the English-speaking world is going to embrace any names that started out as jokes by some Chinese kids in English class.
Is Apple such a stupid name? then you haven’t been to the Philippines, considered to be one of the largest english-speaking countries, though not native speakers. You’ll met not only Apple but Apple Pie, Peach, Cherry, Cherry Pie, Strawberry, Orange, Sweet, Coco, Bamboo, Jam. There’s Tuesday, Friday, April, May, June, July, August, September. Haven’t met a Sniper or an Undertaker yet though. Most Chinese names are derived or refered from something so their names must have meanings. It’s just natural for them to choose English names that have meanings too. Who could resist English words or group of words that sound cool and express one’s individuality?
As for Gwenyth Paltrow, I think she’s kind of trailblazing.
if your teaching in foriegn country to people of a different culture, do you really believe that you know anything about the value of a name? is it really a foreign teacher’s place to decide that students should change their names because it bothers you? Have you ever heard of an american waitress refusing service to a customer because of a weird name? Honestly where do you “teachers” get off criticizing and demanding name changes to people? That is one of the most ethnocentric things I have ever heard.
Well, I understand his views on the name thing; Myself being named after my great-grandmother am really sensitive about my name.. personally I’d prefer a name like Mary, Heather..etc. But instead I was given a name passed down through my people [ I am native american (indian)] my name is long and difficult to pronounce and alot of times made fun of.. and I do mean alot.. its ryhmed with noodle, poodle..etc.. [ I won’t give out my full name. ]
But yes, people do need to be sensitive in what they name thier children. Not every child, or grown up for that matter have manners. Look at yourself in the mirror sometime and think about a time when an idiot made fun of your name or someone who is close to you’s name. Alot of people are dicks, I give a bravo to the
Tah [pronounced Ty]
Name nazism is necessary (love alliteration). However, it should be restricted a little. Apple is odd, and possibly somewhat cruel but not if they choose it themselves. There is a lot to be said for warning people that if they introduce themselves as Gas Chamber Zhang, they’ll get no respect in the West, even if they’re in a non-English speaking place (especially Israel…). Outside of China, the phenomenon is pretty non-existant. I haven’t met any Lexuses (yes Alexis though).
I used to call myself 小龙 until I found out every second Westerner called themselves that because of Bruce Lee. Then I changed it to a straight transcription of my name, and I was told that it wasn’t a Chinese name, just a transcription. I’ve finally settled on 马威麟 which is a compromise – not just a transcription but similar enough.
English has enough dodgy names as it is, without adding to the problem…
Good post, lol.
My favorite is when I was in Shanghai, I met a guy who had the Enlgish name “Scottie Pippen”
Although I can’t really talk, given that I have a pretty unusual name, some Chinese English names are way too ridiculous – I have heard God, James Bond, Rumsfeld (!) and Shiftenrainy (???) among others. The worry is when you get used to it and say things like “hi Powerman, how’s it going?” without a second thought.
I have to say though that my favourite Chinese English name that I have run into is Cappuccino. I think this one is a real trail-blazer and definitely a possible celebrity baby name to watch out for in the future.
But it’s true that it’s not only non-English speakers that come up with unusual names – I heard recently that there were around half a dozen kids in the UK called Arsenal, and brand names like Skyy and Lexus are becoming more common.
I am currently fighting this issue with the 5 star hotel I work in (in China) as an English teacher to the staff. They require all staff members to choose English names but have not cared whether the name they choose is ACTUALLY an English name or not. I think our guests won’t take our hotel seriously if we have staff with stupid English names, and I’ve told them that. I’m printing off your post to help persuade them, because you have a lot of really good points and hopefully they will realise I’m not the only name nazi in the world. Thanks!
Dear Young Communist.
In The UK, incase you forgot, and it used to be the same in the US until they ruined the constitution, we have a concept of FREEDOM. That’s means you can have any name you like. It is up to you if it causes you grief or not. Frank Zappa had 4 childred named, Dweezil, Moon unit, Ahmet and Deva, I hope you also explain that in England it is considered a sign of CREATIVITY and FREEDOM a More Interesting name.
Kids choose wacky names because they are still FREE, Don’t try to program them kids, You Are STIFLING CREATIVITY.
samuel Nelson Dale
Dear samuel Nelson Dale,
Yeah, I suppose I can respect that opinion.
But only because you have a normal name.
You’re absolutely right.
We’ve got our share of ridiculous names (selected by Chinese) over here in Canada. Off the top of my head, I’ve come across – Sunshine, Juicy, Treasure, Rocker, President, Lion and others. These names are meaningless as proper first names over here. Although I understand they may be a translation of their Chinese names. But, it is a sure way to be laughed at and ridiculed.
Although most Canadians and North Americans for that matter, don’t mind interesting names, but adjectives that are used as names just don’t cut it.
One of the lighter moments I’ve had over here was to suggest to a new person from China to select an anglo name to compliment his Chinese name of DUNG Heep… which probably saved him years of embarassment.
Great blog you have here, btw.
Trivia: name the Korean ball player who has never win a game.
Answer: “Soon Win One” or “Win One Soon” in the western style.
What is Bob Hope’s real first name? Leslie. he changed it to Bob becasue he was accustomed to introduce himself with last name first, and then his first name. He didn’t want to be known as Hope, Leslie. And who can forget Johnny Cash’s classic “A boy name sue”?
Native Americans named their children on events or objects that they saw, so they have “running bear”, “crazy horse”, who are we to laugh at people’s name? I once attended a weeding between a “frying pan” and “white buffalo”. No one was laughing or asking what’s cooking. My frined’s named his son Nixon. She named him Nixon after the impeachment. Apple is not that crazy when you considered that there are people named Cherry. If Cherry is okay, why not apples and grapes? Did you know that there are people named after the months? We all know people named April, May and June. I knew people named January, August and December as well. It shouldn’t be that strange, afterall, the name of the months were named after people to begin with! Jesus (pronounced as HeySuse) is the most popular name in the Spansih world. Vancouver was named after Captain Vancouver (from England), Alberta is named after Princess Alberta. In the great big melting pot of multi-culturalism in this moerden age, a name is just that: a name. Why a Chinese person needs an English name in China is beyond me. I can understand a Chinese person taking an English name in England and a Westerner adopt a Chinese name in China. That’s called RESPECT. When in Rome, do what the Roman’s do. The other way around just doesn’t make sense. Imagine, going to Texas and check into a hotel and greeted by a staff with the name 小龙 and all the staff there have only Chiense names, but none of them are Chinese!
By the way, is “Chris” a guy’s name or a gal’s name? Stop stereotype!
I’m pretty much the opposite in that, having classes of 65+ students, the ones with the stupidest names I usually remember.
I had one class with Bush and Bin Laden.
I liked that class….
On the other hand, names they make up themselves like Ouliantriofe or some other nonsense, annoy me, especially when they have their own pronunciation that doesnt in anyway fit how they write it. I have had more than a few of those.
“Just as Chinese people would never choose a name like 孙悟空 (…) for their babies”
they won’t name their babies like this, but it could be a nickname. Like they gave me! 🙂 Although i think it is a too popular character to get a name from, it sounds good (same reason the chinese pick or get their names) AND it has some meaning AND it was given by sincere friends because of some physical and personality characteristics . To be precise I have to add though that nobody uses the ‘sun’, so its just wu kong. I also like the litteral meaning, although i must humbly say i am nowhere near it.
what i want to say is that there is a difference between a given, official name and a nickname. How many chinese people are called big nose, big ass, big head, old black one, curly hair, even bao zi…? Millions, not by their parents, but by as good as everybody else. Many people in the west are given nicknames based on appearance or personality, although not as explicit as chinese in my experience. Chinese people don’t need a given name, they allready have one. If they want to be called heaven, ferrari, sky, money, why not? I think however a nickname in most cases should be given by your peers and not picked by the persion it is given to.
I DO agree that some names are inappropriate, culturally or for reasons of stupidity, like WC (yes, double U see), Adolf Hitler, shit, … But we have to be open-minded. Especially if they can explain why they have this name in stead of just picked it from a dictionary. It’s up to the bearer of the name to decide wether he likes it or not, after being informed of the possible connotations.
Finally I would like to add that everybody is talking about english names. You should broaden the term to western or even just foreign names. One of my best friends is called Flup (actually Flupke but they can’t pronounce that :), an ancient belgian comic book character he resembles), another Sonia (which is more French or something than english i would say).
I have noticed in the past 3 years that the students who pick the strangest names are also the students who don’t take their English study very seriously. A ridiculous name means that they think foreign language study is ridiculous. Surely this is not always the case but more often than not it is.
This is such a sensitive issue for people. A name is very personal. I like John’s term ‘name vocabulary’. I challenge my students with one rule. Who is the world has that name? LeBron James can come to my class because that is a real name. Pim-Pim can come to my class because he is a Swedish tennis star. There is great diversity in the English speaking world and some beautiful names start out as odd. Gwenyth Paltrow can name her baby Apple because she is an artist and artists have a license to be eccentric. But Banana is now Jim because in some circles banana is a derogatory.
We are teaching students so they are prepared for a world where language and culture skills matter. My experience has taught me that cultural literacy can actually open more doors than language fluency.
Ben C brings up a good point re: adopting a Chinese name when in China. I’m still wondering whether or not to adopt a Chinese name when the time comes. I’m leaning towards not, because my girlfriend seems to giggle uncontrollably with every suggestion she makes.
Probably I’ll go by something a tad easier to pronounce than “Emanuel” or “Manny”, though.
Ina is a common name in Germany.
I went as a guest to an English language club in northern China. All of the students had somewhat advanced English skills, but there was a girl, who I kid you not, had chosen the name Crloline. When I tried to suggest Caroline or something of that nature, she insisted that it was Crloline. Informing her that I as a native speaker cannot even pronounce this word did not phase her.
Gonna have to side with John on this one.
I have a Chinese friend who was being hassled by the local police in transit in a Gulf state. Told to write down her name, she put “不是我”
I just recently started to learn Chinese and get familiar with Chinese culture, so you can imagine my culture shock when I came across Vaness Wu, who is a MALE model (quite handsome).
Maybe no one ever told him he has a woman’s name? And then there’s actress Kingdom Yuen.
Oh and my favourite: Casanova Wong.
Nomen est omen….
I’m reminded of an episode of Seinfeld, where Jerry, in an attempt to find out the name of a woman he was dating, mentions that his name was made fun of in school (Jerry, Jerry, dingle-berry), and the woman’s name rhymed with a part of the female anatomy (Dolores – clitoris).
[…] while I can’t say I like this name (the Name Nazi in me still insists that it’s not a real name), I get it now, and I have a newfound appreciation […]