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Since there are many characters that share a common pronunciation and sometimes also the same tone, how do we properly choose which character best represents our name? Is it totally arbitrary or are there some rules?

For example, my name is Alessandro. Do I simply choose the characters that resemble the most my name's syllables or the characters that represent things I like? I mean, choosing something that means "victory" over "building"1?

Edit: Note that this question is not about my name, I just took it as an example, and I'm certainly not asking you to make my name.

I'm asking if, when making a Chinese name for non-Chinese people, we can choose what we want according to the reading or if we need to follow certain rules, and if so, what are these rules.


1: The character for victory might differ from the one from building, it was just a banal example to make the point. :)

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Is this really on-topic? This is subjective, and you could get 100 different responses. Maybe try google.com/search?q=chinese+name+generator –  Cocowalla Dec 15 '11 at 13:57
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@Cocowalla First, I don't understand the downvote, which means this is a "bad" question. Off topic questions aren't necessarily "bad". But apart from that, it's not subjective. I wasn't asking to make my name in chinese, but if there are rules to make it or if we simply choose what we want. The answers can be two: "It's arbitrary" or "No, there are rules". How is that subjective? –  Alenanno Dec 15 '11 at 13:59
    
I edited my question to make it clear that I'm not asking about my name, which was the same as before, but now it's clearer. –  Alenanno Dec 15 '11 at 14:05
    
OK, seems better to me with that edit. More like you are asking about general rules or guidelines, rather than asking for how to choose a name for yourself –  Cocowalla Dec 15 '11 at 14:06
    
It was probably bad phrased in that part, but see my title. I wasn't asking for that, I was asking for the (possible) rules to follow. :) Hopefully the edit clears it all now. –  Alenanno Dec 15 '11 at 14:08

8 Answers 8

up vote 13 down vote accepted

It's your name and you can arbitrarily pick characters to be your name.

We Chinese generally select characters with positive meanings (of course, I think characters with negative meanings would not be the choice for most people) and avoid possible bad meanings from the words with the same or similar pronunciation with the name.

For example, it's common to see characters like 刚(rigid), 强 (strong), 杰(excellent), 明 (bright), 阳(sun), 洋 (ocean) in a man's name, and 艳 (beautiful, brilliant), 卉 (flowers), 丽 (beautiful), 芳 (fragrance), 静 (quiet) in a woman's name.

Also, some people, will name their offspring after related characters. A good example is the name of the famous poet and politician in Song dynasty, 苏轼; his brother's name is 苏辙. "轼" is the rail on a wagon and "辙" is the track a wagon leaves on the road.

Some people will also select words from classic Chinese books to be the name. trideceth12 shows the name "云龙"; I am not sure whether he takes this word occasionally or not, but this word really comes from the book of "Yì Jīng"(易经),"云从龙,风从虎".

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Thank you Huang. :) –  Alenanno Dec 21 '11 at 18:31
    
@Alenanno That's my pleasure :) –  Huang Dec 22 '11 at 4:12
    
@Huang: sorry for the off-topic, but can you name your children in China with any character you want? or are there certain characters allowed for names? (China, Taiwan or whatever place you know of) –  Petruza Jan 10 '12 at 19:54
    
@Petruza theoretically, as the father or mother ,you can select any character as the given name to your child,but you will negotiate with your family members usually and select characters with positive meanings. By law,when the child grows up,he can decide what his name should be,even his family name should be,though he won't change the family name in most cases.This topic is a little big,you can continue it in the cha he you want. –  Huang Jan 10 '12 at 23:18
    
@Petruza, to add to Huang's comment, I read that today names are limited to what can be input on the computer. This is because ID cards now are printed digitally so if the official cannot type your characters, they will ask you to change your name. Here's an article about it: "Name Not on Our List? Change It, China Says" - nytimes.com/2009/04/21/world/asia/21china.html –  this.lau_ Jan 15 '12 at 5:56

I just made my personal name up and chose a Chinese family name (天) that was a syllable contained in my last name (Sebastian).

My "made up" personal name (云龙) is a modified version of the name of a famous monk (虚云) I didn't want to copy his name directly out of respect.

I figured that seeing as so many Chinese people come here (Australia) and select a personal name arbitrarily, I could do the same :)

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You can choose your chinese name by its original meaning or just by how it sounds.

I know people named Alessandro and he picks 三多 as his chinese name, which come from a famous chinese TV series 《士兵突击》. 三多 sounds like a part of Alessandro and regular chinese given name is only one or two characters.

Picking name by meaning like 胜利 to victory isn't bad idea. However, take your name for example, 胜利 often used by people older than 40. And the same with 建设 to building.

One more thing you should consider is your family name. No matter how beautiful your chosen for your given name, a bad picked family name in Chinese could make your whole name sound weird or funny.

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There are a few ways to look at this.

There are some names that are translated so commonly, that people will easily guess your English name (or Spanish name) from your Chinese name. For example, 马克 is Mark, not just because it sounds similar, but also because there is precedent for it. It's similar to translating Jacques in French to Jack in English.

I have a Chinese friend who doesn't like this approach. He recommends picking a name that is more meaningful to you personally, especially since most native Chinese names have double meaning as well. He recommended picking names based on famous Chinese people.

To flip the situation around, consider Chinese people that adopt an English name. Sometimes they transliterate the names, and sometimes they pick names of famous people. I met a Chinese man who's English name was Tracy, because he likes Tracy McGrady. I met a woman who's English name was "rabbit", because she likes rabbits!

All in all, it's probably a personal decision, and it depends partly on what your Chinese name will be used for.

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Tones

Unless the name has a really old and/or well-known phonetic translation, a "safe" rule seems to be to pick characters pronounced in the 1st tone. This is particularly true for names that are either long, uncommon, or otherwise tongue-twisting (as far as Chinese speakers are concerned anyway).

Male vs Female

Certain characters convey masculinity (e.g.: 雄) whereas others convey femininity (e.g.: 娜, and pretty much any character that bears the 女 radical on the left, and there are more). The rest are neutral. So you need to be careful.

Regional rules

Another rule that is commonly used in Hong Kong (and maybe in Macau and Taiwan), is to abandon a close phonetic translation altogether, and instead come up with a 2- to 4-character full name that has some phonetic elements of the original name, skipping syllables as necessary/appropriate, while looking very much like a regular Han Chinese name (1- or 2-character surname , plus 1- or 2-character given name). This is particularly true for people who work in the government or is otherwise a public figure (actor/actress/businessman/businesswoman). 盛智文 (Allan Zeman, the guy behind Hong Kong's Lan Kwai Fong and Ocean Park) is one such example.

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We may sort chinese name into the situations as follow:

-1.Contain elements from nature scenery or living beings----------------------------mainly for female


ex:

last name+ 桃(peach, recline to its flower meaning)

          云(cloud)
          天(sky) 
          梅(plum)
          莺(warbler) 

Kind of old-fashioned, almost every woman in early 70s 80s has a name like this, otherwise they will name after traditional criteria for women like 淑(elegant) 珍(self-dignified),

- 2.contain elements from masculine descriptive adjective or noun or verb------------------mainly for male


ex: last name+ 刚(tough)

       建(constructive) 
       国(patriotic)
       勇(brave) 
       壮(strong)

Generally speaking, chinese name are attached the best wish form it's parents to their children. In a nutshell, make a woman woman,or a manly man. at least, a moral citizen.

But in contemporary society, you can name after a celebrity or a buzzword from internet only if you want. We don't chose name from a bible story, so on the opposite, nomenclature has departed from the old age, it's no more bind now.

- 3.Name is indeed a picturesque portray of this person.


Using phonetically translated western name is okay, it save much problems. however, if you want to be different, just build your name like draw a picture fearlessly.

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The best source I found was coworkers or peers at partner companies. If you need a name for a professional context that is probably the safest way to go.

Of course, you will want to shop around any name you get to a few different people to make sure they didn't give you a weird name that they liked (this happened when I asked a friend's mom to help me with a name).

In the end we settled on a name that was sounded similar to my last and middle name, but had a meaning of a mythological Chinese figure that had a meaning that was appropriate for my job. When Chinese people would read the name they would be surprised and impressed that I had picked a name like that.

Also, you should keep in mind that there can be different meanings of different words based on the dialect that is being spoken. My last name can be commonly translated into one character in Hong Kong, but it could be interpreted as "I am not." This causes some situations with Shanghais where the same character means "I am." So people from Shanghai will have this word and then something they want to be known for (e.g. "I am smart" or "I am beautiful"). In Hong Kong it means the opposite (e.g. "I am not smart" or "I am not beautiful").

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For translating foreign name based on pronunciation, there is a rule, which may be different for mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. You can find some celebrity with the same name, looking it in wikipedia and change it to Chinese version.

It will be much difficult if you want to choose a Chinese name, not a translation. Choosing name is an art. It is a tough job even for Chinese parents. Your name reflects how well-educated are your parents. And some choice will be unfortunate if sounds like others. For example 甘礼良, which are both very positive characters, however sounds offensive.

Some very elegant choice in my own opinion are, 陆克文 (Kevin Rudd), 卜道維 (David Brown). Since 陆 and 卜 are actual last name in Chinese, and there first name sounds like their english name. Especially 道維 instead of translation 大卫 is a very sophisticated choice, which can only be come up with by someone knows Chinese very well.

So if you want a brand new Chinese name instead of literal translation, you should first looking your last name, which should also be a actual last name in Chinese. Do the same for fist name, which should be two characters. Both should be at least non-negative meaning, and try to avoid those with too much or too obvious positive meaning, such as 好/强/帅 etc.

It will never go wrong if you can refer to well-educated historical Chinese figure. For example, characters from names of poet in Tang dynasty or wealthy people last century.

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