Chinese business persons often have a different given name in English than in Chinese. For example, Tencent founder Ma Huateng is internationally known as Pony Ma while his co-founder Zhang Zhidong is known as Tony Zhang. I have seen the same phenomenon in actors from Hong Kong (e.g. Jackie Chan).

Is there a system to (some of) these "translations"? Does a specific Chinese given name have a specific English corresponding given name? Or are they completely made up, and by whom?


There's no system; English names can be chosen essentially randomly, and the reasoning (if any) behind the choice may not be obvious unless the person explicitly tells the backstory behind the name.

  • Ma Huateng's (馬化騰) name Pony comes from the Chinese practice of adding the prefix 小 in front of the family name to indicate informality or affection for young people as the addressee, which becomes 小馬 (Xiǎo Mǎ), as 馬 () is his last name. 小馬, as a Chinese word, literally means Pony.
  • Zhang Zhidong's (張志東) name Tony doesn't seem to be explicitly explained, although one can infer that it might have been chosen for one or more of the following reasons:
    • Tony sounds similar to 東 (Dōng), the last character of his first name;
    • Tony was chosen to rhyme with Pony.
  • Jackie Chan's name came about because he worked under a construction worker named Jack; he was known as Little Jack due to his apprentice role, which later changed to Jackie.
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