I need some help from native speakers who can provide critique of the following practice.

Imagine that someone is called Martin Schneider (fictional example) and is the head of the China department at the ministry of foreign affairs of a European country. As he is regularly contacted by Chinese partners, and v.v., he decides to adopt a Chinese name and picks 马丁, which is just a rendering of his first name Martin with common "transliteration" characters.

While 马丁 is, of course, obviously foreign sounding, it is still a "valid" Chinese name (姓名) since it consists of a valid surname (马) and one other character suggesting a given name part (名).

The question is: Is it stylistically appropriate for someone, especially in a high-ranking diplomatic position, to basically use his first name as his (full) Chinese name? Imagine if Martin Schneider/马丁 meets the Chinese ambassador who is 吴XX. The latter will be referred to as 吴大使 (Ambassador Wu), but won't the ambassador have a strange feeling referring to the host country's diplomat as 马丁先生 (lit. Mr. Martin), especially if he (undoubtedly) understands some English (or another European language), and knows that he's using the host diplomat's first name.

The general reason I ask is because I see this phenomenon of 'first name as Chinese name' among a lot of China focused journalists, "China experts", etc. The more concrete reason is that I need to assess the competence of an actual head of China Dept. in a European country (who is, of course, not named Martin Schneider or 马丁, but follows this 'first name as Chinese name' practice.)

I understand that some Western names (first + last name) are hard to render in Chinese because of complex consonant clusters, and a transliteration like 马丁·施耐德 is neither very imaginative nor easy to type, remember, etc. for a Chinese native speaker. But I find it bizarre for someone to just go by his/her first name as a diplomat.

Note: I understand that this question can't be answered in an exact way, please suggest edits, or other possible ways to find a solution.

  • As others have explained to you, Chinese used to NOT give out first-names. In fact, back in the old days, famous people often have alternate names (not pseudonyms), In fact, the list is so long, I'm not listing them here.. Addressing people by first name is a VERY recent practice, and still frowned upon. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_name#Alternative_names Commented Jul 5, 2020 at 2:51
  • Sorry, but the question was not about Chinese native first name practices, but about foreigners using their first names as a basis for adopting Chinese names.
    – imrek
    Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 13:43
  • The point is it just isn't done. Commented Jul 13, 2020 at 20:38

2 Answers 2


first name as Chinese name' practice

imo, it’s unacceptable. name is extremely important in chinese culture, a good one helps in every aspects in life.

because, the practice of transliteration one’s first name as chinese full name; most of the time, cannot generate a good enough chinese name.

the proper way is: first, transliterates the initial of a surname, then add characters semantically, to compose a good one (according to chinese culture).

example 1:

Bonnie S. Glaser, her chinese name is 葛來儀.

葛 - in cantonese, it’s got3; which preserve the initial of glaser

儀 - it sounds similar to “ie” in bonnie

來 - derived from the idiom “有鳳來儀” (roughly, a phoenix comes with grace to rest)

bingo, “來儀” as a given name is, strongly connected to phoenix (a female legendary creature), and 葛 is a common chinese surname.

every time i read this name in the news, i would salute to the guy who choose it 👍

example 2:

the last governor of hong kong, chris pattern 彭定康

彭 - again, in cantonese, paang preserves the initial p of pattern

定 - ding6, derived from t of tern —> d (aspirated alveolar t —-> unaspirated alveolar d)

康 - means “ease; vigour; health; peace; repose; well-being” in chinese

this name is quite good, imo. actually, most chinese name of the governors of hong kong are good, if not excellent.

find it bizarre for someone to just go by his/her first name as a diplomat.

absolutely. any high ranking officials should have a good chinese name, if they need to “deal” with . . . 😎

some Western names (first + last name) are hard to render in Chinese because of complex consonant clusters

use cantonese, which has more initial, final & tone than mandarin; that it’s more likely you can find a suitable syllable

have fun :)

  • 1
    I upvoted because this is a useful answer, however I'm not sure the suggestion of using Cantonese is sensible advice in general, especially if the person acquiring a Chinese name has frequent contacts with Mandarin speakers. They would still pronounce the name in Mandarin, with possibly more awkward results
    – blackgreen
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 20:45
  • You do know phoenix can be male too, right? 陸小鳳 and 苗人鳳 are both males. Not to mention the famous 鳳雛
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 20:56

first name as Chinese name' practice

A foreigner can choose a Chinese name solely based on his first or last name, which is his right to do so.

However, the first name in English will still be treated as a first name in Chinese; the last name in English will still be treated as a last name in Chinese.

For example: The last name Armstrong is transliterated as 岩士唐 in Cantonese. But we won't call him, 岩先生, it will always be 岩士唐先生. (Google the characters in 岩士唐, they are all good words)

Therefore, it is better to pick a Chinese name base on your last name for official functions

Our Prime minister's name is Justin Trudeau and it is transliterated as 賈斯汀·特魯多.

Officially we always address him as 特魯多總理, never 賈斯汀總理

you can call him 賈斯汀, only if you were his friend.

some Western names (first + last name) are hard to render in Chinese because of complex consonant clusters

In this case, one can just shorten it. For example, MacCormack is transliterated as 麥克科馬克. If he finds so many syllables in his name make it difficult to pronounce, he can just call himself 麥科馬

For a simple name with a simple meaning, use direct translation is also a common practice, e.g. 'Stone'--> '石'; 'White' -->'白', but it is not as formal as the transliterated versions: 'Stone'-->'史東'; White' -->'韋爾'

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