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Why do lots of Chinese have an english first name?

Darya Akbari
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Joined: Aug 21, 2004
Posts: 1855
Hi all,

I think for a while how it comes that a great number of chinese do have an english first name.

Ok, I know about Hong Kong and Taiwan. But what are the historic roots that the chinese suddenly start to give their children english first names.

Can someone give me some more background?

Regards,
Darya


SCJP, SCJD, SCWCD, SCBCD
Damien Howard
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Joined: Apr 01, 2003
Posts: 456
For some it is part of assimilation with Western culture
For some it is to make their lives easier in an English langauge dominated world since English speakers can have a tough time pronouncing non-English names.
For some, they don't give English names, they are assigned or chosen names when they enter an English context.
I have a friend who does not have an English name, but he uses one when dealing with non-Chinese. He has used it in so much of his life he might as well have it become part of his official name.
For some it is just because the name they happen to like is English.
Lastly, for some it is just because they felt like it, no basis whatsoever.

Oh, and it is not just Chinese that do this it happens in all cultures that interact with other cultures.
[ June 17, 2005: Message edited by: Damien Howard ]
Darya Akbari
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Joined: Aug 21, 2004
Posts: 1855
Hi Damien,

yes I understand what you mean.

I myself have iranian and afghan friends who came from Iran and Afghanistan to Germany and stood here for 10-15 years. During that time they kept their original names. But when they left for the United States to join their families my iranian friend Mehran suddenly became Mike and my afghan friend Qassem suddenly became Mark. I called both traitors from that moment .

And, even my iranian wife in germany has such a name that she got a nick name from her colleagues and suddenly Mehrak became Mia. By the way I also call her a traitor .

But in the case of the chinese I think there was a big bang or special moment in time when they suddenly started to adapt for english first names. There must be historical date and a story behind this issue and I appreciate any hint in this direction.

Any hints ?

Regards,
Darya
[ June 17, 2005: Message edited by: Darya Akbari ]
peter wooster
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Joined: Jun 13, 2004
Posts: 1033
It may be that newcomers to North America like to adopt English names, or it may be due to English predudice. My ex-mother-in-law's real name was Anna Mihichuck, but she used Ann Mitchel. Her sister remained Olga Mihichuck, so it's often a matter of personal choice. Anna's children never learned Ukrainian, but Olga's children did.

If you go back far enough you will find Padraig becoming Patrick and Seamus becoming James among my Irish ancestors.

Recently there has been a revival of the use of Celtic and African names, it's only a matter of time until the same happens to Chinese and Iranian names.

In the end, your name is what your friends and collegues call you, if I went to China or Iran, I wouldn't be surprised if my name got modified.

Does Max have any comments on this topic???
Roger Johnson
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Joined: Feb 24, 2004
Posts: 311
i have no idea what you are talking about. let us not waste time, could you clarify what you are talking about?

what (?), who (Chinese), where (?), when (recently?), Why (?) and How (?)

Originally posted by Darya Akbari:
Hi all,

I think for a while how it comes that a great number of chinese do have an english first name.

Ok, I know about Hong Kong and Taiwan. But what are the historic roots that the chinese suddenly start to give their children english first names.

Can someone give me some more background?

Regards,
Darya

[ June 21, 2005: Message edited by: Jim Yingst ]
peter wooster
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Joined: Jun 13, 2004
Posts: 1033
Originally posted by Roger Johnson:
i have no idea what you are talking about. let us not waste time, could you clarify what you are talking about?

what (?), who (Chinese), where (?), when (recently?), Why (?) and How (?)

to make a nuclear bomb, you better be more logical



Please clarify your reply. The OP seemed quite clear to the rest of us.
Roger Johnson
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Joined: Feb 24, 2004
Posts: 311
Originally posted by peter wooster:


Please clarify your reply. The OP seemed quite clear to the rest of us.


really?

i know he is talking about chinese, but where? in the US? in germany? in china? location makes big difference.

what kind of chinese? US citizen? chinese citizen? to register a new born in the US, you got to have a English name.

too much information is needed.
John Dunn
slicker
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Joined: Jan 30, 2003
Posts: 1108
If ever I go to China, I too will take on a more ethnic sounding name.

How 'bout Long Dong, or Gung Ho, or Sum Dum Fuk?

I see nothing wrong with this practice.


"No one appreciates the very special genius of your conversation as the dog does."
soumya ravindranath
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Joined: Jan 26, 2001
Posts: 300
Originally posted by Roger Johnson:


to register a new born in the US, you got to have a English name.

too much information is needed.


Every Indian that I know, living in the USA have children born and brought up there with modern to very traditional Indian names with no connection to English whatsoever.
Axel Janssen
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Joined: Jan 08, 2001
Posts: 2164
It was and maybe still is very common among all immigrants to the United States. Its also common for the family members who remained in the country of origin to call them traitors.
My grandpa never understood why his brothers switched their names from Janßen to Jansen. At least they should have used Janssen, which is closer to our original name.
I remember my mother sometimes getting upset when my father used Janssen in hotels of foreign countries. She just did not know how much trouble such non-Ascii characters could create in computer systems.
I am a traitor, too, because I don't use Janßen in an international context.
In Chile they often spell the name like what they think it would be spelled in the names presumed country of origin. I know a woman with first name Johanna. Its german spelling, though her family isn't from Germany. Spanish speaking people pronounce the name like Joana, which is clearly very different from the spelling.
[ June 18, 2005: Message edited by: Axel Janssen ]
Jeroen Wenting
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Joined: Oct 12, 2000
Posts: 5093
A major reason may be that their real given names are impossible to pronounce for native English speakers.
I've the same problem myself


42
Peter Sin
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Joined: Jan 13, 2005
Posts: 547
English name just likes a nick name in the English-speaking Chinese society. This is a tradition from long time ago. Maybe the colonist forced Chinese people to do so. But this cannot be verified.
Darya Akbari
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Joined: Aug 21, 2004
Posts: 1855
Thanks for your replies and your personal experiences with names. I think we all like them to read. I like to add that in the former Soviet republics they changed my family name Said-Akbari to Saidov-Akbarov and interestingly people kept their names after independence since this were their names from birth on. Why it came this way in the former Soviet republics is completely explainable to me.

Concerning the chinese with english first names I would like to get more information on it.

One could use an english first name just as a nick name. In Iran it's custom that one get a religious first name from their parents and is called by a name from the pre-islamic era of Iran. However in their documents they have to use their real given name.

So their is a difference between your official name and your nick name or your own chosen name.

What I talk about is that lots of chinese, like here at JavaRanch, do have an official given english first name. So that is different from a nick name.

And my question remain, what is the historic explanation for it. I don't think that it suddenly happened. I for example doubt that chinese from the republic of china carry english first names. I could understand when chinese from Hong Kong born under british rule carry english names.

So where are the chinese here to attend this thread

Regards,
Darya
[ June 18, 2005: Message edited by: Darya Akbari ]
John Dunn
slicker
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Joined: Jan 30, 2003
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So where are the chinese here to attend this thread
Maybe they are here...
Anand Prabhu
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Joined: Dec 19, 2003
Posts: 299
Originally posted by soumya ravindranath:


Every Indian that I know, living in the USA have children born and brought up there with modern to very traditional Indian names with no connection to English whatsoever.


Pretty difference experience on my end. Some Indians(Hindus) I met named their children like Alyssa, Sarina, Neil, etc. And some Indians do change their first names to Western ones at least in the workplace for better integration or comfort. Some people I know have their names changed as : Harish to Harry, Devdas to Dave, Jyothi to Judi, Samir to Sam, Makrand to Macky, Suchitra to Sue etc. However they are a small percentage.
Darya Akbari
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Joined: Aug 21, 2004
Posts: 1855
Ok, here an example of two great authors we have here at the JavaRanch.

The first is Max Habibi the author of The Sun Certified Java Developer Exam with J2SE 1.4

The other is Henry Wong the author of Java Threads

Now compare both books' cover page . Max becomes again Mehran and Henry remains Henry.

I think that Max's official name in all his official documents is Mehran as it was his given name by birth.

And I think Henry doesn't use a nick name here, he uses his real name Henry in all his official documents as it was his given by birth too.

All best wishes to both of them

Regards,
Darya
Peter Sin
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Joined: Jan 13, 2005
Posts: 547
Originally posted by Darya Akbari:


And I think Henry doesn't use a nick name here, he uses his real name Henry in all his official documents as it was his given by birth too.

Regards,
Darya


Is Henry a nick name of 'Henry Wong' ? It is difficult to say. If he was born in western countries, it is likely that his parent give him an English first name instead of Chinese first name.
Frank Silbermann
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Joined: Jun 06, 2002
Posts: 1387
Maybe if a westerner tries to pronounce a Chinese name, a Chinese person hearing it thinks "I wonder what Chinese name he is trying to pronounce? I can think of half a dozen possibilities."

So Chinese people give themselves western names so that when a westerner pronounces them, Chinese listeners can distinguish which person he's referring to.

By the way, I've heard it's not true that Chinese people name babies by dropping the silverware on the floor and listening to the sounds that result. The Chinese traditionally use chopsticks, not silverware, and these would make completely different sounds.
Kishore Dandu
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Joined: Jul 10, 2001
Posts: 1934
Originally posted by Anand Prabhu:


Pretty difference experience on my end. Some Indians(Hindus) I met named their children like Alyssa, Sarina, Neil, etc. And some Indians do change their first names to Western ones at least in the workplace for better integration or comfort. Some people I know have their names changed as : Harish to Harry, Devdas to Dave, Jyothi to Judi, Samir to Sam, Makrand to Macky, Suchitra to Sue etc. However they are a small percentage.


I have seen these first name changes in Indians who are in consulting business(placing their employees at a customer).

Very less percentage of other techno-indians ever changed their first names in my personal experience(at least in dallas area).


Kishore
SCJP, blog
Dave Lenton
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Joined: Jan 20, 2005
Posts: 1241
Originally posted by Roger Johnson:
to register a new born in the US, you got to have a English name.


Really? How strange. What on earth could be a good reason for that in a country which prides itself on the "melting pot" model of integrating different cultures?


There will be glitches in my transition from being a saloon bar sage to a world statesman. - Tony Banks
Roger Johnson
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Joined: Feb 24, 2004
Posts: 311
Originally posted by Dave Lenton:


Really? How strange. What on earth could be a good reason for that in a country which prides itself on the "melting pot" model of integrating different cultures?


i mean, name in english
Dave Lenton
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Joined: Jan 20, 2005
Posts: 1241
Originally posted by Roger Johnson:
i mean, name in english


I'm not sure what you mean by this. Do you mean a name using Latin characters? Or a name which is commonly used in countries speaking the English language? Or a name which is also a word in the English language?!

I can see how having a name using Latin characters (with some possible extras) would be important in a practical way as I imagine that most data in the US is entered into systems using a keyboard with Latin keys, and into systems that may not cope with non-Latin characters.
[ June 20, 2005: Message edited by: Dave Lenton ]
Ernest Friedman-Hill
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  34

It's not clear who decides the official rendering of non-Western words as transliterated into English in the Latin alphabet. Sometimes the transliteration even changes over time: we used to write "Peking," where "Beijing" is now the official spelling. Likewise "Koran" has become "Qur'an." For Chinese names like "Xiao", especially, it's not clear how this spelling was chosen, because although it's in Latin characters, there's no intrinsically correct way to pronounce it. Is "Zau" intended? Or "Shau"? Or "Shi-yow?"

My point is not that there isn't some official rulebook, but that most English-speakers don't know it, and if they see "Xiaohung Xu", they have no idea how to pronounce it. Hence I imagine a large number of people happily accept "Charlie" or "Bob" as a nickname just to avoid the hassle of constantly explaining.


[Jess in Action][AskingGoodQuestions]
Roger Johnson
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Joined: Feb 24, 2004
Posts: 311
i like to make long story short, and you seems like to make short story long


Originally posted by Dave Lenton:


I'm not sure what you mean by this. Do you mean a name using Latin characters? Or a name which is commonly used in countries speaking the English language? Or a name which is also a word in the English language?!

I can see how having a name using Latin characters (with some possible extras) would be important in a practical way as I imagine that most data in the US is entered into systems using a keyboard with Latin keys, and into systems that may not cope with non-Latin characters.

[ June 20, 2005: Message edited by: Dave Lenton ]
Jim Yingst
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Joined: Jan 30, 2000
Posts: 18671
Well then, the short version of the story is that this statement:
to register a new born in the US, you got to have a English name.

is false.

A slightly longer version is that you probably do need to have a name which uses the Roman alphabet. But it certainly doesn't have to be English.
[ June 20, 2005: Message edited by: Jim Yingst ]

"I'm not back." - Bill Harding, Twister
Roger Johnson
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Posts: 311
to register a new born in the US, you got to have a English name.


the short version is there is a syntax error - "an" instead of "a" should be used in front of "English name".
Jim Yingst
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That's one of the three grammatical errors in the quoted text, correct. I figured the basic factual error was the one most in need of correction.
Darya Akbari
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Joined: Aug 21, 2004
Posts: 1855
I am still looking for the historic roots of english first names among the chinese communities in all parts of the world.

My question only ask about those chinese with their english first names written in their passports.

Regards,
Darya
[ June 20, 2005: Message edited by: Darya Akbari ]
Jim Yingst
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For Chinese who come to the US at least, I think Frank and EFH have hit upon the key points. Native English-speakers simply do not recognize the phonetic distinctions present in many Chinese names, and as a result we tend to mispronounce Chinese names rather badly, from a Chinese perspective. (The reverse is also often true, I think - English and Chinese are very dissimilar, and I have great respect for anyone who had bridged this gap from either direction.) As a result, it seems that many Chinese in the US (and perhaps in other western nations?) have adopted English-sounding names. Not just for their children born in the US, but for themsleves, having been born in China but later entering the US. From my observations of various students and co-workers, this phenomenon is much more common among Chinese than it is for Indians. Or for Japanese or Koreans (though the latter are sort of in-between China and Japan in this respect, figuratively as well as geographically). A few times I've asked my Chinese co-workers why they adopted English-sounding names on entering the US, and generally the response was that it was "easier". On further questioning, this was generally based on the fact that many americans couldn't pronounce their original names well, and it seemed preferable to adopt a new name rather than endure mispronounciations of the original.
Darya Akbari
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Joined: Aug 21, 2004
Posts: 1855
Jim, would you say that your chinese co-workers have english first names in addition to their chinese first names? Or did they simply change their names from chinese to english.

Let's take you as an example, if you don't mind (I assume that you are of chinese descent ). What's your first name in your passport? Is it Jim? Or is it an original chinese first name?

Regards,
Darya
[ June 21, 2005: Message edited by: Darya Akbari ]
Ernest Friedman-Hill
author and iconoclast
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  34

Originally posted by Darya Akbari:

Let's take you as an example, if you don't mind (I assume that you are of chinese descent ). What's your first name in your passport? Is it Jim? Or is it an original chinese first name?


Jim's real first name is "Wilhelmina."
Jason Menard
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Joined: Nov 09, 2000
Posts: 6450
Originally posted by Ernest Friedman-Hill:


Jim's real first name is "Wilhelmina."


I thought Jim's Chinese name was Jackie.
Jim Yingst
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Posts: 18671
Ernest! I swore you to secrecy about that. Expect retribution shortly.

[Darya]: Jim, would you say that your chinese co-workers have english first names in addition to their chinese first names? Or did they simply change their names from chinese to english.

My impression is that they take on English names in addition to their Chinese names. But they generally only use the English name with their English-speaking colleagues. I'm sure there are exceptions to this, but it's a conssistent pattern from my limited observations.

Let's take you as an example, if you don't mind (I assume that you are of chinese descent ).

Nope. The name "Yingst" is actually from Germany, where it was originally "Jüngst". All the info I've given in this thread about Chinese names is based only on my personal observations and discussions with friends and co-workers.

What's your first name in your passport? Is it Jim?

James.

Or is it an original chinese first name?

Not to my knowledge.
[ June 21, 2005: Message edited by: Jim Yingst ]
Darya Akbari
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Joined: Aug 21, 2004
Posts: 1855
Yingst derivates from J�ngst. I had sworn you were of chinese descent . Ok that shot went totally off target. Sorry for my faux pas .

Damn , I need a chinese to confirm my theory.

Regards,
Darya
Peter Sin
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Joined: Jan 13, 2005
Posts: 547
Don't guess too much !!!
Chinese students choose their English name when they attend the first English lesson in high school, or as early as primary school. So, I say it is just only nick name.
Darya Akbari
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Joined: Aug 21, 2004
Posts: 1855
Hi Peter,

where do you know that from? I don't dare to ask :roll: but are you one of our chinese friends here at JavaRanch

Regards,
Darya
John Dunn
slicker
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Peter, a great name for your daughter would be 'Grace' or 'Faith'. It has a real ying-yang quality to it.
John Dunn
slicker
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Joined: Jan 30, 2003
Posts: 1108
or even better: 'Amore'. Ohhhhhhhhhhh OHhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh that's it. That is it!!! Amore Sin. (She'll have no shortage of admirers...)
Mohd Ali Advani
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Joined: Apr 14, 2005
Posts: 54
Originally posted by Darya Akbari:
Yingst derivates from J�ngst.
Regards,
Darya

I was under impression that it derivates from "stingy"

Max Habibi
town drunk
( and author)
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Joined: Jun 27, 2002
Posts: 4118
Originally posted by peter wooster:
Does Max have any comments on this topic???



My given name is Mehran, though my wife calls me Habibi. I go by Max as a matter of convenience, as well as professional ease. The reality is that people are concerned about language barriers when considering independent consultants, which is how I make my living. I can't really blame them: what we do is complicated enough without communication hurdles.

M


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subject: Why do lots of Chinese have an english first name?