©Michael Krigline, MA (2007)
Chinese names mean something. Your parents probably chose your name because they liked the meaning, and liked the way it sounded. In most cases, every Chinese person can look at your name and know the meaning.
English names are different. Parents may look up a name’s “meaning” or origin, but they really choose a name to honor someone in the family (e.g., when they give their child the name of a father or grandfather), or simply because they like the way the name sounds. Many Americans know what their own name means, but almost no one knows what someone else’s name means.
There is a large list of names in America. Since people have come from many different countries, some American names originate in England, France, Africa, Ireland, India, etc. Many people also have “Hebrew” or “Greek” names because those are names used in the Bible. My name, and my son’s name, are Biblical names.
As a Chinese college student, studying English, it is a good idea to have an English name. While you are a student, you can choose any name you want. I have had students who had “cute” or even “stupid” names. When I called on that student’s name, people would laugh. For example, I had a student named Dragon, another named “Go-stop” and another named Attention. In one class, I had students who called themselves Coca-cola, Cookie, Apple, and Banana! Just thinking about these students makes me hungry! I have also had students who changed their English names every month or two. This is very inconvenient for your English teacher, western friends or business contacts.
While you can choose any name you want, I encourage you to choose a name that a western person would recognize as an English name, and then keep that name for a long time. That way you will get used to using this name, which someday will be useful when using English for international communication. Think about how comfortable a foreign professional or businessperson would be when using your name.
Mr. Smith: Yes, I’m Mr. Smith, calling from America. I am interested in purchasing clothing from your company in China, and I have received a letter from one of your representatives. Can I speak to her please?
Secretary: Certainly, we would be glad to help you. What is the agent’s name.
Mr. Smith: Banana
Secretary: I’m sorry, could you repeat that?
Mr. Smith: Her name is Banana; Banana Wang
Secretary: Oh, I’m sorry; I am not familiar with everyone’s English name. Hold on just a minute.
(LOUDLY to the “office” or classroom) Do we have any “Bananas” here?
Colleagues (holding up bananas!): Here’s a banana!
Of course, this is meant to be humorous, but I have a hard time imagining a company who would hire a representative (or doctor, lawyer, etc) named “Banana.” It could just lead to too much embarrassment.
To help you find a suitable name, I’ve provided a link below to babynames.com. Follow the link, and you can choose to look up names according to their meaning, or names that start with a particular letter. Once you choose two or three names you like, ask your friends or colleagues if they sound suitable, and if you can, ask a native-English-speaker if it sounds like a common English name.
When “Attention” decided he wanted a better name, here are some of the choices the link gave him for the idea of “being at attention.”
■ Gregory: Watchful/vigilant; Greek origin; a relatively common name (in America)
■ Kirkan: Watchful/vigilant; Armenian origin; a very rare name (in America), but Kirk is the name of a famous TV character.
■ Greer: Watchful/guardian; Celtic origin; a somewhat common name
In closing, if you have an “English” name that is based on your favorite food, or based on the meaning of your real name, or is in any way “unusual” as an English name, you have the right to keep this name. I will try to call you “Banana” if you want me to. I would also be happy to simply use your Chinese name, if I can pronounce it. But as a part of your English studies, I encourage you to find an interesting and suitable English name that you can use for years to come.
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Click this link to get yourself an English name (or visit www.babynames.com, and look for “search baby names”; the last time I visited, you didn’t have to register to use the site). You have a number of choices, but the interface is simple so I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Just remember that the site was originally created to help parents not students!
Another “names” website is https://www.names.org. When I tried it (2020), I had to scroll through lots of ads to get to the “good stuff” but you might enjoy giving it a try.
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