Thoughts on choosing an English name

Article: Choosing an English Name

©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.

Just imagine…

Secretary:    Hello?

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 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.


Click this link to get yourself an English name (or visit, 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!


©2007 Michael Krigline. See our Website Standards and Use Policy.

Monthly English Corner & Weekly Quote

  • September English Corner

    This time at the English Corner we will be talking about some tips on how to improve your listening. Just like children when they begin language acquisition, you need a lot of input. One way to get some listening input is to watch the “Evening News” on TV (between 6 pm and 7 pm in the USA). If you live abroad, VOA and the BBC offer news summaries at the beginning of each hour (via short-wave radio or on the Internet). Most news anchors have a standard accent. Listening to some talk-radio programs is also helpful. Listening to American Folk songs (on CD, on line, or as an mp3) and following along with the words is also a great idea; many websites promote this. As you sing along, your pronunciation and speaking will be improved.   © Mark Peter, M.A. Used with permission.

    Mr. Peter was Michael’s colleague at the Agape English Language Institute of Limestone College (Columbia, SC). Throughout his career, Mark has taught English at many schools and universities, in the US and in China.
  • Sep 19

    “No matter what accomplishments you make, somebody helps you.” —Althea Gibson (1927-2003; female athlete, and first black person to win a Grand Slam tennis event, 1956 French Open)

    Note: A quote’s original source is not always known, and authenticity has not been verified. To find out about an author, type the name into a search engine (like Google or Baidu). One of my favorite quotations websites is: 5


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