The naming game

The Chinese way of naming children is a different game from that of Westerners. In the West, parents basically choose from a collection of Christian names, thus naming is sometimes referred to as christening. While some parents might choose a name for their child because of its meaning, in many cases, such as the name Philip which literally means “love horses”, it is difficult to see how the meaning may apply in the context of the modern world.
In contrast, the Chinese give names by freely making use the Chinese characters, every one of which carries literal meanings. So there could be as many names as there are characters… no, I should correct myself… there could be more names than there are characters, as many names are composed of two characters and thus have combined meanings. While we can have names ranging from the most poetic to the most mundane, one can always see from someone’s name what the parents wish for him or her, or, in quite a number of cases, for themselves, the family or the country. The wish can be for the boy to be “great and handsome” or to bring along a “rich family” or “strong country”. For the girl, the wish is naturally more feminine, such as to be “elegant and graceful”. In the olden days, when male children were much more valued, the family may wish for the girl to “bring a brother”.
To a certain extent then, it is possible to learn about the Chinese culture from names, not only of people but also of organisations. Businesses, for example, especially financial institutions, should be “rich and prosperous” or generate “huge profit”. Communist China, which has the tendency of thinking big or even boasting, has taken this naming game to another level. The name of the Hong Kong listed company which was recently in trouble with the law is a good case in point. The English name “Chaoda Modern” is a combination of the transcription and translation of two pairs of characters respectively. Together, these characters convey the meaning of “super big” and “modern”.  Quite some wish, huh?
Another name that reflects this mentality, albeit less starkly, is BYD, the name of the car manufacturer which has brought huge profits for Warren Buffett. Apart from being the acronym for the transcription “biyadi”, which carries no meaning but just gives the name a western feel, it is also the acronym for the slogan “Build your dreams”. Obviously, for the Communists, everything can be built, even dreams.

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