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avant-garde_chauvintist wandering through the garden of ideals

Chinese names, Native American names, Hippy names

CHINA | Saturday, 23 February 2008 | Views [3659] | Comments [1]

When I'm prompted to give a Chinese person an English name, they always want to know what it means.

What it means, you may ask?

Yep, what it means. Do English names have meaning? Rarely. In my case, the name Lea doesn't necessarily mean anything. Looking it up in the dictionary provides something along the lines of "teacher" (I guess it's appropriate given my current employment). Another dictionary might say "meadow". And the Hebrew version, Leah, means "weary one".

But did my parents consider these things when naming me? Probably not. I was named for my great-grandfather, Leo. As the first great-grandchild, whom he never thought he'd live to see, my parents honored him with my name.

It's a quaint story (quaint in the respect that I love it and tell everyone I meet). But it doesn't necessarily translate to anything specific.

There have been times, on the American continent, when names did mean something. A last name like Brooks or Monteverde might mean, well, brook or green mountain. Native Americans took naming seriously and gave offspring names according to how they were expected to live their lives. So we might have a Squatting Fox or a Clawed Bear running around. But this certainly isn't the norm nowadays.

And hippies took it to the extreme. I went to school with a Star and an Angel. A Stormy Weathers and a Rainy Weathers (they were sisters). The names were average words that sounded poetic. The meaning spelled out.

Chinese names, however MEAN SOMETHING. Or if they don't mean something, then they sound like they mean something. [Quick Chinese lesson a la me: I'm convinced that there are about 10 sounds in Chinese. These sounds are all represented by about 500 different characters, each of which sound the same but have completely different meanings. Then, each of those characters has one of four tones, plus the neutral tone. So mulitply that by 5. There you have it. The 25,000 characters of everyday Chinese represented by only 10 sounds.] So, Chinese names sound like they mean something.

Take Kevin, for instance. Kevin's Chinese name is Zhu (pronounced Jew), which sounds like "pig". It isn't the character for pig. Nor, to my knowledge, is it the tone for pig. But it sounds like pig. So his nickname is Piggy.

Or You, my new friend from Chengdu. Her full name is Li You (which sounds so much like Lea it's incredible). Her father told me, in English, that he chose this name for her because it sounds like "reason" in Chinese. It isn't the character for reason, but it sounds like reason. And he hopes that she will one day become a lawyer.

To further this theory of names with meaning, we happened upon two girls in Dali of the Bai ethnicity. Bai is one of the ethnic minorities in China (there are 55). They live in a community of nothing but Bai people. And there names were Double Flower and Double Leaf in Mandarin.

If those aren't hippy names...

Tags: Culture



i need to know last name in japan

  chi Mar 2, 2009 7:50 PM

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