Original Audio (Translated transcript below):
Kaycee: Hello, I’m Kaycee and today we are talking about how Chinese parents actually name their children. Chinese people are often asked what is your Chinese name? How do you pronounce it? What does it mean? How did your parents give you your name?
I remember a friend asked me when I was little: Do Chinese parents name their children by tossing a coin and listening carefully to the sound of it hitting the ground, and calling them whatever they hear?Today I have my mother, Summer, here to tell us how I got my Chinese name. Does it fit in with Chinese tradition?
Welcome, Ms Summer.
Okay, let’s start with my Chinese name. My name is Gu, Xitong. Gu as in care, Xi as in hope, and Tong as in red. Many people know that Chinese names are made up of two parts, the surname in front and the first name at the end. Gu, of course, follows my father. So where did Xitong come from?
Summer: There is a deep meaning and cultural connotation behind Chinese naming. There is a lot of care in choosing names. People usually choose words with good meanings to reflect their desire for happiness, good fortune and a long and healthy life.When we named you, the first word we decided on was “Tong”. It is unique as it agrees with the word “red”, but few people use it in their names.
The word “Xi” was originally intended to be the “Xi” of “Sunset”, but I bought a book on how to name you. I bought a book on how to choose your name, and I found that the combination of “夕” for “夕陽” and “彤” for “紅彤” and your surname “顾” is a very lucky number. This is a very auspicious number. It’s also catchy to read. Later, when we discussed it with our family, they said that the name “Xi” does not have a good connotation in the name because it is called “Sunset Red” when you are old. So we changed it to “Xi” which means “hope”. In terms of strokes, the name is still very good with the “希” of “hope”. Finally, the whole family raised their hands. This is how the name Gu Xitong came to be.
Kaycee: Oh, that’s right, so it wasn’t decided by a coin toss. What about your name? How were you named?
Summer: My name is Xia Shiqing. Summer as in summer, world as in world, clear as in clear water. The name Summer is my surname. I got the world name from my family tree. In those days, we all had a family tree that had been passed down from our ancestors. Each generation used the same name – the same character in the middle, for example, my generation used the World Se. My father’s generation, for example, used sutra in the middle. The word for often is sutra. My grandfather was force, force for strength. I don’t remember anything further up.
Kaycee: What about my name? It doesn’t seem to be in the family tree.
Summer: The family tree isn’t in every family either. You’re not from our old Summer family, you wouldn’t use our family tree. I haven’t heard that your old Gu family has a family tree.
Kaycee: So are both of our names common in China? Or even, are there more common names in China? For example, you might come across a lot of John ah, James, Rebecca, Lindsay or whatever in the UK. On surnames, there are also a lot of people with the surname Brown and Scott China doesn’t actually, does it?
Summer: No, not really. The Chinese have a lot of surnames that are used by a lot of people. There are 10 surnames with a total population of 2 million or more, Wang, Li, Zhang, Liu, Chen, Yang, Huang, Zhao, Wu and Zhou. But surnames such as Xia and Gu are not actually very common.
As for names, Chinese names are generally very contemporary. For example, like your grandmother and grandma, in those days, most people liked to use “Ying”, “Qin” and “Juan”. That was the forties. In the 1960s, it was the Cultural Revolution. At that time, people chose their names to echo that era. For example, my classmate’s name was Wang Hongge. The name “Hongge” is the same as the Cultural Revolution, which is the same as the struggle and the revolution. Your father’s name, Gu Lixin, and your eldest uncle’s name, Gu Lidong, both follow the characteristics of the era.
Kaycee: Well, at the time I was born, in the 90s, it seemed that “Ting Ting” and “Yao Yao” were quite popular. The names were based on the themes of beauty, intelligence and health.
In fact, in the olden days, people had names as well as words and numbers. The “character” was often an explanation and complement to the “name”, and was usually added when a man or woman had a rite of passage to show that they were beginning to be respected. A “number” is a name for a person, a bit like a pen name nowadays, and can be taken by oneself. A person could take many names, for example, Ouyang Xiu, a literary scholar in the Northern Song Dynasty, was called Drunken Master and Sixth Master. Nowadays, it is less complicated. There is no such thing as a character or a number. Everyone just has a surname and a first name.
So, naming a child in China is still a complex and creative thing, with some cultural connotations. The social, historical, ethical and religious phenomena and vibes can be seen in Chinese names. What we have talked about today is just a superficial part of the story, if you want to get a deeper understanding of Chinese naming culture, you can look it up online.
Kaycee: Just a reminder that I will be posting a podcast episode every Sunday, along with a transcript of that episode’s chat and a circle of some common sentences. If you’re interested, the link to the site is below. See you next week then.