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.

Also available on most major podcast platforms (e.g. Apple Podcasts / Google Podcasts / CastBox / etc.).

So one of the questions I get asked a lot is how Chinese parents name their children so in this episode, I talked to my mum about how Chinese parents typically name their children and, in particular, how my parents chose my name.

Kaycee:大家好,我是Kaycee。我们今天聊一聊中国父母到底是怎么给孩子起名的吧。中国人经常会被问到你的中文名字是什么呀?怎么念啊?有什么含义啊?你的爸爸妈妈是怎么给你起的名字啊?


我记得小的时候有一个朋友问我:中国父母给孩子起名字是不是扔一枚硬币然后仔细听它落地的声音,听到什么声音就叫什么名字?
今天我请到我的妈妈,Summer, 来跟我们讲一讲我的中文名字是怎么来的。符不符合中国传统。


欢迎Summer老师。

好,先从我的中文名字说起吧。我姓顾,叫希彤。照顾的顾,希望的希,红彤彤的彤。很多人都知道中国人的姓名是由两部分组成的,姓在前、名在后。顾当然是随我爸爸。那希彤是怎么来的呢?

Summer:中国人起名背后是有深刻的寓意和文化内涵。挑选名字很有讲究。人们通常会选一些意思美好的字词,以反映人们对幸福、吉祥和健康长寿的向往。
我们给你起名的时候,首先决定的是“彤”这个字。红彤彤的彤,虽然和“红”是同意,但是很少有人用这个字取名,所以它很独特。

“希”字呢,本来是要取“夕阳”的“夕”,当时为了给你取名字买了一本怎样取名的书。按笔画算,“夕阳”的“夕”和红彤彤的“彤”和在一起,加上你的姓“顾”,是一个很吉利的数字。读起来也朗朗上口。后来,和家里人讨论的时候,家里人说,人到了老年叫“夕阳红” 所以,在名字里, “夕” 的寓意不是特别好。然后我们就把它改成了“希望” 的 ”希“。按笔画算,用 ”希望” 的 “希” ,名字依然很好。最后,全家人集体举手通过。顾希彤这个名字就是这样来的。

Kaycee:哦,这样子啊,原来不是用扔硬币来决定的。那你的名字呢?你是怎么被命名的?

Summer:我叫夏世清。夏天的夏,世界的世,清水的清。那夏呢,是我的姓。世界的世呢是从家谱得来的。我们那个时候啊,都有一个家谱,从祖上就流传下来的。每一代人都用同一个 – 中间都用同一个字,比如说我们这代人用世界的世。我爸爸那一代人呢,中间用经。经常的经。 我爷爷是用力,力量的力。再往上我就不记得了。

Kaycee:那我的名字呢?希字好像不是家谱里的。

Summer:家谱也不是每家都有的。你不是我们老夏家的人,你不会用我们家的家谱。我没听说你们老顾家有家谱。

Kaycee:那我们两个人的名字在中国普遍吗?甚至,中国有比较普遍的姓名吗?比如,英国可能会遇到很多John啊、James、Rebecca、Lindsay什么的。论姓氏,也有很多人姓Brown、Scott 中国其实并不会,是吗?

Summer:其实也不是。中国人呢也有很多姓有很多人用。姓氏人口总数在200万人以上的姓有10个,王、李、张、刘、陈、杨、黄、赵、吴、周。但是像夏啊,顾啊,这个姓实际上还不是非常多。

那名字呢,中国人去名字一般很有时代特点。比如说像你奶奶、姥姥,那个年代,大部分人呢,喜欢用 “英”、 “琴”、“娟”。那是四十年代。到了六十年代,是文化大革命。那个时候人们取名呢就跟那个时代相呼应。像我的同学叫王红革。“红革”正好是文化大革命那种,跟那个斗争啊,跟那种革命啊,这个意义相符和。你爸爸的名字“顾立新”,你大伯的名字“顾立冬”都是跟随那个时代的特点而起的名。

Kaycee:嗯,然后我出生那个年代,也就是90年代那时候,似乎“婷婷” 、“瑶瑶”蛮受欢迎的。取名以美貌、聪慧、健康为主题。

其实,古时候,人们除了姓名,还有字和号。“字”呢往往是“名”的解释和补充,一般在男女举行成年礼时才加取,表示他们已经开始受到人们尊重。“号”呢则是一个人的别称,有点像现在的笔名,可以自己取。一个人可以取许多号,比如北宋文学家欧阳修就号醉翁、六一居士。现在呢就不那么复杂了。没有字和号这说头。大家就只有姓和名了。

所以,在中国给儿女起名还是一个既复杂又有创意,还有一定文化内涵的一件事。从中国人的名字中,可以看到社会、历史、伦理、宗教的种种现象和气息。今天我们所聊的只是一些浅显的一部分,如果你想更深刻的了解中国取名文化,大家可以上网查一查。

Kaycee: 提醒大家一下,我每周日会发一集podcast,同时也会发那一集的聊天记录并圈出一些常用的句子。如果大家有兴趣的话,网站链接在下面。 那好,我们下周见。