Monday, July 17, 2006

What is your English name?

Several years ago, there was an American classmate of mine used initials of his first and middle names as his name. One day he asked if I could give him an equivalent name in Chinese. Unfortunately, his initials were:

B. T.

Which phonetically sounded very close the Chinese phrase for “snot”.

This social and cultural brouhaha is not simply one-sided. I have always thought my name “Tian” would be easy enough for Westerners to pronounce. “T” as in “t-shirt” and add on “ian”, which there is already an English name called “Ian”. Yet, I have been referred as “Tee-yang”, “Ty-ang”, or “Ty-an”. One of my own advisors for almost three years has been calling me somewhere between “teen” to “tin”.

Of course, my personal favorite: “Tina”.

videos: YouTube, Revver, or 24.1 MB Quicktime

Consequentially, many Westerners cannot pronounce Chinese names, thus Chinese people are slowly to adapt both Chinese and English names. My good friend Jeremy Goldkorn of (and along with Sophie have decided to explore the interesting phenomenon about how the Chinese choose their English names.

By the way, Sophie’s Chinese equivalent "Su Fei" is culturally connected with a brand of feminine hygiene products.


  1. And there's me thinking that your name was pronounced as "Tee-ahn". Ignorant bloody Aussie.

  2. When I'm in China nobody there can handle my real name (Alison), it comes out Ah-ri-soon or something like that, so I use the Chinese name I was given in college Chinese class (Kang Mei 康玫)and people seem to find it to be both helpful and pretty and THANK GOD it isn't at all related to my name phonetically (Mei is a translation of my middle name).

  3. RAH~!!! hi...TINA =DD

    jk jk...don't hurt me

  4. Don't worry, T-ian. Westerners can't pronounce western names either, unless it's their own.

  5. It's an unfortunate fact... when my girlfriend uses her Chinese name, people inevitably pronounce it incorrectly.

    Worse than that, if she's applying for a job, no one will remember her name. She goes by an English name, and no problems. Smooth.

    When I was in China, I picked my own name, and I tried to be as ridiculous as possible. So I picked 'Bao zi', like the food, because it was easy to write.

  6. Just tell them to say T (t-shirt) Ann (the girl's name) then smack it together.

    It's worse hearing Indian (Hindi, Sanskrit, etc) words mispronounced. Sometimes is cringe.

  7. I'm pure-bred British (well, as pure-bred as that gets) and still when a fellow British person manages to pronounce my English surname correctly, I am pleasantly suprised. Doesn't happen too often, though.