For non-Chinoys, you have probably asked the phrase “What’s my name in Chinese?” to your Chinoy friends. Unfortunately, having an English name does not mean there is an equivalent in Chinese, therefore that question is very hard to answer. The most that can be come up with are random chinese characters from transliteration that do not make sense (e.g. Manny Pacquiao is 馬你 八可要 which literally translates to horse you eight can want which does not make sense at all). Avoid transliteration at all costs.
One of the best things about having a Chinese name as a woman is that you do not have to change your surname once you get married! You get to keep your own surname that still holds your family’s lineage. So do not be surprised when you meet Mr. 李 who is married to Mrs. 吴.
In case you didn’t know yet, Chinese names are structured differently from English names. The surname comes first (usually in just one character) and then the given name which is usually 1-2 characters long. For example, Mao Zedong’s surname is Mao and his given name is Zedong. There are a limited number of family names especially for Chinoys. So names that don’t start with one of the common surnames would be easily recognized as an unofficial name.
If you plan on acquiring a Chinese name, choose very wisely as this can be with you for a very long time. Though the ban on feng shui in changing one’s Chinese name is no longer practiced, most name changes are not made officially. It’s legal to change one’s name, but China’s government cautions people against doing it. Unlike in different countries that use English names, people don’t usually consider the origin or meaning of the names. And this is how the Chinese are different from them as the names are carefully thought out through different factors, one of which is feng shui.
Chinese names have a direct meaning and are believed to strongly influence a person’s destiny. A good Chinese name must be chosen for its sound, visual appeal of the characters, various meanings, and sometimes even an astrological interpretation of its character components. For example, a baby interpreted to have too much fire/light in their destiny must have components of water in their name to balance their life.
As most Chinese people have no say in choosing their Chinese name, you have the advantage to choose one yourself! This can also be a great opportunity for you to reinvent yourself. Remember to choose wisely as this is the first impression you would give off to people that understand the Chinese language. You can get a Chinese name through a native speaker that is close to you or find a feng shui practitioner that specializes in names! Unless they have a dual citizenship, most Chinoys do not have a registered Chinese name if they are a Filipino citizen only. Therefore, it is important to choose your Chinese name and stick to it. Here are some tips before you decide on a Chinese name:
1) Choose a surname first
Last names are the most important part of a Chinese name and choosing one is easy since there are only around 100 common Chinese last names to choose from. Family names are extremely essential in the Chinese culture. When picking a surname, you must focus on how it sounds, as surnames don’t usually have much meaning attached to them. A suggestion would be to select a Chinese surname which sounds similar to your English surname, e.g. Beltran = Bèi, Garcia = Gāo, Magallon= Mǎ, etc. It is best to choose a common surname so that your name will be easier to digest, so if you would like to get creative, you can do it for your given name instead. You may also opt to have two-character surnames although this is less common in China. For example, dàomíng sì (道明寺) wherein dàomíng (道明) is the surname and his given name is sì (寺).
2) Consult two or more native speakers
Chinese parents and grandparents spend a lot of time deliberating about the name that must be given to the child as the name strongly influences one’s destiny. Some even pay a fortune to a feng shui practitioner to make sure the elements balance their child’s life. So if you’re just thinking about getting a Chinese name, it’s likely you are not as fluent with the Chinese language yet. Therefore, it is extremely important for you to consult at least two native speakers since not everyone has the same point of view about a Chinese name and to make sure they are not unlucky in any way that may damage your walk of life. Make sure to consult a Chinese native who is familiar with literal and metaphorical meanings that you can trust.
3) Your given name doesn’t have to sound like your English name
Avoid the transliteration of your English name as this make it sound like an obvious foreigner name (e.g. Mary 玛丽 (mǎ lì)). You don’t have to make your given name sound like your English one as sometimes, this makes it more difficult and weird-sounding. Another suggestion would be to immerse yourself in Chinese poems and literature and try to use the characters from there. Make sure to double check if it has a good meaning by asking a native speaker that you trust.
4) Have a clear goal on your preferred name meaning
Your chosen Chinese name preferably has to sound like an authentic Chinese name, but you also may want to have something that can define you. Make sure you remember you know what your Chinese name means as some Chinese characters may have other meanings. For example, 明 (míng), which is frequently used in Chinese names, may be meant as “bright”, “clear”, “intelligent”, or something else.
5) Don’t name yourself after a celebrity or a common given name
In China, it is considered improper to name a child after a famous person. This taboo has been going on for centuries with its roots under the imperial laws that forbade their citizens from having the same name as the emperor. For example, you do not wanna be known as 小明 who is literally in every Chinese elementary school books.
6) Have several options to choose from
You’re looking for a name that will be with you for the rest of your life, so take your time in deciding for one.
Once you’ve found the perfect Chinese name for you, you’d be able to use it whenever you are travelling in Chinese-speaking countries or even when you chat with your Chinese friends. Having a Chinese name is important in your Chinese learning journey especially when you plan to study in China in the future!