Choosing a Chinese name – part 5

[This is from the e-mail I sent to my family, informing them that some of them now have a Chinese surname…]

Alright, whoever first brought our family name into English from whatever European language it came from obviously didn’t do the greatest job. The letters don’t match the pronunciation in any language, we have to tell people how to say it every single time they see it written, and even our German friends don’t recognize it. But here’s the latest attempt by one of our clan to transplant our name into another language: 陆

You may be wondering… it says “Lù.” But here’s where it gets a little complicated. This means that Dad, Ryan, the girls, and Miriam are all supposed to be Mr. Lù (“Lù Xiān-sheng” – 陆先生) or Miss Lù (“Lù Xiǎo-jiě” – 陆小姐). Jessica, Mom, and Tami can pick whatever family name they want because women don’t change their family name when they marry in China. But once they pick one, their respective fathers and siblings are stuck with it. Some foreigner couples take the same last name in Chinese, but it apparently sounds a little weird, like you’re related as siblings or something.

The family name doesn’t generally carry any meaning in Chinese, only the given name has meaning. After months of collecting suggestions and asking people’s opinions I picked because it sounds closer to our English last name than the other suggested Chinese family names (like rei, bu, mu, and ru (don’t be deceived; that’s not really an r and we still can’t pronounce it properly yet)). The final choice was between and . But Mingdaw says 慕 (mù) with my given name sounds a little grandiose, and that it reminds him of characters from Chinese kung-fu stories, and Jessica pleaded that I consider how it would be for all our future children to be part of the “Moo family.” I almost pointed out that in Britain, being part of the “Loo family” might not be so great either, but what can you do… It’s like trying to buy clothes while blindfolded when you’re used to running around naked, and having to ask all your friends what looks good on you, but your friends all have contradicting opinions.

[Jessica, with less than 1/100th the effort, landed a great name. But I’ll let her post about that herself.]

10 thoughts on “Choosing a Chinese name – part 5”

  1. I’m sure you’ve heard this from like a thousand people–but wow–your stories are not only very enjoyable reading, but extremely insightful for those of us who are just beginning to learn about the Chinese culture. If you have a name that means “chosen” or “helper” or “a better life”, would those words have some kind of negative connotation? I think you’re right to take your time in choosing a proper name.
    Did you decide yet what to write on the sidewalk next time?

  2. It’s more like how the name feels… it’s not as simple as picking a dictionary definition that you like. All these characters have history and connotations, and change meaning and connotation when combined in different ways. It’s all really subjective and foreigners can’t learn this stuff unless they grow up in the culture. The linguist who writes our text books just says, “Don’t ask a foreigner to give you a Chinese name.”

    And yes, I did choose what to write next time. It’s a really common children’s song:

    Two tigers, two tigers,
    running fast, running fast
    One has no eyes
    One has no ears
    Really strange! Really strange!

    But I have to practice a lot first. And sometimes they say one has no tail instead of no ears. I like that better. We’ll put the mp3 up in a post or two.

  3. Does this mean that whatever name Jessica chose, is now my name and Tami’s name? or do we all 3 choose something different?

  4. Nah, Jessica is an in-law, so the name she chooses is the one her dad and siblings are stuck with. You get to choose the name for grandpa and your siblings. Of course, you can always have the same as dad if you want, a lot of foreigners do that and it’s no big deal.

  5. A very Happy 5th Anniversary to you both! We love you, miss you, and hope you enjoy your day very much!!!!
    love mom & dad Ruch

  6. I discovered this blog today—I like it! I was named after John Wesley, so I assumed the easy way out would be the standard Chinese version, 卫斯理 (at least, that’s the way two sources rendered it). But my friend from Beijing suggested I use 伟思礼. But her rationale is almost embarrassing: “same pronunciation, but better meaning. Great (man) with deep thoughts and respects for courtesy, ceramony….”

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