America has expanded, and now there are millions of people with American citizenship, but they are not from the US.
Immigrants from all over the world move to the US and get citizenship, and it is not uncommon to find people that change their names.
Some people change both their names altogether, while others make slight alterations to their names, so they sound more American. Chinese Americans are some of the people whose names you will most likely come across, so let us get into it and learn more about it;
Why Do Chinese Change Their Names
One of the things that can make it easy to identify where a person is from is their name since different languages use a given set of names.
Some names are prominent, and you can place them with a given group as soon as you hear them.
This might not always be the case, and you could get a Chinese person with one or two American names.
Let us get into the details of this and understand how they come up with names to see why their names might change;
1. It’s an existing tradition
The Chinese people have naming customs almost similar to those used by the Japanese. They get a name from their family; another is given to them by their parents when they reach adulthood, and a third name they pick for themselves.
The name they give themselves is called a Hao, and it is an informal name that people most commonly use.
Even poets in Chinese history are well known by their Hao since it was always a name they identified with and liked, so they used it in their writing.
After the Reforms in the late 1970s, the Chinese started adopting American names. As their county got more exposure to western culture, it became common for the Chinese to use American Haos that represented ideas they believed in.
This offered them a new layer of identity that they did not initially have, which became widespread. New generations took it up, and western names became more common, especially for immigrants.
2. Chinese names are hard for westerners to pronounce
Imagine if you have a Chinese friend, Xu Zhenqi, it seems like you would have a relatively hard time saying their name.
Before going into how easy or hard it is, remember that the English ‘x’ is close to ‘sh’ in Chinese and ‘c’ in English is ‘tx’ in Chinese.
These two are just a few examples of the significant pronunciation differences between English and Chinese, and they make it hard for a westerner to pronounce Chinese names. This created a need to add one familiar name easier for Americans to use.
3. Issues with translation and meaning
Another issue that had a significant impact on the name changes was translation. Chinese has many more characters than English, which brings up an issue in context.
Some words mean differently depending on the context, which can challenge someone who doesn’t understand the language.
When talking to an amateur, some names could come off in the wrong way and ruin the conversation.
This made people use names that had a clear meaning or no meaning to Americans. English is limited in characters, so it is easier to understand and harder to misinterpret simple words.
Another problem is that translating Chinese names directly to English would ruin their meaning. The Chinese people are particular about their names, so it would not be acceptable to taint a given name.
It was easier to find an English name with the same meaning; use your birth name along with an English name for other people to use. This ensured that the names maintained their cultural significance while making communication easier.
4. To identify better with the westerners.
When trying to assimilate with new people, it is always best to try and stand out as little as possible, which most Chinese immigrants recognize. The more you have in common, the easier it is for humans to accept you and treat you equally.
Most conversations use a first name basis and having an English name as your Hao meant that most people would look at you as an American and treat you as such. This means that there will be more opportunities for jobs, friendship, and others.
For this reason, immigrant parents gave their children English names to help them cope with the new world.
Most people retained their Chinese names, but they had an English name, so they connected with both sides of their lives.
5. To maintain the sanctity of names to themselves
Chinese people attach a lot of importance and meaning to their names regardless of the language in which they use them. Names have meanings, and parents are very keen about the names they give to their children.
Some parents would want their child to have a name that is meaningful to the society they live in, in this case, an American society.
They will choose an American name with a meaning they can connect with and understand the people in society.
People can also choose their names based on their lives to better identify themselves. As societal rules about genders and same-sex relationships change, so do the naming systems that these changes affect.
People of all races at times change their names because they simply didn’t connect with their original name.
For instance, someone born in the US of Chinese American parents will identify more with the US than China, so an English name would be appropriate.
Common Chinese American Names
Names are vital in any society since they help members identify and communicate with each other directly.
Without names, it would be impossible to convey a message to a specific person, giving names a whole new meaning.
The Chinese and many other cultures put a lot of weight on naming their children. Most people believe that names have power over their lives, so picking the wrong name for your child could mess up its future. Sometimes people leave their homes and have to change their names.
The title suggests that most people adopt names that identify with the US without leaving their culture behind. Chinese Americans often use an American or English first name and a Chinese last name; let us look at some familiar names and their meanings;
- Andrew. Andrew is a common name that Chinese Americans use, and it means manly, courageous, and strong, so it indicates positive attributes. You can also use its short form, Andy.
- John. John is common among Christian Chinese Americans since it comes from the bible and means one graced by God.
- Meilin. This is a popular name, and Meilin Gray, a pop singer, has made it even more of a hit. It is Chinese and translates to a beautiful forest.
- David. This is a derivative of the Hebrew word dod, and it means beloved, so it is an ordinary name parents use for their sons.
- Kelvin. This is another common Chinese American name with a Scottish origin. The name can refer to friendship in English, but it translates to Riverman in its original language.
- Meiling. Meiling is Chinese for beautiful spirit, and it can be a name for someone that associates with good deeds. There is a long list of famous people, including First Lady Soong Meiling and author Meiling Jin.
- James. James is another classic name common among Chinese Americans, and it means may God protect, so it can be a good name for a child.
- Alan. Alan means handsome and fair, so it emanates beauty, but it is also a name of an old Christian saint, hence a good choice for religious families.
- Bruce. Brice is a popular name in most areas, and there are famous people such as Bruce Lee that make it a common name today.
- Xiuying. Xiuying is a Chinese word that translates to beautiful petals or flowers. It can be a good name to use on your beautiful baby girl to show the beauty she brings to your life.
- Eddie. Eddie means a friend, happy or wealthy, and it comes from Eadwine, an old English word. It can translate more accurately to mean a wealthy friend or someone rich in friendship.
- Richard. This is an old French name that means strong to lead or a good leader.
- Albert. Most Chinese Americans that expect positive attributes from their kids name them Albert. Albert Einstein has a role in this, but it also means famous and noble in its original German translation.
- Yin. This name has many meanings in Chinese, including sound, silver, and shelter. This range of meanings is advantageous since it allows the name to work for many people depending on their situations.
- Jerry. This name has several spelling variations, including Gerry, Jared, Jerome, Jeremiah, and Gerald. It means “may Jehovah exalt,” It is a solid choice for many Chinese American families.
- Mazie. This is a popular name in many cultures, and it sounds beautiful, which makes it a good choice for a female. It is a Margaret nickname that means pearl, so it is cute in all ways you could look at it.
- Joe. This is derivative of a Hebrew name Yousaf that means ‘he will add,’ and people often use it as a short form for Joseph. Joseph was Jesus’s stepfather in Christian teachings, so the name is also popular amongst believers.
- Zhen. This name has a lot of meanings, some of which include precious, virtuous, and real, all of which are positive attributes. The name’s pronunciation is actually “Chun,” which can be a bit complicated for foreigners to understand.
- Fiona. Fiona is a movie character, and a beautiful one, so to speak, so many people can name their children after her. Its source is Scottish, and it means fair or white.
- Maggie. People often use Maggie as a short form of Margaret, but it has its meaning, and it’s becoming an independent name. Maggie means pearl, and it is symbolic of someone beautiful.
- Mei. You must have heard this Chinese name in a manga series or anime. Depending on the context, it means beautiful or plum, and it often has other extensions or works as a middle name.
- Joanna. This is the female version of John, and it means God is gracious, so it can be a good choice for a believer. It originates from Johanna, a Hebrew name, and some people choose to use it in its original form.
- Ren. This Japanese name is quite popular with Chinese Americans, especially for boys, and it translates to the water lily. It is a unisex name, and you can use it for your sin or a daughter if you like it.
- Betty. This name is often a short form for Elizabeth, so it carries the same meaning. The names come from Elisheba, which means God is satisfied or oath of God.
- Jenny. Jenny is a short version of Jennifer, and it translates to a fair one from Cornish. It can also mean white shadow or white wave.
- Chang. From the great Emperor Liu Chang of the Han dynasty, Chang has persevered and become one of the most popular Chinese names. It means good, smooth, sunlight, extended and prosper hence the popularity.
- Williams. This is another form of the name William, and it is a derivative of Wilhelm, an old German word. It means a ‘resolute protector’ or ‘warrior with a strong will.’
- Peter. Peter in the Bible refers to one of the closest disciples to Jesus, and it means string or a rock; therefore, it fosters good attributes in the children that take the name.
- Ken. This is another short form of a name, Kennedy, of Scottish origin. In its original form, the name means intelligent, exemplary, or handsome, all characters that parents want in their children.
- Sarah. This beautiful yet so common name translates to Princess in Hebrew, which explains why many people use it.
- Juan. As a Spanish name, Juan is among the most popular names for boys in the US, but the Chinese use it as a girl’s name. It means beautiful or graceful, and it is a popular name for females in China.
- Emily. If you want your child to strive to excel, then you might want to give her a name that suggests it. The name comes from a Roman family, Aemilius, and it means rival, which can be good or bad depending on how you look at it.
- Kai. This is a popular name for girls and boys, and it means Ocean. It is a peaceful-sounding name that many people have used for their children and changed to as adults.
- Hannah. Hannah means grace or favor, and it is a name for a beautiful and loved child. It comes from the Hebrew name, Channah.
- Huang. This name is originally Chinese and a surname for many families. Huang means phoenix, and many cultures associate the phoenix with rebirth and new beginnings. Other variations of the name are Hwong, Hwang, and Wong, also common.
- Nancy. This name also has s Hebrew source and means grace or favor.
- Jade and Jenny. Jade Snow Wong and Jenny Han were both incredible authors that made a significant impact on the world, so it makes sense that many people use their names.
- Helen. Helen Zia is a renowned journalist, and it is not uncommon to hear the name amongst Chinese Americans. She’s a beacon of hope and truth, which are virtues that parents seek to instill in their children through the names.
- Chun. This Chinese name is among the top 1000 most popular names, and it means ‘spring season .’People often use it as a surname with an English name coming first.
- Noah. Most people think about the Biblical character that survived the great flood when they hear about Noah, and many people have adopted the name. It is a derivative of Noach, a Hebrew word that means repose or rest.
- Diana. Diana, to most people, means divine, which is why it is so common. In Latin, you can associate the name with other words such as sky and daylight, all of which represent hope and positive energy.
- Huan. You must have come across this name with a Chinese friend and got surprised since it sounds like Juan, which is Mexican. Huan is a Chinese name that means happy, and many people use it or its variation, Kwan.
- Chloe. Chloe Kim is a legendary snowboarder, and many people can name their children or themselves after her. She was Asian and the youngest female Olympic medal winner in snowboarding.
- Charlie. This is a more casual form of Charles, entirely male, but Charlie can work for both genders. The name’s source is a German word that means ‘free man.’
- Coral. Coral Wong Pietsch is a common name, especially in military families. Coral Wong was the first Chinese American woman to become a brigadier general in the US army history; hence her name is a source of inspiration for many.
- Katherine. Catherine comes from Katharos, a Greek word that means pure. There are variations to the name, like Catherine or Karen, but you might want to stay away from Karen for the sake of your reputation.
- Jackie. This name comes from Hebrew and English, translating to ‘son of man.’ Jackie Chan, a famous movie star, made the name even more popular, and both males and females adopted it.
- Raymond. This is another name on our list with a German origin, and it means a wise protector or counseling protector and, in other contexts, a famous protector.
- Angela. If you have a child that looks like an angel, why not name her a name that shows it? This name comes from Angelos, a Greek word that means messenger of God, or angel.
- Robert. This name originates from old German, and it means bright flame. It has two parts: bright and fame, so the combination gives a powerful name with short forms like Robby and Rob.
- Nicky. Nicky is a gender-neutral name, and you can use it as Nick, whether as a short form or as a full name. It is often a short form for Nicholas or Nicole, and it means ‘victory of the people.
- Tiffany. Tiffany translates from Theophania, a Greek word that means the manifestation of God; hence it’s a good name for a religious person.
- Amy. This name originates from the French word Amee, beloved.
- Sam. Sam is often a short form for Samuel, but some people use it as a name. Samuel was a mighty prophet in Christianity, and the name translates from Hebrew to mean “told by God .”Other variations are Sami, Samuela, and Samantha.
- Alex. Alex was originally a man’s name that originates from Greece, and it meant ‘warrior’ or ‘defender of mankind .’The use of this name has changed, and girls are also using it.
- Mary. We can’t miss out on Jesus’s mother when talking about famous names. Mary means beloved or bitter, depending on the language. Its history has made it more popular than its meaning since most people use its Biblical references.
Many Chinese Americans use names that sound more like English than Chinese, and it is not a surprise to meet a Chinese person with one or two English names. This is because they need to use names more familiar to Americans with whom they live.
Chinese names are complicated to pronounce for people that don’t speak the language, so they need to change some names to English equivalents. In most cases, people retain their family names and use an English name as a first name or middle name for most occasions.