Have you got an odd name?

Wednesday 9 February 2011, 12.34am HKT

When it comes to bizarre Western names, the Chinese really beats the cake. Welcome to the latest extreme sport: stand out from the crowd with a memorable name.


Fion is a popular enough girl’s name in Hong Kong — sounds cosmopolitan enough — but it’s French slang (short for fignon) for arsehole (BrE) / asshole (AmE).

FYI, un fion puant is French for ‘a stinking fart.’

FYI, the Intarwebz anagram is info (especially on francophone imageboards).

BTW, many people in Québec who don’t like Céline Dion change her last name to this word when referring to her.

Sorry for bursting your bubble if your name is Fion. Muahahahahahaha.

* * *

Dad once had a job applicant by the name of Lovey Fok.

Was it from the “lovey-dovey” in the song ‘The Joker’ (1973) by the Steve Miller Band? Or Marilyn Manson’s ‘This Is the New Shit’ (2002)? Who knows. She might really have been an l.f.

(Dad enjoyed using Thumbs Up brand of wiping paper too, which, alas, didn’t last beyond the late 1970s. But that’s another story.)

* * *

Some more real names (my top picks in boldface):

  • Polystyrene Chan
  • Kinky Chik (a job applicant I once interviewed: she really WAS a kinky chick)
  • Vampire (a customer service guy)
  • Devil (a student)
  • Cookie
  • Cloudy (what? wazat?)
  • Frigid Hon (imagine …)
  • Ice
  • Cube
  • Square (not hip, bro, not hip)
  • Freshirley (wot?)
  • Elizac (an antidepressant?)
  • Rabee Yeung (rabies?)
  • Viodoll Fan (weird)
  • Candy (it doesn’t mean ‘sweet’: it means ‘hardboiled’: tough, unsentimental)
  • The ‘fruit sisters’ Lemon, Orange and Banana
  • A boy named Tina
  • Another boy named April Wednesday (for his birthday)
  • Holly Sit
  • Pineapple (a man!)
  • Windy (phewee!)
  • Atom Wong
  • Fanny Thong
  • Pass (“… because he thinks it’s so damn funny when people ask for his name and he says ‘Pass.’ Seriously.”)
  • Easy (“I thought it was a joke so I asked if that was her real name. I don’t think she knows what it means to call a girl easy…” — J.B.)
  • Sweet Ho (geddit?), the Hong Kong pseudo-model (169cm or 5 feet 6½, 32-24-34)

Do they even realise how daft they seem?

Hong Kong actors, actresses and singers with weird names:

  • Actress Kingdom Yuen (Yuen King-dan 苑瓊丹)
  • Singer Power Chan (Chan Kwok-pong 陳國邦) (retarded)
  • Actress/singer Yoyo Mung (Mung Ka-wai 蒙嘉慧) (and my name’s Frisbee …)
  • Actress/singer Bondy Chiu (Chiu Hok-yee 趙學而) (call me Sady: I’m a sadist)
  • Singer (guy) Deep Ng (吳浩康, born Ng Wai-nam 吳偉男)

I always thought Hongkie stars have very LAME names. Geez, aren’t they shy or uneducated or something? It sounded so brain damaged.

* * *

“No meaning, it just sounds good.”

This, believe it or not, is the premier reason I hear from those with weird, socially handicapping names.

Sounds like the same retardation logic behind Chinese tattoos in the West: “I don’t know what it means, it just looks cool.” (Groan.)

(Wtf??? Aren’t people in Hong Kong supposed to be quite proficient in English? Don’t they realise their names are facepalmingly stoopid? I’m saying this because most celebrities make up their own English names anyway.)

From a fortune cookie

People are trying too hard to be different, so hard that their kid has a pathetic excuse for a name. Or I guess they (or their parents) were the children not allowed a pet and so never had the chance to make the mistake of naming something really stupid.

I think it’s mostly a case of people with limited education and limited common sense trying to make themselves (or their kids) sound special and different.

There is one school of thought that says, if you give your child an exotic and unusual name, it will help them to stand out and they are more likely to become famous and successful.

There is another school of thought that says, if you give your child a name like that, they will be bullied mercilessly in school, develop a complex about it, hate you for saddling them with it, and change their name by deed poll at the earliest opportunity.

Here’s a guy who knows why people give themselves (or their kids) effed-up names, even though the article is basically focused on black people’s naming WTF-ness.

* * *

Mesmerised with foreignness

I often wonder why many Chinese with perfectly pronounceable names for Westerners give themselves difficult-to-pronounce or incongruous English names.

I have come across lots of cool, funky and unusual English names. Even with my fluency in [spoken] Chinese, I find English/Western names are still a lot easier to remember. But maybe that’s just me.

Hongkongers took up regular (and weird) English names long before the Chinese mainlanders did: Fruit, Money, Cinderella, Apple, Coldness, Echo, Rainbow, to name just a few. By contrast, it’s rare for the Japanese, Koreans or Vietnamese to adopt Western names (even those who are second- or even third-generation emigrés overseas) — and that hasn’t hindered the popularity of J or K entertainers overseas.

“Well, my dad picked my English name, so I didn’t have much of a choice in it. But I’ve come across some really weird English names in Hong Kong, too, though most Hongkongers pick the more ‘normal’ English names. However, they have this tendency to pick the nicknames [i.e. pet forms] over the regular form.”

There’s a big bunch of Chinese people who have this whimsically strange idea that Westerners have amazing problems in pronouncing Chinese names, and that the slightest off-intonation will render the Chinese name completely, totally, abso-effing-lutely unintelligible. Ergo, the need for an English/Western name.

I disagree that the Chinese feel a need to compensate with an English name because of foreigners’ difficulties with their names. No, I reckon the reason they choose to have English/Western names is because the Chinese (especially mainlanders) are mesmerised with anything foreign, plain and simple.

Have you ever noticed some of the garments Chinese wear that have English words on them? Talk about funny! Most are nonsensical and, more often than not, full of misspellings. The wearer is completely oblivious to this. Ask, and they have no clue about the writing, other than to think it’s cool to wear something with ‘English’ writing on it.

“Your Chinese name […] is your Chinese name. Don’t take your Chinese name, put it into Pinyin, and call it your English name. Just say it’s your Chinese name. Many Chinese people misunderstand this, and think that as long as it’s in letters, it’s considered English.”

Yeah, and this carries over to general communications, to the point that anything in Pinyin is seen as English. So you see all those oddball, incongruous Pinyin signs in China, and then they wonder why English speakers don’t understand those signs. Trust me, this is real and I’m not making it up. (I talk to people, you know, and I listen too.)

If we put the characters 你好 into Pinyin, we get “ni hao” so we can read it. It’s still Chinese. “Taramasalata” is Greek, not English. A language is not restricted to how it looks. Believe it or not, many people in mainland China can’t appreciate this. That itself is the real culture shock for those who visit China for the first time.

“My Chinese name is my Chinese name. Why would I repeat it in another name? Logically, if my name means ‘flower’ in Chinese, then in English my name might be Flower. Makes sense, right? Can’t stand it. I’d find that incredibly annoying. Really. Why put Chinese names in our English names? Why repeat names when you can be unique? Or create a different descriptive name to your taste, eh?”

I am always puzzled as to why loads of Chinese especially in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, etc (but not so much in Malaysia and Singapore) use English names. Many cannot even speak English, yet want an English name.

And then there’s the bunch of overseas Chinese emigrés who think it’s offensive or racist or somehow less than true to your heritage if you don’t use your Chinese name — one reason I don’t live in the USA anymore!

Four points about Chinese names:

1. Duplication of Chinese given names is actually more common than most suppose. The top 100 Chinese surnames leads to even more commonality. Chan Kit-bing (陳潔冰) is a helluva common girl’s name among the Chinese: Jane Smith doesn’t even come close to commonness.

(I can always tell from certain names whether a person was born during or after the Cultural Revolution, when traditional two-character generational names often were dropped in favour of more revolutionary/patriotic names.)

2. Chinese personal names are not used as often or as informally as English personal names. Chinese people (especially children) are often addressed by a moniker that reflects their relationship to the speaker (‘young brother,’ ‘big sister’, ‘older cousin-brother,’ etc).

3. Chinese nicknames serve a very similar function as English/Western nicknames do, but in the manner as personal Christian names were used only between the closest of friends in the very formal times of Victorian England.

4. Also, the Chinese not invariably have pen names and the like (sort of like auxiliary nicknames) and will often change their Chinese names as they go through life.

The name is almost an alter ego, and I reckon this has to be the deciding factor on the selection of English/Western names by my Chinese friends. As an alter ego, the name chosen shouldn’t be burdened with a lot of social and cultural baggage. It’s often a fun and informal name (though it’s also their professional name as well for some). Email communication and the Internet are also good reasons for taking on an English/Western name.

Sorry for the long essay… just got thinking about people’s relationships with names and cultural differences.

* * *

Realities about naming

Here is a general thought on why I think it makes practical sense for foreigners to adopt a Chinese name when they come to China but why the same is unnecessary for Chinese going abroad:

Artificial Chinese names

(a) Western names are usually in the 26 letters of the alphabet. In order to render them in an easily recognisable/readable form for Chinese (say, on a business card) it is practical (and necessary) to choose a Chinese name that is writeable in Chinese characters. The choice is then up to the individual whether to use a transliteration (one as close as you can get to your original name) or looking for one that also has a nice Chinese meaning.

(b) Since the Chinese language has Pinyin, any Chinese person going abroad already has a way of depicting their real name using the letters of the alphabet, so there is no practical need in most cases to come up with a completely different name.

In both cases, the fascination with a foreign-language name might be from learning the foreign language (Chinese or English or whatever), and that might lead to people choosing a name from that other language. And why not?

* * *

In naming, Hong Kong (and China to a lesser extent) is a lot like the USA — anything goes, a land of naming freedom and self-expression.

Other governments impose restrictions. In Germany, parents have to choose a name that clearly indicates the child’s sex and is not a surname. France and Brazil forbid names that might expose a child to mockery, like Sylvester Stallone and Sasha Czack’s child Sage Moonblood or Frank Zappa’s daughter Moon Unit Zappa (originally Moon Unit Two Zappa).

A big downside of a ‘creative’ name is the baggage that it may come with. People ascribe all kinds of personality traits to you that you just don’t have. One way or another, you (or your child) nearly always end up having to overcome some kind of stereotyping. Except for Miss Kinky Chik, perhaps.

On the other hand, you’d also get the impression from many teens (Asians and Westerners alike) that a regular name like Jane or William just doesn’t cut enough ice with them anymore in this day and age. They want something offbeat, even over the top, so they don’t become just another face in the crowd.

You know what? Get an education. Get a dictionary. Better still — get a life. Preferably off-line.

© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2011.

Images: “Andy Conda” via FunnyNames.com | “You were an accident” via Fortune Cookie Fail Blog | “Artificial Chinese names” via Tattoo Design Gallery.

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