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Chinese Names
As globalization sweeps through China, parents of newborn babies in the world's most populous nation are feeling a new type of competition -- how to come up with unique names for their children.

BEIJING, June 17 2004 (Xinhuanet)

As globalization sweeps through China, parents of newborn babies in the world's most populous nation are feeling a new type of competition -- how to come up with unique names for their children. They want to help their kids stand out from the very beginning by giving them a unique and beautiful name. "In China, it really helps to have a good name people remember," an on-line BBS (billboard bulletin system) quoted a would-be father surnamed Wang as saying.

Though China is rapidly becoming international, the country is still working hard to try to preserve centuries-old traditions, one of which is carefully naming their offspring. "A person's name is not only identification, but a way of expressing aspirations and expectations," said Zhang Shuyan, senior researcher at the State Committee for Reforming Chinese Written Language. "When parents choose a name for their kids, they are apt to associate it with some enjoyable and memorable object or incident," he said. But parents are facing increased chances of having their kids' names identical to many others as more and more people have one-character given names instead of two. For instance, more than 2,000 women are named "Meili" in Chinese, or "beautiful", in Xiamen, a special economic zone in eastern China's Fujian Province.

Moreover, the a growing number of people with the same surname increases the number of namesakes in China, where 270 million of its 1.3 billion population are named Li, Wang or Zhang, making up 7.9 percent, 7.4 percent and 7.1 percent of the total population respectively. Linguistic scholars suggest using a two-character given name to reduce the number of people with identical names.

But some parents prefer rare words when choosing a name for their children, a way through which ancient royal families preserved their dignity and nobility. In ancient China, it was taboo to use the personal names of emperors, who usually preferred choosing rare words to avoid turmoil in the country if common words were used. Parents believe that such unique names consisting of rare words will give their children access to a unique personality, or even a logo of sorts in a sometimes impersonal society. They hold that a wide-range selection from up to 80,000 Chinese characters will easily enable them to pick an exclusive name for their kids.

Linguists recommend caution, however, saying that such creativity is fine, but the strategy can backfire when they open a bank account, register for an identity card and get a driver license. Most such rare characters are not included in the current computer database of Chinese characters, and cannot be printed correctly. To tackle this problem, China is planning to compile a list of some 12,000 characters of standard words and given names to regulate the use of characters as names. About 3,500 Chinese characters are frequently used in modern China, making up 99.48 percent of those appearing in modern publications, according to the State Language Commission and the Ministry of Education.

Experts said that those characters would be wide enough for them to choose a nice, beautiful and unique name for their children. "The immoderate use of rare peculiar characters for individual names have brought great trouble to computer management in fields like banks, insurance and communications," said Li Bing, who heads a "Standardization of Chinese Names" group with the State Language Commission. "The aim of drafting a list of Chinese names is to define the proper ranges of name characters," Li said. The desire for parents to pick a unique name for their lovely children might be attributed to fierce modern competition, but the influence of history still lingers on. Chinese places much greater stock in the meaning of names than most native English speakers do.

In China, many foreign words are assimilated into Chinese names with great care. America is "Meiguo" or "beautiful country", for example. So it goes with native Chinese given names, too. In some two decades during the 1950s and 1960s, people's political awareness produced children with given names like "Jianguo," "Jiefang" and "Aijun" -- "build the nation", "liberation" and "love the army".

A person's name in the Chinese is not just his or her individual identity but also reflects the social changes of the times. This is particularly true of Chinese names, as the given names are chosen and selected from among ordinary words for their meanings, not from a list of first names that evolved over the years, as in Western nations.

In the past, a vast number of countryside kids were named "Xiaozhu" (piglet) or "Xiaogou" (puppy) because the farmers were very poor and hoped that they could bring up their children as cheaply as raising pigs and dogs. With food no longer a big worry since the early 1980s and farmers expecting their children to make a good living, "Fu" (wealth) and "Jin" (money) have become increasingly popular words for given names. The six most common ones are "Ying" (hero or flower), "Hua" (flower or China), "Yu" (jade), "Xiu" (elegant), "Ming" (bright) and "Zhen" (treasure).

But regional discrepancies have also been spotted in the selection of words for names. In the Chinese capital of Beijing, for example, the word "Shu" (kind and gentle) is the favourite name for women, while in Shanghai local people are more likely to use "Mei" (sister-like).

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Last Update 09 août 2013