Western names: why and who invented it?
Thread poster: Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:25
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Sep 19, 2008

Dear colleagues: First of all, I apologise for posting in English. My Chinese is very weak. Well, I lied actually: I don't speak any Chinese apart from saying "Hello!".

It is a true pleasure to see an increasing number of Chinese translators around in Proz.com. It's a great opportunity for the rest of us to get to know more about your activity over there and your culture.

This is something that might have been discussed in the past, but I wanted to know: Why do so many translators in the Freelancers directory have a Western first name (like "Jenny Lu", "Jason Young", "Wallace Gu", "Milton Guo", etc.)? Is that a real name or is it a general practice in China to use a Western first name for international business? Why is it so? Who decided or recommended this?

Thank you so much!


Direct link Reply with quote
 
Wenjer Leuschel  Identity Verified
Taiwan
Local time: 06:25
English to Chinese
+ ...
Sometimes, just for the convenience. Sep 19, 2008

Dear Tomás,

I don't really know why and who invented Western names for ethnic Chinese people. However, it would be inconvenient for the people around you or yourself to insist upon your Chinese name when you happen to live in Western countries or work with Westerners.

I cannot say much for the others but myself. I had been living in Germany and Bolivia for a total of 21 years. The Germans had a lot of problems pronouncing correctly my original name in Chinese. Originally, I was Wen Jer Hsu. They called me Herr Hsu and I couldn't refrain myself from answering them with a "Gesundheit!" So, I adopted my wife's name and put my first name together to form the official name of "Wenjer Leuschel." Now, nobody would sneeze in front of me so easily since then.

However, when I moved to Bolivia, the Spanish or Quechua or Aymará or Guaraní speaking people there had a great difficulty to have both my first and last name pronounced correctly. Well, I had to invent a full name for them. Let me tell you, being called Don Beni had been such a pleasure! Each time when I introduced myself, I would say "Beni, exactamento Beni como Pando." Everybody understood what I meant and called me Don Beni.

That's the story of my Western names. There will be some other interesting stories from my colleagues, I believe.

Have a nice day!

- Wenjer


[Edited at 2008-09-19 18:07]


Direct link Reply with quote
 

Shouguang Cao
China
Local time: 06:25
Member (2007)
English to Chinese
+ ...
Long story Sep 19, 2008

Yes, like Wenjer said, English names are more convenient. And it is even so among those who don't speak English.

Everybody in China has a name, no kidding. But belive me, it is not always easy to call someone by his Chinese name. Using the given name only sounds strange. Using the full name including the family name is a common practice, but it sounds a little aloof when used between close friends and relatives, and sounds impolite among strangers. When Chinese people addresses each other, they use an assortment of methods that constitute a very complicated system. My wife never knows how to call me, very strange, Ah?

Here's an example. I used to teach several South American kids English and Chinese. I love being called Dallas by them, especially when they came to my house to play with my son (in fact, my son's toys). But in Chinese, kids will NEVER call a grownup by his given name or full name. In this case, I would then be called Teacher Cao. On other occasions kids will probably have to call me Uncle Cao (they are not my nephews or nieces).

Let me try do explain. Traditionally all people (males) in a typical village share one common family name and are considered as one big family. In each village there is a very complicated family tree that records all deceased ones' names. The family tree is worshipped in a special hall. Villagers Kowtow to the family tree during the Spring Festival to worship the ancestors and the forefathers.

Again traditionally a typical Chinese name contains three characters. The first one is the family name. The second (middle) character has to be used by all the males of the same GENERATION (in a strictly blood-related sense). And the last character is the given name. My grandfather's middle character is Huai for example, so all the males in the village with Huai as their middle names would be his brothers. My father would then have to call every one of them "uncle". By the time when my father was 20 years old, he would have a lot of "uncles" in the village that were just little kids, and some of his uncles were not even born.

It needs more explanation to explain how the second character (middle name) is given. People's middle characters are actually decided by the ancestors not by the living people. It is from a poem written supposedly by the ancestors.

If the peom goes:

Bai Ri Yi Shan Jin,
Huang He Ru Hai Liu.

If a father's middle character is Bai, his son's must be Ri. In Chinese, a father's name should be awed and should never be used by a person from the lower generation. A son should never even mention his father's name!

This story takes a week to finish. I think I will stop here:) To be sure, things has changed a lot and many youngsters in China don't even know the story now. Many people have long left the villages and parents no longer use their ancestor's poem to name their children. But for some famous ancestors, their naming poems do prevail. Confucious's Chinese family name is Kong. Two thousand and 500 years later, many Kongs now still claim that Confucious is their ancestor and they still name their children strictly following their ancestor's poem. By this system, a Kong in Beijing will immediately know that another Kong in Guangdong is one GRANDFATHER of his and this grandfather is possibly younger than he is. Amazing!



Let me return to the question of English names.

Having an English name is a good solution to this mystery. I got my English name Dallas from my American teacher in college. Sure enough, it is very difficult for an American to remember 22 Chinese names so my teacher wrote dozens of names on the board and asked us to pick. I picked Dallas. I was called Dallas by my friends and teachers (Chinese and foreign) since then.

I am now known by all my non-Chinese contacts as Dallas and I personally like it better than my Chinese name.

I would prefer to use my Chinese name at proz.com if my Chinese name were simpler though. My wife's name is Yifan and she prefers not to have an English name

[Edited at 2008-09-19 16:10]


Direct link Reply with quote
 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:25
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
"What is this German commenting on here?" Sep 19, 2008

Wenjer Leuschel wrote:
I cannot say much for the others but myself. I had been living in Germany and Bolivia for a total of 21 years. The Germans had a lot of problems pronouncing my original name in Chinese correctly. Originally, I was Wen Jer Hsu. They called my Herr Hsu and I couldn't refrain myself from answering them with a "Gesundheit!" So, I adopted my wife's name and put my first name togher to form the official name of "Wenjer Leuschel." Now, nobody would sneeze in front of me so easily since then.


Wen Jer, this was a tremendously interesting story. Amazing to the Spanish eye. I must confess that when I read your name, before reading your reply, I thought... "Is this a German who lives in China and can tell?"

Thank you so much!


Direct link Reply with quote
 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:25
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you so much Dallas! Impressive information! Sep 19, 2008

Dallas Cao wrote:
Let me try do explain. Traditionally all people (males) in a typical village share one common family name and are considered as one big family. In each village there is a very complicated family tree that records all deceased ones' names. The family tree is worshipped in a special hall. All villagers Kowtows to the family tree during the Spring Festival to worship the ancestors and the forefathers.

Again traditionally a typical Chinese name contains three characters. The first one is the family name. The second (middle) character has to be used by all the males of the same GENERATION (in a strictly blood-related sense). And the last character is the given name. My grandfather's middle character is Huai for example, so all the males in the village with Huai as his middle name are his brothers. My father will have to call every one of them "uncle". By the time when my father was 20 years old, he would have a lot of "uncles" in the village that were just little kids, and some of his uncles were not even born.


Oh my!! Thank you so much for sharing this information. I was slightly aware of the ancestor pavillion, etc., but did not have a clue about all the rest. I must share this posting with my friends over here.

So it is indeed more complicated than I thought. So much simpler in Spain! I think it's absolutely critical that this tradition prevails in China in the long run. Industrialisation should not destroy these pearls that make up the soul of your culture. Thank you so much!!


Direct link Reply with quote
 
kjmcguire
Netherlands
Local time: 00:25
Chinese to English
The reverse is also true Sep 19, 2008

I can't really say much about adopting a Western name as I'm not Chinese but I know the reverse is often true. Many Westerners who live, work or study in China or Taiwan adopt Chinese names, usually either transliterations or approximations of their given name or names which actually resemble real Chinese names (some Sinophiles look to Tang poetry for inspiration for these). In the case of students, it's usually much easier for a teacher to remember Chinese names than remember the names of all of his or her students. I had classmates from all over the world and I suppose it was much easier for us (and the teachers) to use our Chinese names.

Some people adopt a Chinese name because they want to show that they have an understanding and appreciation of Chinese culture (this seems to be especially true of those who are long-term residents in China). An increasing number of Western businessmen (and women) use Chinese names on their business cards in the same way that Chinese native speakers use Western names on their cards.

A Taiwanese friend of mine once suggested to me that using a Western name gives the impression that that person is internationally-minded and is more knowledgeable about the English-speaking world than those who stick to using their Chinese names (I'm quite skeptical about this argument). Having said that, I do find clients take my position as a Chinese>English translator a little more seriously when I give them my Western and Chinese name so perhaps there is some truth in my friend's statement.


Direct link Reply with quote
 

Shouguang Cao
China
Local time: 06:25
Member (2007)
English to Chinese
+ ...
funny Sep 19, 2008

Wenjer Leuschel wrote:
I cannot say much for the others but myself. I had been living in Germany and Bolivia for a total of 21 years. The Germans had a lot of problems pronouncing my original name in Chinese correctly. Originally, I was Wen Jer Hsu. They called my Herr Hsu and I couldn't refrain myself from answering them with a "Gesundheit!" So, I adopted my wife's name and put my first name togher to form the official name of "Wenjer Leuschel." Now, nobody would sneeze in front of me so easily since then.


Very funny.

Hi Tomas, here is question. I noticed that some Spanish speaking people's full names contain 4 or 5 names, "why and who invented it?"

For example, when I asked a friend to provide me her full name, she wrote "Arianny Camila Gomez Sosa."

Hi Wenjer. It seems that people in Taiwan like the English name "Thomas." I have met three Thomases from Taiwan. (a hasty generalization)

[Edited at 2008-09-19 15:19]


Direct link Reply with quote
 

Shouguang Cao
China
Local time: 06:25
Member (2007)
English to Chinese
+ ...
lost Sep 19, 2008

Tomás Cano Binder wrote:

So it is indeed more complicated than I thought. So much simpler in Spain! I think it's absolutely critical that this tradition prevails in China in the long run. Industrialisation should not destroy these pearls that make up the soul of your culture. Thank you so much!!


It's lost already! I read my ancestor's naming poem when I was very small and I don't rember it at all when I name my child!

[Edited at 2008-09-19 15:33]


Direct link Reply with quote
 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:25
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Sad to hear! Sep 19, 2008

Dallas Cao wrote:
Tomás Cano Binder wrote:
So it is indeed more complicated than I thought. So much simpler in Spain! I think it's absolutely critical that this tradition prevails in China in the long run. Industrialisation should not destroy these pearls that make up the soul of your culture. Thank you so much!!

It's lost already! I read my ancestor's naming poem when I was very small and I don't rember it at all when I name my child!


That's sad to hear Dallas. I hope there is some way to recovering some written form of the poem!


Direct link Reply with quote
 
Wenjer Leuschel  Identity Verified
Taiwan
Local time: 06:25
English to Chinese
+ ...
Do clients really believe that a Western name means more internationality and knowledgeablility? Sep 20, 2008

Kelly McGuire wrote:

A Taiwanese friend of mine once suggested to me that using a Western name gives the impression that that person is internationally-minded and is more knowledgeable about the English-speaking world than those who stick to using their Chinese names (I'm quite skeptical about this argument). Having said that, I do find clients take my position as a Chinese>English translator a little more seriously when I give them my Western and Chinese name so perhaps there is some truth in my friend's statement.


Dear Kelly,

I don't think they believe that way. Clients are more concerned with the nativeness of a translator than his/her Western name or Chinese name. Each time when I present a list of the translators who are supposed to work on a specific project, my clients wouldn't ask for their names, but for their detailed curricula in order to verify/validate their qualifications for that specific project. The clients don't mind their names at all. They would ask me to verify the nativeness of a translator if the location of the translator happens to be somewhere else than in Taiwan or China. They would ask how long the translator has been away from his/her homeland. The reason is understandable: A translator may loose his/her contact to the living language in his/her homeland. I have lost some lucrative projects during the last three years because of not being able to find qualified translators, but never because of the Chinese or Western names of the translators I proposed. I have even lost some lucrative projects, which I believed to be able to have done efficiently, but just because I live in Taiwan now and not in the location where the clients expected me to be I've lost them.

When you provide your Western name as well as your Chinese name, the clients would say, "Great that you have a Chinese name, but how many years have you been living in a Chinese speaking country? And are you familiar with the field of the project that you are supposed to translate?" These are the usual questions that a client would ask when it comes to a quality translation. As a matter of fact, almost none of my clients has ever asked me why I got that funny name, neither German nor Chinese. However, my clients do know how I manage projects and they can be sure of the way I do.

Names are not important at all. It is the person that matters. However, it is important to make your name (known) in business. When you make a NAME in business, people come to you for more buisness. Names are just for identification and almost nothing more. I have 6 different names in 4 languages, but my clients know that they are of the same person. There isn't a confusion in the identification and the names do not either enhance or degrade my credibility at all.

Have a nice weekend!

- Wenjer


[Edited at 2008-09-20 18:53]


Direct link Reply with quote
 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:25
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks Wenjer! Sep 22, 2008

Wenjer Leuschel wrote:
Clients are more concerned with the nativeness of a translator than his/her Western name or Chinese name. Each time when I present a list of the translators who are supposed to work on a specific project, my clients wouldn't ask for their names, but for their detailed curricula in order to verify/validate their qualifications for that specific project.


Yes, it appears to me that this would be the case (i.e. experience and place of residence more important than the name). That's why I find it very interesting how people can change their name for better international contact.

I wanted to know when this all started: i.e. when did Chinese people start using Western names for their international contacts.


Direct link Reply with quote
 
Wenjer Leuschel  Identity Verified
Taiwan
Local time: 06:25
English to Chinese
+ ...
Supposedly after the "Boxeraufstand" Sep 22, 2008

Tomás Cano Binder wrote:

Yes, it appears to me that this would be the case (i.e. experience and place of residence more important than the name). That's why I find it very interesting how people can change their name for better international contact.

I wanted to know when this all started: i.e. when did Chinese people start using Western names for their international contacts.


When Chinese people became aware of the existence of other peoples and were "gezwungenermaßen" doing buiness with Westerners, they started to adopt Western names for the convenience. There were the founder of the Sung Dynasty, that notorious Charlie, and many others.

About changing names for better international contact, I've heard a joke told in Germany. It goes like this: There was a certain Herr Freudenhaus who had been unpleasant with his name. One day he came back from his Italian vacation and was so happy to tell people that he got a totally new name. He asked people to call him Signor Bordello from then on.

You see, it's all the same. For instance, there isn't a "Great Leap Forward" (Großer Sprung nach vorn) from "Wen Jer" to "Wenjer." Neither is it a Chinese one, nor a German one. There isn't anyone else in Germany who happens to bear the name "Wenjer." When I was living in Germany, there were so many people who just mistaken my name for "Werner" even after I had explained them that the name is to be pronounced exactly the same way as a Berliner would say "weniger."

By the way, you seem not to be a full-blood Spaniard with the name "Binder." Could the last name be a German one? Creo que sí, no cierto?

¡Que tengas un buen día!

- Wenjer


[Edited at 2008-09-23 00:30]


Direct link Reply with quote
 


To report site rules violations or get help, contact a site moderator:


You can also contact site staff by submitting a support request »

Western names: why and who invented it?

Advanced search






PDF Translation - the Easy Way
TransPDF converts your PDFs to XLIFF ready for professional translation.

TransPDF converts your PDFs to XLIFF ready for professional translation. It also puts your translations back into the PDF to make new PDFs. Quicker and more accurate than hand-editing PDF. Includes free use of Infix PDF Editor with your translated PDFs.

More info »
Across v6.3
Translation Toolkit and Sales Potential under One Roof

Apart from features that enable you to translate more efficiently, the new Across Translator Edition v6.3 comprises your crossMarket membership. The new online network for Across users assists you in exploring new sales potential and generating revenue.

More info »



Forums
  • All of ProZ.com
  • Term search
  • Jobs
  • Forums
  • Multiple search