English Names for Chinese People and Chinese Names Given to People Who Are Not Chinese

“I will begin by stating that my Chinese name is 司恩德. It was given to me by my high school Chinese teacher, after 3 days of deliberation. 司 is not a Chinese surname; 司马 is, but having a 4-character name constitutes bad luck because 四=死. I learned several years ago that 司恩德 scores 98 points in terms of fengshui (v an average of 70). Most of my Chinese friends think the name is overblown/impossible, but I’m sticking with it because I’ve had it since I was 14, and my Chinese teacher is really nice.”

English Names for Chinese People and Chinese Names Given to People Who Are Not Chinese

China flag

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

The paragraph you just read was posted by veteran FlyerTalk member moondog, who launched this discussion in the China forum on FlyerTalk, which has not seen much activity in recent months due to the lack of travel to and from that country as a result of the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic.

“Moving on to us providing English names for Chinese people:

  1. Lilly and Li Li are completely off limits because there are simply too many (e.g. I have ~50 in my Wechat contact list), but Lilian, Lisa, Loretta, etc are all okay
  2. I feel slightly guilty about bestowing the name “Pantene” upon my hotel floor person during 1997, but she continues to retain it because it is unique
  3. During 2001, I named the lady who fancied me “Pretty” because it matched well with her Chinese name, and being pretty was her defining quality
  4. Revisiting point 1, I try my best to avoid common names”


China Eastern Airlines Shanghai to New York

This advertisement was found on the back of a seat aboard an airplane which was operated by China Eastern Airlines. Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

This discussion has sparked quite a bit of input from fellow FlyerTalk members — many of whom are Chinese or of Chinese ancestry — and I found it to be rather interesting.

Some names apparently do not translate well between Chinese and English. For example, find out which Chinese names loosely translate into big toe or stupid and to whom they were applied — plus, FlyerTalk member garykung posted that the Chinese name for “rice bucket is an insulting word for those are lack abilities/unable to get things done.”

Don’t go against the grain and emulate a rice bucket by not reading that discussion on FlyerTalk…

All photographs ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

One thought on “English Names for Chinese People and Chinese Names Given to People Who Are Not Chinese”

  1. Barry Graham says:

    I’m wondering why they need English names. In this age of diversity people should be able to use their real names without translation, and many do. Our children all have Hebrew names and not English names.

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