Baby name consultation: Chinese (+Catholic?) names

Today’s consultation is a little different — I don’t have permission to post the family’s details, but I wanted to hear your ideas regarding one part of their “dilemma.” One of the parents is Chinese, and while the baby’s name will be an English one, the parent’s Chinese heritage is an important consideration. But the parent who emailed me is the non-Chinese parent and didn’t have a good sense of what names the spouse would like or not like. So I did a little research into Chinese naming customs, and found this article, which included this bit of info that I thought was helpful:

While we might find it strange for so many Chinese to share the same surname, they find it equally odd for so many in the West to share the same forename.

Whereas most of us know a few Janes, Johns, Jameses, Saras, and Andrews, this repetition does not really happen in China. In fact the focus is on creating a unique name for your child, which won’t be shared with others or copied from elsewhere …

The names are also designed to mean something. It could be anything from Xiao-Long (小龍), meaning ‘little dragon’, to Li-Kong (立功), which means something close to ‘worthy of merit’

I took all this to mean that (1) junioring isn’t really done, and (2) the name “definitions” that I usually caution against giving too much weight to are actually really important in Chinese naming. Do you agree? Is there more to know about English names given to babies of Chinese parents?

I also looked up Chinese saints, and found this great listing of the Martyr Saints of China, but then I also found this article about when JP2 canonized the first Chinese saints and wow — I knew that the state-run Chinese Catholic Church is at odds with the [underground] Chinese Catholic Church loyal to Rome, but I didn’t know much beyond that — what a sad article!

Based on that, just from a naming perspective, I didn’t feel as confident about my ability to suggest names that someone emailing a Catholic baby name consultant for name help, who has a Chinese naming tradition to consider, might like.

I know this isn’t a lot to go on, but if any particular names come to mind for either boys or girls, I’d love to hear them! And if you have any more information on Chinese naming, especially with a Catholic sensibility, please share!


26 thoughts on “Baby name consultation: Chinese (+Catholic?) names

  1. No specific ideas but what friends of ours did was use the anglicized version of the Chinese parent’s last name. The child’s other name is a family name from the non Chinese parent’s family.

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  2. I don’t know anything at all about Chinese culture. Based on the information you included, uniqueness seems like a really big deal. Maybe a double or hyphenated first name with an unusual combination (even Chinese-English, like a family name from both sides) might be something that would work? Not sure.

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  3. Maybe Chinese version of one of the Marian names or names honoring Jesus? Like the Chinese words for “star of the Sea” (Stella Maris) or “Queen of Heaven” or “God is with Us” or “light of the World”? Even flower names – Lily or Rose – could have a translation and important Catholic reference. However, I think it would be important for the person to talk to the spouse – the writer might be anxious over nothing, or the spouse has ideas already how to approach naming the child.

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  4. This is weird. Why doesn’t he just ask his wife? I’m Chinese and most of my circle have Western AND Chinese names, which makes it quite straightforward. We live in the UK so the Chinese names are middle names. You can choose cool Christian meanings for the Chinese characters but his wife’s family can help with that, surely. For example “yi” meaning “righteous” is meant to look like Christ on the cross. Imho just choose a properly Western Western name and a properly Chinese name and don’t try to do any of that weird fusion nonsense.

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  5. Most Chinese kids I know have a Western first name they use at school and a Chinese name that they use only at home. Usually, the Western name is very “normal” (as in Michael, Sophia, or Jane).

    But if this family is only choosing one name, I’d suggest an English name that has a beautiful meaning/definition (like Sara, Claire, Lucy, Ruth, David, Daniel, Matthew or Timothy) or a word name (Pearl, Felicity, Rose or Will).

    Another option is using a name that is related to the child’s Chinese birth year: 2017 (and the first few weeks of 2017) is the rooster year and 2018 is the dog year. (Maybe this idea is totally stupid, I don’t know much about Chinese culture.)
    So, rooster is hard, but there is Fulton, which means “bird hill”, according to Behind the Name. And Caleb means dog and Conor means dog lover.

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  6. I don’t really know anything about Chinese naming or what exactly this family is going for, whether they know the baby’s gender, etc., but I do have a Japanese friend (who is not Catholic but is a devout Christian) who found it very important that the name had a nice sound in English and Japanese, had a good meaning, and had “good Chinese characters” (which are sometimes used in Japanese). I’m not exactly sure what that means or how it is determined, but my friend chose the name “Elisa,” which is a variant of the name Elizabeth and means “consecrated to God.” She said the hardest part was finding a name that had good Chinese characters, and Elisa fit the bill! If it’s a girl, maybe they can add that one to the list. (Other than that particular suggestion though, I’m not sure how much help I can be!)

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  7. My father in law is Chinese and comes from a large family in Malaysia. He and all of his ten siblings have western chrsitian names and Chinese middle names. My husband and his brothers are half Chinese/American and it is the same, western Christian first names and Chinese middle names. The Chinese middle names have some sort of significant meaning according to the parents feelings about that child at that time in life, such as “gift” or “complete” or something like that. I am a little fuzzy on the actual translation of the message omg of the middle names.

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  8. I agree with Fiona. There is no need for fusion names.

    IMO there isnt much difference. names are symbolic. Western naming customs tends to name after people while Chinese naming customs tend to name after characteristics, natural elements, events, aspirations, etc.

    To bore again by using my name as an example, my western given names (in my birth cert) were after people, while my Chinese name, all cultural and not in my birth cert at all, means “illustrious and classic beauty” and my dad pored over a dictionary to name me.

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  9. I think this is going to be a non-issue when they talk about it. Most families I’ve seen do a “Western” name on paper and an “Asian” name in the family. I’ve also seen a “Western” first name and an “Asian” middle name or vice verse. The third option, tho I don’t know any that have done this, would be to use a “noun” name and then the kiddo’s name could be translated into the Chinese character. This could be awkward and I don’t have any Chinese suggestions. I’m imagining a Hana (flower in Japanese) being used for a baby named Rose. Perhaps some others that could work – Pearl, Stella (star), Lily, Haven, Robin. Good luck

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  10. One family I interviewed adopted a daughter from China and gave her the middle name Lian, which they said means lotus. Lotus could also have religious meaning.

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  11. A few considerations …….. Chinese never tend to name babies after any relative who is still alive. In Singapore, this is true for the western given names also. Then, there is the traditional Chinese character for the name. Some mixed-race couples choose a simpler looking character so that they can write it easily, or at least recognise it.

    In Singapore it is very common for children to be given a western first name and a two syllable Chinese middle name, or vice versa. But for American Chinese, we have noticed many families simply choose one name which translates well into both languages. Names like Lin, Min, Ling, Ming, Mei, Su, etc.

    For Catholicd, we have seen a lot of “ai” nsmes (eg Ai Ling) because Ai means love. “An” is also popular (eg Su An) because it means pesce. Or “En” is common (eg Xi En) because it means grace.

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    • This is perfect Emily!! I was particularly interested in the fact that the Chinese never name after living relatives, and the names that Catholics use like love, peace, and grace. Very helpful!


  12. People have already said pretty much the same thing, but just throwing in the one experience I have of this.

    In a family I know where mum is English and dad is half-Chinese, their daughter has four names: English firstname, mother’s English maiden name-as-first-middle name, Chinese name (chosen by her Chinese grandfather)-as-second-middle-name, Chinese surname. It’s quite cool because when you say her full name, it sounds like you’re saying two people’s names.

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