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Yilan, Taiwan
I'm a Social Studies teacher and single mom from Colorado and have lived here for 9 years. Taiwan is an excellent base for us explore Asia, while living in relative (gun free) safety, while benefiting from a cheap and efficient national health care system. The people are amazing too. I have friendships that are 14 years old and I'm always making new ones.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Whats in a name

Hi my name for a few weeks was  貝 凯 言(Bei Kai Yan). 貝 (4th)  is a shell and a radical and pictograph for "money".  凯Kai (3rd) means "victory" and 言 Yan (2nd) is "speech, words". It sort of sounds like my real name.

My name used to be艷, until a friend told me it was the name of a "lady of the night'/Chinese stripper/ancient Chinese consort name so of course I had to change my Chinese name again. But then all my other Taiwanese friends said they definitely did not get that feeling from that name, so I went back to it.

Finding a Chinese name has been an interesting process and I have learned a lot about characters and how Taiwanese people find a name, their first impression when they hear it, etc.
In Chinese, the family name is first xìng = surname (specifically a paternal surname), followed by the given name míng or míngzì 名字. Chinese also have a nickname chuòhào 绰号. When they are born their parents usually give them a 'milk name' rŭmíng 乳名 before deciding on their personal name after consulting an astrologer.

A lot of foreigners get their Chinese name based on the sounds of their western name. I have always believed the meaning of a name has the power to ordain or preordain someones destiny or identity, if they realize this or not. Chinese people think along the same lines as me and names are so important they will consult an astrologer/numerologist to come up with the most auspicious name. Also there is also the whole business of how it sounds, the number of strokes the character has, if a name is being passed down the family and like us, if it will be ridiculed by their classmates in school.

I had  a great idea for my daughter's name Zhen-Ya, but my Taiwanese friends preferred it Ya-Zhen, as it sounds better to their ear and I have to take their word for it.  Astrology and numerology aside, my daughter's was easier to come up with a Chinese name. I liked the meaning of 'treasure' zhen and her given name is (yaTone 3zhen) 'elegant treasure'. She has been using that one for sometime now and as it is quite common I am debating whether to change it or not, but it does sound nice.

For myself, I decided to go more for the meaning than something than sounded like my English name (Kathy   kǎ dì). My former Chinese teacher Kevin helped me with my first Chinese name. I wanted something with mountains since I come from CO, but I like forests so I picked the very common surname of  林 (Lin) which makes sense since I was born a 'wood tiger'. He made my first name sounds like (jiaTone 1yuTone 2) 嘉瑜 which is the opposite of yoga which is 瑜珈 (yuTone 2 jiaTone 1).  Thus my my first full Chinese name was 林嘉瑜  a kind of spin off of the more traditional玉 .Whenever I said 林嘉瑜   it it just felt wrong, so I knew eventually I would change it.

By own research I can up with Yan Yan 艷 (beautiful words).
  • 言 yanTone 2  words, speech; speak, say 
  • 艷  yanTone 4 beautiful, sexy, voluptuous
It felt like "mine" and I confirmed with Doreen my friend (and language exchange partner) and she loves it too. In fact I wanted a whole new surname to go with it and we had it it down to two: 清 Qing and Du 杜 after the Tang dynasty poet 杜甫 .  The character 肚 means belly, to me the seat/core/gut of creative energy. But after other friends' responses I also do not want to give a bad impression, so I had nix this one too.

 So my new and improved Chinese name, which I love and hope this is the "one" is:
貝 凯

Here are some links I found if you do not have great Taiwanese friends:

Like always, when in doubt ask your Taiwanese friends for advice.

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