The Name Game
One of my favourite moments in the process of working with a company seeking entry to the China market is the part where we focus on choosing a local Chinese name for the owner and/or senior executives. Assuming that, like most people, your name was chosen for you at birth by your parents, it’s very rare that you get the chance to actually choose your own name, so I encourage everyone to be bold and courageous during this process, and to embrace the opportunity to pick a good one!
If you need any inspiration for this, take a look at how Chinese people choose their English names. Whilst many have relied on their English teacher or parent to select an appropriate name for them, resulting in some fairly safe and ordinary choices (eg named after the teacher’s favourite western movie star or pop singer which sounds a bit like their Chinese name) some get the chance to do it themselves which is a lot more interesting. I once knew a guy whose English name was “Superman”, which might be taking things a bit too far, but “Hero” is a popular name for males, and “Beautiful” for girls is not uncommon, and I have come across many interesting variations on these two themes.
In my case, I have found that my Chinese name 唐明达 (pronounced ‘Tang Ming Da’) has served me well over the years, as a good conversation-starter and also to demonstrate my strong interest and appreciation of Chinese culture, dynasties and history. It was actually proposed for me by my friends in Hong Kong in the 1980s who encouraged me to take the first two characters of my Father’s name 唐明治 (‘Tang Ming Zhi’) and add a third character (‘Da’) to create the family link (admittedly normally reserved for brothers, and not father/sons) and to benefit from the meaning of ‘Meng Da’ (alongside the esteemed Tang dynasty) which means, amongst other things, ‘astute’, ‘wise’, ‘insightful’….all names you’d like to be associated with.
So, if you haven’t done it already, impress your Chinese friends, clients and business partners by choosing a good Chinese name, adding it to your business card (or bio) and, if you really want to stand out from the crowd, make sure there’s an entertaining story behind it. It will get even the most awkward conversation off to a good start!