Chinese-American Naming Culture

Blog > Chinese-American Naming Culture
Posted on: November 26th, 2018by Elizabeth Henderson

China is considered one of the nations with the most outstanding cultures in the world. Chinese culture spans centuries back into time. The conservative nature of the Chinese has ensured that their cultural norms remain intact amid intense cultural interactions across the world. The Chinese naming culture has not changed much over the years; for both the Chinese at home and those in the diaspora. However, there are some little elements of variation between the naming culture for the Chinese back in the mainland China and those who are in the US. Like many other groups in America, the cultural interaction has had some little impact on the naming customs of the Chinese people. This variation is only noticed in the given names. This phenomenon has been occasioned by the need to undergo cultural adaptations that would make them belong to the American society fully.

For the Chinese, the family name comes before the given names. This is contrary to the western culture where the given name comes first. This naming order presents a unique cultural element of the Chinese people through which they protect their heritage. For instance, if you meet a Chinese with the name Mao Xing, be careful not to use his family name instead of his given name. In this case, Mao is the family name while Xing is the given name. It is proper to call him Mr. Mao or simply Xing. This naming formula is used by the Chinese spread out all over the world. They use this approach to maintain their identity and their attachment to the mother culture.

The Chinese surnames follow the same patterns hence they are not quite different from each other. However, the given names are way different. This is because China has a limited variety of surnames. In fact, about 85% of the surnames sum up to only 100 names. These include names like Zhang, Li, Wang, and a few others. If you have met a few Chinese people, you will agree with me. The Chinese focus their attentions in creating unique and meaningful first names for their newborns. They avoid repetitious names like John, Peter, William, and others. The Chinese make sure that the given names cannot be replicated anywhere. This attribute leaves many Chinese children with names that sound hilarious to the American culture. For instance, calling a new baby 'Sweet Sauce' may be normal for the Chinese but odd for the westerners. This tendency to create unique names that only mean something to the mother makes the Chinese an odd culture among the Americans.

Unlike the Hispanic Americans, the Chinese children inherit the father's name as the surname. This norm is also in line with the western, Hindu, Hebrew, African, and indigenous Americans' cultures. The effect of this approach is that the mother's identity is lost. This is because the lineage of the baby can then be traced through the father only. For the baby girls, the phenomenon is even more complicated. When they get married, they drop the paternal surnames and adopt the husbands' names. Therefore, at no point will the identity of the mother be passed down by the baby. If for instance the father's surname is Li, he would be called Mr. Li, the mother will be Mrs. Li, and the young daughter will be Miss. Li. This way, the mother and the baby surrender their identity to the father in a formal environment. This is probably the reason why the new moms make sure that the first names they give to their babies have profound meanings to them.

The increased cultural interaction between the Chinese and the diverse group of people has made some of them to adopt western first names. According to this group of women, given their children names that are easily pronounced and spelt by other people increase the level of interaction between their children and others. Moreover, it prepares them to effectively navigate an increasingly diverse environment. The other reason for doing this is the admiration that some Chinese moms have towards the American culture. They think that being American is 'cool'; hence, they want to ensure that their children fully belong. In today's America, it is not odd to meet a Chinese with the name Peter, William, Eve or valentine. The Chinese-Americans do not want to feel like outcasts in the US. They figure that the best way to do this is to begin by giving their children common American or western names. The western names would also help solve the problem of difficult-to-pronounce Chinese names. Despite this change in approach, one rule still remains clear, a rule that originates from the Chinese culture, the name must have a profound meaning for the mother. For example, the new mom must ask herself, what does the name Cupid really mean to me and why should my baby bear it?

Even when the given name has been adopted from the western culture, the surname remains an integral aspect of the identity of the baby. The surnames have their origin from the culture; hence, they remain unchanged for generations after generations. The Chinese people attach special significance to the surnames. Since the meaning of the first name is attributed to the mother, the meaning of the surname is attributed to the cultural identity. The Chinese are proud of these names because they signify that they still respect their cultural heritage and uphold their cultural norms. When you meet a Chinese, they will use both names to introduce themselves. In a formal setting, they will easily respond to the surnames and vice versa.

The complex naming culture of the Chinese makes them a unique group in the American culture. The effects of the western culture have not changed much about the naming traditions of the Chinese except for the use of the given names. Unlike the whites, the blacks and the Latinos, the popularity of a given name does not influence its use, for the new borns, among the Chinese moms. The Chinese moms are free to choose given names as long as these names have personal meanings to the new moms.

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