Monday, July 30, 2012

I [Kid] You Not: A Chinese Name Lost in Transcription

Although some Chinese adopt a foreign name to accomodate those who speak other languages, others stick with their Chinese name in all situations. When writing in another language such as English, mainland Chinese will typically use pinyin -- the official method in several countries to write Chinese words in a Latin script. For example, the full name of the Chinese artist 艾未未 is Ai Weiwei in pinyin, and the full name of the retired Chinese basketball player 姚明 is Yao Ming. Some Chinese names, such as Xiaoxin or Cuiping, can be particularly challenging to pronounce, write, or remember for people who are not familiar with the pinyin system. Otherwise, using the pinyin form of a Chinese name is straightforward -- usually...

Yesterday, after exchanging several emails in English with a Chinese acquaintance who prefers not to use a foreign-language name, I noticed that she would always write her family name in pinyin or her given name in Chinese characters. Not once had she ever written her given name in pinyin.

As I started to ponder whether there might be an interesting story explaining this curious pattern, I replied to her most recent email.

Her given name is 诗婷. Typing it or saying it in Chinese never previously struck me as odd in any way.

But after I finished typing her name in pinyin for the first time, I paused and stared at the result: Shiting.

Mystery apparently solved.

Although not a word in English, her name in pinyin closely resembles an English word that most people would not want as a name. I could appreciate why she might want to avoid it. But her current strategy might not be practical if she were to work in a multinational setting or live in a non-Chinese-speaking country. Such are the occasional challenges of using one's original name in a foreign language.

What would you do if you were Shiting?


  1. Use the HK method- just make up an English name/adopt the English name that most closely resembles your Chinese one.

  2. A few years back I was in touch with some IBM people in Beijing, who seemed to enjoy taking on interesting names.

    One was Melody Song, and another was Unique Song.

    I wondered if they had translated their names or just taken on entirely new ones that were a bit of fun.

  3. Shi-shi or Ting-ting, or if she decides to take on a Western name, maybe Sheila?

  4. Or you can not use Pinyin. My parents spelled my Chinese name in Pinyin instead of Jyutping but as it is a Cantonese name no one pronounces it correctly.

  5. I can so understand her because I have the same name. I often get so stressed out when people found out my name because I would get teased and it's so irritating. It's just a name , What's so big deal about it ?