You may have read the above title and thought it was such an odd concept. If you did, you’d be right. After all, how could somebody simply get a Chinese name? Why would someone wish to alter something so key to his or her identity? In some other places, it’s easy to adapt our names for international use, or from time to time we have names attributed to our religious beliefs. In China, to make it easier and more convenient for the internationals that can’t pronounce Chinese names, it’s reasonably common in the big cities for Chinese people to have English names. As it’s also difficult for some Chinese locals to really pronounce our names, some of us go all the way and adopt a Chinese name. In order to explain further, let me tell you the story of how I got my Chinese name.
For the purpose of this story, our new friend was called Shaun. He was a bank teller born and raised in Beijing and he was one of the friendliest people we had come to meet in the city. He happened to be heading in the same direction as us and never had the opportunity to speak with internationals before. He felt that it was a great chance to meet new people whilst learning different things about the world. We perceived him as an amiable fellow and he made us feel welcome in such a big foreign city. We spent a 30minute train ride discussing many things ranging from life in Beijing and Chinese culture to food and hobbies; it was an enjoyable conversation.
The next day, we were invited to his home to have dinner. Though we held some reservations at first, we agreed that it was an opportune moment to really learn more about the city, some of it’s people and Chinese food, so of course we went. He shared a 3-bedroom apartment with his friend. They had a kitchen but no living room. So Shaun, his friend, Dilya and I sat around a table in a room that had a balcony. We prepared the famous Beijing Roast Duck and a homemade hotpot with some lotus root, lettuce, cabbage, garlic, etc. It was a perfect meal and in some splendid company. Over dinner, Shaun asked us, “Do you guys have Chinese names?” To my surprise, Dilya already had one and gave hers as “李玟” (Li Wén); I however, had not. So Shaun left the room in order to grab some extras and as he left he said, “By the end of this evening, I will give you a very good Chinese name.”
Now almost 2 years on, I still use the name Liu Bang and I’ve used the name as an ice-breaking tool. I find Chinese people in awe at the thought of an international named after one of their most key emperors, whilst others have since simply been laughing and joking about it when I first introduce myself. They’re bemused that someone would not only know some of this history but that said person would go so far and even adopt a name from a man so revered. I’ll never forget Shaun because he contributed to my life here in a way that was so positive and constructive. I made new friends, had great conversations, I’ve found it easier to integrate into life in Beijing and have enjoyed my time more because my Chinese name is Liu Bang.
Written by Athiei Ajuong
Master of International Communications
Communication University of China
Our editorial team is made of writers who have studied and/or lived in China. They share China's story with South Sudan.
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