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Chinese name: Follow-up

I first introduced my Chinese name last spring. I chose the name myself after consulting with a number of native speakers to make sure that the name was sound, and it took me many, many hours of searching and discarding various ideas. Naming yourself as an adult is pretty interesting, but inherently difficult. It might not be apparent, however, how this name has influenced me and how Chinese names work for foreigners, so I intend to share with you some of my experiences here in Taiwan relating to my name. Perhaps this will provide a glimpse into everyday life and perhaps also tell you something about Chinese culture.

To begin with, I’m very happy with my name for reasons I’ve already disclosed in the original post. As it has turned out, most people here also like my name. In all, I think that roughly twenty people have commented on my name, and the comments are very positive, ranging from “that’s a cool name”, via “it sounds really Chines” to “it suits your personality”. I also think the name looks nice in writing (traditional characters, of course).

However, there is always backside, I suppose. For instance, the fact that the name sounds Chinese isn’t always an advantage. Most foreigners’ names don’t sound Chinese at all, they are simply the original names in English, Spanish, Swedish or whatever, transferred to Chinese using characters which supposedly sound similar (but often don’t). These names have no meaning, and that’s the hallmark of many foreign names. This leads to the peculiar situation that most people think I’m Chinese if they only see my name, and either talks way too fast on the phone or get surprised when they meet me in person.

Furthermore, the name might look nice, but it’s not very convenient to write. Consisting of 38 strokes, it’s more time consuming to write than most other names I’ve seen. Many Taiwanese ask me why I’ve chosen such a difficult name (the answer is that I didn’t think about that, plus that the name is not all that complicated using simplified characters). In the beginning, I also wrote my name incorrectly for a long time, using only two strokes in the lower-right corner of 龍, where there should be three (other minor errors such as stroke order has also been corrected). Having written it a few hundred times, I don’t feel that writing my name is a problem any longer, though.

As if this wasn’t enough, there is also a problem with pronunciation. The first character, 凌, is pronounced “ling” with a rising tone. The difficulty lies in that another, much more common family name,林, is pronounced “lin”, also with a rising tone; they only differ in the final sound. However, the difference between “ng” and “n” is not exactly the same as it is in Swedish or English, which makes this distinction difficult for me. In normal conversation, this is never a problem, but with my name, it is. Most people think my name is 林 not 凌, and usually I have to write it down to let people know what I mean. Lately, I’ve also learnt to describe the character in Chinese, which is also helpful.

To round things off, I’m very happy I chose a name for myself and that I did so well in advance, giving much time to think about it. Foreigners coming here without a Chinese name invariably gets one created for them, sometimes by government officials because they have to call them something. These names are boring, meaningless and sometimes downright ludicrous. A recommendation for those of you who study Chinese, but have no name so far, is to start thinking about it now, or else accept the fact that somebody else will choose for you. I don’t think my name is perfect (it sounds a bit pretentious translated into English, for instance, even though I’m pretty sure that’s not true in Chinese), but it’s good enough and I’ve grown used to it

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