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Chinese name

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Online Highlights 7

It’s time for another round of Online Highlights. Since all things on the internet are found out through links or references by others (like I do in this post), thanks to those who, passively and actively, helped me out this time.

Race for the Galaxy AI – This AI for the card game Race for the Galaxy was released many months ago, so it’s hardly new, but it’s still good. I still prefer to play on Genie against human players, but the AI supports Rebel vs. Imperium, which Genie so far lacks.

Linkou, Taiwan – This is where I live. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before, but my house is under the cloud in the centre of this map!

Partly Cloudy – A very nice short film from Pixar, recommended by Martin in his review.

Foreigners’ Chinese names – I’ve long been an advocate for choosing names in Chinese which are Chinese rather than transliterations of foreign names. This clip perfectly illustrates, if not the whole truth, then at least part of it. It’s also quite funny.

Coach Geoff’s YouTube Channel – An old favourite, who seems to have updated a lot recently. He has provided a lot of inspiration over the years and still do. In fact, I think I’m going to do some workout as soon as I’ve published this post.

Laowai Chinese – Albert Wolfe’s blog about learning Chinese (and lots, lots more). I’ve seen quite a number of blogs like this one, but none has been so interesting. I read almost everything he writes, even though I haven’t had time to excavate the archive yet.

Mandarin tones with Praat – Praat is a program for visually analysing sound, in this case taking a look at what the tones in mandarin Chinese actually look like. How close are they to the tone curves we’ve all been taught? Very, very interesting.

Ministry of Education Chinese-Chinese Dictionary – Another Chinese dictionary, this time a Chinese-Chinese one, probably the most comprehensive I’ve found online. Mostly useful for students in Taiwan, but still.

NCIKU Dictionary – For some reason, I have missed this dictionary. It seems to be very, very good, even though it’s mainland Chinese and thus simplified characters. It still accepts searches for traditional characters, and Ive begun to use this site a lot recently. The many examples are probably the biggest advantage.

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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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After a long search, I have finally found a Chinese name I like. It is not flawless, but it is good enough. For those of you who do not know how Chinese names work, they are composed by a family name, followed by a personal name. Contrary to Western culture, there are fairly few family names, but a great plethora of personal names. The family name is of course inherited, whereas the personal name normally consists of two characters chosen particularly for that person. The two characters can be almost anything, often something connected to the person in question. All names in Chinese mean something that is apparent to the native speaker, which is not the case for Western names.

Since Chinese characters are not phonetic, it is impossible to translate a Western name into Chinese. Thus, Westerners who plan to interact with the Chinese world, need new names that can be written with Chinese characters. Many people choose names which sound like their Western names. Often, a Chinese friend can help them choose a name that is suitable and does not sound like something bad (imagine having a name you think means something cool, but sounds almost exactly the same as “rape”). Since I have no close Chinese friends, this name is very much the result of my own thinking, although I am indebted to certain people for useful help (you know who you are).

I decided to choose a family name which resembles my own, i.e. “Linge”. Since the character “凌” in Mandarin Chinese is pronounced “ling” and also happens to be a surname, it seemed a reasonable choice. The characters means “to soar”, which also connects nicely with the two characters of my personal name. They are “云” (traditional “雲”) and “龙” (traditional “龍”), which are pronounce “yun” and “long” (both with rising tones), and means “cloud” and “dragon” respectively.

Let me explain why I like this name. The dragon bit actually comes from a technique in the taijiquan sabre form, called Cloud Dragon Playing in Water. It has long been my favourite name of any technique, and I like the picture of a dragon playing in water, something I also happen to like quite a lot. Also, the family name combines nicely with the personal name, creating “soaring cloud dragon”.

The first two characters of the full name, “凌” and “云”, also forms part of an idiom, which in its entirety runs “壮志凌云”, and can roughly be translated as “goals reaching as high as the clouds”. I spend a decent amount of my energy trying to achieve my goals, which tend to be rather ambitious, making the name even more suitable.

After having checked with three native speakers of Chinese, and having received positive feedback on this name from all of them, I have decided to adopt this name. So, from now on, I do not have to say “Sorry, I have no Chinese name yet”, but can use “凌云龙” instead.