Sunday, October 24, 2010

What's in a Name?

It's not uncommon here, in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia, for people to choose a more "western" sounding name for themselves. Some try and find a name or word that closely resembles their actual name, like Chun might choose John, or Mei Lin might be Merilyn. Others often choose names that aren't all that common these days, like Doris, Albert or Kelvin. Then there are a few people who obviously put a lot of thought into the meaning behind the name they choose, and instead use actual words from the English language. In the recent past I have met, or heard of the following names: Rainbeau, Twinkle, Sugar, Suspense, Ice, Dolphin, Pop, Zenith, and Sunshine. Celebrities have been using unusual names for years (Apple, anyone?) but I have to admit that I do have a giggle when Breeze asks me to fasten my seatbelt, or when Diamond takes my coffee order. I've been thinking about it a lot lately and even though some of these names may seem strange to us, I think we put just as much thought into the names we choose for our children.

I had my son's name chosen before I was even pregnant. I actually based it on a character from one of our all-time favourite TV shows. I know it sounds a bit corny but West Wing fans will understand. The character was a really good guy and I liked the way the name sounded. Our son's middle name was always going to be my maiden name and we loved the way the two names went together. As a teacher I found choosing names quite difficult. There was always some child who I thought of when a name was mentioned. There were quite a few names I was opposed to purely because I'd met one or two naughty children with those names. I also realised that I almost always had preconceived notions about a child based on their name. A Cosmo was bound to have a very different upbringing to a Christopher, and I anticipated different behaviours from both. Sometimes I was pleasantly surprised but not always. J's name was one of the few that I had no association with, I only knew nice kids with that particular name. I also wanted a name that would suit both a child and an adult, one that couldn't be used to tease him later on, and one that wasn't so common that there would be 5 others with the same name in his class at school.

Even though I had my heart set on this particular name, my husband and I still spent hours poring over baby name books, just in case our baby came out and he didn't look like a J, or if he was, in fact, a she. We always said names out loud with the middle name and surname; we called it the Prime Minister/President test. If it didn't sound like the name of a future leader, it was dismissed. I had a really hard time finding an appropriate girl's name that I loved as much as I loved the name I chose for J, so we were lucky in the end that we had a boy, because a daughter may have remained nameless for a few weeks while we debated over the endless number of ways to spell Katelyn/Caitlin.

We've known people who have the name of their child picked out months, even years, in advance like us. While I was pregnant I had a lot of people ask what names I had picked out but I was always very reluctant to share with some friends. Not because I was worried about them "stealing" the name but because most people are quite honest when it comes to their opinions on names. I mentioned a few potential names to some and was met with responses like, "Oh, I really don't like that name," or "I once knew a girl called ... and she was a complete b@#%h." One friend accused me of being a bit precious about it, and didn't think it was that big a deal ("people have babies every day!") but I knew it would always bother me if I gave my child a certain name knowing that friends or family members hated it. I decided it was better to wait until it was too late for them to comment. After the baby was born they would have to lie and say they loved it, right?

Whether you're a Prince or a Peter, Mary or Mermaid, the name you have reflects who you are, and most of the time, a lot of thought has gone into it. In a way I like the idea of choosing a name that reflects a quality or even an object that you admire. Who wouldn't love a Hope or a Faith? I have no plans to name any of my future children after precious gems or confectionary, but I'm keeping an open mind.

P.S. 16/4/10 - I recently learned, thanks to a young man named Promise, that some names that might seem unusual to us, are simply the English translation of a Chinese name. The meaning and thought behind it are the same, and that makes me like these wonderful names all the more.


  1. I ordered food from a "Demon" one time. A female no less ;)

    And both of my girls have "quality" middle names - Joy and Hope. If I have another girl, I'm thinking either Grace or Faith for a middle name. I don't know if there are "quality" names that are masculine though...

    I never wanted to tell anyone the names until it was set in stone either because I didn't want everyone's opinions about the names. I still got a few opinions regardless though ;) But by that stage, it's too late to change it anyway so most people aren't as rude about it ;)

  2. One of the women I worked with was very strict about not giving away the name of her children before they were born and named. The idea being about the power of knowing someone's true name affords. It was a way to protect her unborn children by keeping their name secret from Misfortune. I've always felt it was quite poetic and meaningful, symbolic or otherwise.