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Weird names leave teachers scratching their heads

2012-09-29 09:52 China Daily     Web Editor: Wang Fan comment

Will a wisely chosen name help a child get a leg-up in its future life?

The answer is probably "yes", as there are many Western studies that show people's names have all kinds of effects on their social relationships and career advancement. For example, children with popular names are less likely to get into trouble with the law and people with the easiest-to-pronounce names rise faster on the social ladder.

But when the new group of students enrolled in colleges across China this year, many registered monikers that were difficult to pronounce or could annoy others and draw ridicule, a phenomenon that has baffled many faculty and sociologists.

In some schools where it's now unusual for students to have the same names, professors are in constant fear of mispronouncing them while calling their names, because some have used rare, archaic Chinese characters.

Among the best-known freshmen this year are those named after Kong Zi or Confucius in English, ancient emperors and the name of the first US president in Chinese. In one case, a student of Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Hubei province who had given his name as Wang Zi, which means "prince" in English, found his roommate was Kang Xi, the title used by the fourth emperor of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Names carry a lot of information, such as gender, class, success and personality, and can change with the times. Chinese names are particularly meaningful, because they are selected from among thousands of Chinese words, instead of a list of common first names that is available to Westerners.

In the past, rural children were named after animals because poor farmers hoped they would bring up their children as cheaply as raising pigs and puppies. The first names could also be ideologically charged. Many of the freshmen's parents, who were born in the 1960s or 1970s, were given ones that conformed to the then prevailing social and economic conditions.

The names of younger generations of Chinese carry no such baggage. Instead, when some parents choose a name for their children now, they tend to associate it with their high expectations for the child, like naming them after a successful historical figure as a life-long inspiration to overcome rivalry and succeed.

As parents' newly found individualism flourishes, they are also getting increasingly determined to steer clear of the most common names, so their children can stand above the crowd from the very beginning. Many search the Internet, consult thick dictionaries and specialists for the best baby names. While rare words gain in popularity, there is also a tendency for some to use components of a character as a child's name.

But such a name game will have unintended consequences. Studies show that in reality, it is students with popular names who become teachers' pets and enjoy more attention. An unusual name could become a serious liability, not a boost to the owner's career, like the case of a freshman in Jiangxi province, who was reportedly forced to quit school because he couldn't bear the attention his name drew.

The use of rare characters as names could also make other aspects of life a living nightmare. Some bearers recall constant embarrassment when people find their names unreadable, and rejections are everywhere because many such rare characters are not included in the current computer database of Chinese characters.

Chinese parents may seem much less ambitious or even playful when they name their kids after nature or cute characters in television shows or the like. But their children could have an easier life, if past research and experience are any indication.

Parents, if you really believe a name is the single most important gift to your kids, give them a simple name that rolls off the tongue easily.

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