More on names

When you go to a language class, quite often the teacher will give you a name in the language you’re learning, which might be the equivalent of your name in that language, or a name with a similar sound.

The French and German versions of my name are spelt the same but pronounced differently, while in Spanish my name is written Simón. The Irish equivalent of my name is Sím, while in Scottish Gaelic it’s Sìm. One of my Chinese teachers gave me the Chinese name 安斯韦 (Ān Sīwěi), which I later changed to 革賽門 (Gé Sàimén) – 不確定那一個名字比較華式的,但是我猜第一個是比較好的.有沒有什麼意見?

Most of my friends from Taiwan and China have ‘English’ names. Some of them were given these names by their teachers, others chose their own names. In some cases they went for quite unusual names, including Dual, Van (from Van Gogh), Rainbow, Stone and Pencil.

I suppose if call yourself by a different name when you speak a foreign language, you are, to some extent at least, adopting a different persona. This gives you opportunities to say things and perhaps to do things you wouldn’t normally do when speaking your mother tongue.

Do you behave differently when speaking in foreign tongues?

20 thoughts on “More on names

  1. Hi Simon, this is Japanese version name for you.

    An Englishman who well talented in writing system

  2. A couple of friends said that when I speak Dutch, I give the impression of being distant, cold and rude, which I’m not 🙂 The Dutch language seems to bring out the worst in me.

  3. My acts change slightly when I speak another language (especially English) but I don’t think that much. However, the most obvious thing is that the tone of my voice changes when I change to another language and so on. For german it can be so hard tone and for spanish it might be a light tone, and for chinese I tend to make tones out of nose somehow! However, I don’t choose these tones but I believe they are imposed by the nature of the language itself!

    in there is a tool to choose your chinese name. I used it and finally settled down with this one:
    天慧 (tian1 hui4)
    Notie that when you make a name with that tool you have to use an “aspect” that gives your name an essence and so.

  4. My Chinese name that I created for myself (without knowing too much Chinese yet) is 戈运子 (ge1 yun4 zi3). “yun zi” which hopefully translates to “son of luck”, which is the meaning of “Benjamin”. “ge” (=lance) finally resembles my surname, which descends from an old Germanic word for a spear/lance (ger), so I though that would match perfectly.
    As you can see, I didn’t give so much about pronounciation, but rather meaning.

    By the way, could someone with Chinese knowledge (or just a Chinese 😉 ) verify my name? Does it actually mean what I want it to do? Due to my lack of Chinese I could only use to search the characters, which doesn’t provide any grammar, so I can’t tell if my statement “yun zi = son of luck” is correct.

  5. Simon: Your first Chinese name, 安斯偉 An Siwei definitely seems more “Chinese-ish”. However, your second Chinese name, 革賽門 Ge Saimen seems to reflect your original name better.

    Benjamin: 运子 Yunzi does indeed mean “son of luck” and 戈 Ge is usually translated as “dagger-axe”, an unique ancient Chinese weapon, I’m not sure if it’s the same thing as a lance, but should be close enough. As far as pronounciation goes, it’s not bad at all 🙂

    When I speak Mandarin, I tend to find myself more… polite and almost “restricted”. When I speak English, I tend to be more straight-forward, sometimes that can be good, sometimes bad.

  6. More regarding Chinese names:

    For foreigners (not including Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese), there are generally three ways to have a Chinese name.

    1.) Phonetically – this method is generally used to translate names of famous foreigners and they tend to be long (at least longer than your typical Chinese name). Foreign names that were translated prior to modern days (past 10-20 years), tend to have been translated through Cantonese pronounciation therefore doesn’t sound too close to the original names when spoken in Mandarin. A good example would be George Washington: 喬治 華盛頓 Qiaozhi Huashengdun.

    2.) Sinification – most foreigners who chose this method are either very fluent in Chinese or have close Chinese friends or loved ones. This is where the person adopts a completely Sinified name and undistinguishable from other Chinese names. Generally the meaning of the name is personalized therefore unique. If one were to pick a Sinified name, it’s best to have a close friend or loved one who is Chinese to do it for you.

    3.) Combination – for those who wish to have a “real” Chinese name without losing their original name, this is the most ideal method. Simon’s second Chinese name of 革賽門 Ge Saimen would be a good example.

    For Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese, their names tend to be just pronounced how they are written in Hanzi (Kanji/Hanja/Chu Nho).

  7. B.Jun – ありがとう/thanks – I like that name! I think the 才文 bit would probably work in Chinese as well.

    Benjamin – what’s your surname? I think mine, Ager, comes from the same root. According to surnames books, Ager is a variant form of Eadgar, from the Anglo-Saxon for ‘prosperous spear’.

  8. @Simon
    My surname is “Gähr”, which is a really rare variation or the name “Gehr”.
    Somewhere I read that the latter comes from “ger”, the Germanic word for a javelin/spear. Since these names just differ in one single letter I assumed that “Gähr” has the same origin. Meanwhile I also heard other explanations for the name, but from these I still like “ger” the most and since no-one will ever be able to prove me wrong, I’ll stick to it. 😉

    Now I’m glad my name makes sense and doesn’t sound stupid. 😀
    Dagger-axe doesn’t match perfectly though, since “ger” rather means a javelin or spear, but I don’t mind. It’s a ranged melee weapon after all and that’s close enough, isn’t it. 😉 Additionally 戈 also seems to be a normal, though seldom, Chinese surname too, according to this page:

  9. Benjamin>> your name originally is hebrew in origin. In hebrew it is “ben yameen” who was one of the sons of Jacob. It means “son of the right” because Benjamin the son of Jacob was a son of a concubine (and a concubine in hebrew and arabic are called “owned-by-the-right” ) 🙂

  10. Ah yes, I heard that too. Additionally to “son of luck/the right” I’ve seen “youngest son”, because he just was the youngest son of Jacob. I like the “son the luck” the most, no matter if Benjamin actually means “son of luck” or if it is just metaphorical. It was the first explanation that was told me, too.

    By the way, the German pronunciation is the same as the Hebrew one. As far as I can say, without knowing the exact pronunciation of Hebrew consonants and vowels.

  11. In fact it’s true. Most of the biblical names that are mentioned with J are in fact said the same (almost) in hebrew and german, like Jericho Jacob Judah Joseph and so on.

  12. Well, typically the German form of a Hebrew name is right on, but not always. For example, Jacob in Hebrew is Yaakov, or in Mizrachi Hebrew Ya’akov. (The ‘ is used to represent ‘Ayin, a sound found in Mizrachi Hebrew and Arabic) And Judah is Yehuda. Whereas in German, to the best of my knowledge, these names would be Yakob and Yudah (Spelt phonetically for English)

  13. I don’t think I really act all that much different when I speak languages other than English, my native language.

    I have been told that I gesture somewhat differently when I speak French and Spanish; I’m supposedly a bit more animated.

    If I’m speaking a language that I haven’t mastered, I have to rely more on context and other cues such as facial expression, gestures and tone of voice and that may be the key.

  14. According to my Chinese teacher, my Chinese name (at least for the moment) was 艾里克 (àilìkè), which is basically a phonetic representation of my first name, Eric. I looked up the individual characters and found that, together, they mean nothing sensible.

  15. Chibi: Foreign names that were translated phonetically into Chinese almost never have any specific meanings. Although it is a rule of thumb that when choosing the characters representing each syllable, they need to have positive or at least neutral meaning. It’s very rare, if ever, that a foreign name is translated into Chinese phonetically with negative meaning characters.

  16. About the Question: Well, when I speak Hindi with my teacher, I am usually much more polite than normal, and with Spanish and Portuguese I gesticulate ALOT more than normal, and tend to have a “Mediterranian” idea of personal space. With Russian, I try and match the prosody of the language, but its difficult.

    About getting Named: The only interesting time I got named was in Moscow. The Russian teachers there tried very hard to pronounce my name as it should be in English. So “Chase” came out more like “Chay-eezz”. They even voiced the final consonant, which Russians don’t do! Even more confusing, is that it isn’t even voiced in English! 😛

  17. Hmm.. I’ve never really thought about it before. I’m currently taking French in high school, and my adopted French name is Jérôme (I like it for the accent marks.. hehe). Now that I think about it, I think I sound a little more expressive when I speak in French than when I speak in English–pretty much what Sam said in his comment.

    On the other hand, I’m really not sure what impression I make when I speak Tagalog (I’m Filipino, but I’m not fluent in Tagalog; I’m still working on the grammar). Since childhood, I learned the basics of conversational Tagalog up to the point where I’d say that I can sound like a native speaker–having the accent and all. But I suppose that speaking Tagalog brings out more amiableness in me. The Filipinos are a very hospitable people. Now that I think of it, it shows a lot in the language itself.

  18. Some time ago I adopted a Japanese name. Maybe I should say “Nipponoid”, because it is based on kanji and their Japanese pronunciation, and not a genuine name from Japan. The name is Kirô (“ki” for my surname Kyrmse, “rô” for my first name Ronald). The meaning – rather, _one_ of the meanings – is something like “extraordinary (or peculiar) man”.

    I won’t bother you with the Unicode characters, which some cannot read on line (including myself when at the office), and so I direct you to my homepage, where you can see the kanji on the top left underneath my likeness and beside my name in script. Yes, that’s the imprint of a hanko, one of those stamps with red ink that function as official signatures in Japan. Made for me here in São Paulo, though, in the Liberdade district where Japanese restaurants and shops – also Chinese and Korean – fairly abound.

    [ As long as you visit my homepage, do visit my Tolkienian site at (some pages on Elvish writing) and my Tolkien blog at (where you can see “The Lord of the Rings” written in hieroglyphs)… ]

  19. My Chinese name is 邱中浩. It was given to me by my host mother last year when I was an exchange student in Taiwan. 邱 is the surname of my host family.
    When Taiwanese people tried to pronounce Trevor, it was always very interesting… my 3 year old host sister heard ‘trev’ as ‘chuan’. I had never realized that the ‘tr’ sound could be easily confused with the ‘ch’ sound before because in my mind they are very, very different sounds, completely separated. But even here in the U.S. my friend’s little sister who is just learning to read and write wrote my name as “Chruver”! I found it so interesting that the same thing is heard differently, even by speakers of the same language. It makes me wonder how I would view my own native language, English, if I were illiterate. Maybe quite a bit differently.

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