Check out our updated Community
How to pick an English name! (如何选择英文名字?)

Many Asian learners of English like to take English names, and I've heard some really strange ones over the years. They normally fall into a few categories:

"Ditzy girl names": Coco, Candy, Lulu

Very unusual "word" names: Freedom, Happy, Sparkle

Grandfather/Grandmother names: Clive, Winston, Shirley, Ada

A normal-sounding name is very important if you want people to take you seriously (Chinese friends, would you hire someone for a job if their name was 王白酒?)

Remember the #1 rule: Unlike in many Asian cultures, given names in English are almost always meaningless. They did have meaning a long time ago: for example "Gregory" comes from a very old Greek word for "Watchful/Alert". However, very few native speakers would make these associations, as the names have completely lost their original meanings in modern English.

There are a small number of exceptions: some girls' names in English are both words and totally normal given names, eg. Pearl, Dawn, Melody, Sky. Again though, that's the exception, not the rule!

For boys, you may pick an English male names that sounds like your surname. Common choices for Chinese are Lee (李), Joe (赵,周,卓), John (张), Leo (刘). Note that often long and short forms exist (William/Will; Joseph/Joe) - it's entirely up to you which one to use.

So much to consider, but a few ideas:
1. Ask a native speaker, if you can. Note that some native-speakers are more open-minded to unconventional names than others, so ideally ask a few people.

2. Name yourself after a famous person you admire  - but not from too long ago...even if you really love Roosevelt, "Franklin" definitely falls into the "grandfather name" category!

3. Keep in mind that we normally don't associate names with joy, wealth, knowledge, etc. Therefore, picking a name that reflects your personality is a generally a very bad idea.

4. Check your name on baby name websites. This one's a great one that gives a lot of statistics on common American given names:

5. Don't get too creative!

Aug 18, 2016 12:42 PM
Comments · 8
Mumtaz, I have noticed that many native English speakers, especially those who only speak English, do not know how to pronounce Chinese names, and will not even make the effort to try to pronounce them correctly! I can become very frustrated with my fellow native English speakers about this.  So many times I have heard someone say, 'I'm not even going to try to pronounce that, do you have an English name?' This happens particularly with Chinese names because the pinyin romanization system does not match an English speaker's expectations of what those letters should sound like.  I would guess that many Chinese people have chosen an English name out of exasperation at the inability of native English speakers to handle their names.
August 18, 2016

Alan, I enjoyed reading your discussion :)

I'm just confused about the whole idea, and often wonder why would anyone want 

to choose an English name? I didn't know that this is widely spread until I came to

italki and read many discussions by Asian learners who are trying to pick English

names. Even if my name isn't English, still native English speakers are able to pronounce

it just fine, and they get familiar with it by time. So why changing names instead of

letting others adapt to our real names?

There is another question that comes to my mind always, are these new English names

written in any official document? like the ID or passport?

I still can't get over the name of "Goodluck Jonathan", the Nigerian president!

I wonder who gave him that name or what he/ she was thinking.

August 18, 2016

@Mumtaz: That's a really good question. A name is so personal, you don't want to change it. However, if people are constantly mispronouncing it then it becomes even more annoying to keep your name...personally, I tried to take a Chinese name, but it never felt like "me", so I stick with 阿伦, "a-lun". It sounds awful, different to my original name, and I really dislike it, but I still hate it less than a totally different name that's not mine at all, so I stuck with it after abandoning a couple "Chinese-sounding" names. Honestly, when I meet a Chinese person who's refused to change their name despite living in the west, I tip my hat to them!

Re: Goodluck Jonathon. I've noticed that Nigerian names tend to put "surname-sounding" names as their first name, and "first-name-sounding names" as their family name. I believe for Christian Nigerians it's typical to choose a "fortuitous" first name and a bibilical second name, hence "Goodluck Jonathan". By the way: another underrated name is the Philippine foreign minister's, Perfecto Rivas Yasay. I wish my name was Perfecto!!!

@Miriam: The worst "English names" I've seen so far have to be "Noodle" and "Peas". The funny thing is that even after I frankly explained what the name meant, they were still reluctant to change it! You have to respect that kind of commitment to a name, though, right?

@Geoffrey: According to Wikipedia, "Geoffrey" comes from "guda-friþu", meaning god-peace in Anglo-Norman (a 1000-year-old language). It proves my point: English names are really ancient!

August 18, 2016
You're right - Fanny isn't a good name in modern English. Interestingly, "fanny" refers to totally different parts of the body in AmEng and BrEng, however neither are parts you want to be named after! :-P

Notice that if you check "Fanny" in the baby name website I gave, it shows that they name peaked in the 1880s and went through a steep decline in the early 20th century. The film "Fanny and Alexander" (a classic Ingmar Bergman! You have good taste in cinema!) is set in the early 20th century, during which "Fanny" would've been a very common name. However today it definitely falls into the "grandmother name" category.
August 20, 2016

Good discussion. After reading this, I need to change my Italki name back to Chinese name. 

Take me for an example, I know my English name sounds a little strange and few persons make mistakes between Fanny and funny. One language partner from Britain told me Fanny in England is a rude word. He suggested some other names to me, such like Sarah, Julie and Katie. Well, I didn't make up my mind to change it. It's not an normal name for native English speakers because I got the inspiration from a Swedish movie, Fanny and Alexander.

I agree with @Lydia in some ways.

I have struggled with English name for a long time. Definitely my Chinese name will impress people more. The thing is most people can't read my Chinese name correctly. Most non-Mandarin speakers have a problem with  pronunciation of ü, because there's no ü sound in their mother tongue.  I tried to correct them but it seems helpless so I gave up.

We really should think it twice before we anglicize our name.

August 20, 2016
Show More
Language Skills
Chinese (Mandarin), English, French, Persian (Farsi)
Learning Language
Chinese (Mandarin), Persian (Farsi)