The Birth of 明月(MíngYuè): the Meanings in Chinese Names
Updated: Nov 23
When choosing a Chinese name, you usually have two options: go with a transliteration that sounds similar to your name phonetically or have a Chinese friend/coworker/etc. give you a name. There's also the option to use a Chinese name generator found online but I find those to be quite impersonal. Transliteration is usually easiest, but often doesn't resemble an actual name that you would hear in China and also tends not to have much meaning. Indeed, this was the case with my name - 比安卡 (Bǐ ān kǎ) which translates to "compare peace card." No shot I was gonna walk around mainland China telling people this was my name. I'd rather be nameless.
In Chinese culture, names are more than simply labels; they are a representation of your identity, heritage, and aspirations. The process of selecting a great name holds a lot of significance, with each character and phonetic element carefully chosen to capture the essence of the individual.
Whether you are a Westerner delving into Chinese culture, an individual of Chinese heritage seeking to reconnect with your roots, or one of the nature lovers inspired by the celestial beauty of the moon, choosing the perfect Chinese name is a journey that transcends linguistic boundaries.
When contemplating a Chinese name, you must be thoughtful because it is a great choice that resonates throughout a lifetime.
The Intricacies of Chinese Naming Conventions
Chinese names typically consist of two parts: the surname or "姓" (xìng) and the given name. The surname is akin to the Western concept of the last name, while the given name is equivalent to the first name. In traditional Chinese culture, the surname is revered and often bears a deep historical or ancestral connection. It is passed down through generations, linking family members across time. The surname in Chinese is actually placed before your given name.
While the most common Chinese surnames are Wang (王), Li (李), and Zhang (张), there exists a plethora of distinctive options to choose from, each with its own historical significance. In the process of selecting a Chinese name, you might choose to honor your familial heritage by adopting a surname that aligns with your ancestry or opt for a name that resonates with you personally.
The given name, on the other hand, offers individuals the opportunity to express their individuality and unique qualities. Chinese parents often bestow their children with names that carry auspicious meanings and hopes for a prosperous and harmonious life. This practice is rooted in the belief that a good name can bring good fortune.
The Name's Role in Fortune and Fate
As mentioned above, the belief in the influence of names on one's life is deeply ingrained in Chinese culture. Names have an important role and are believed to shape destinies and influence the course of your life journey. As such, selecting a good name is of paramount importance, and even today many turn to a fortune teller or specialist in naming for guidance.
A good Chinese name is thought to bring good luck, positive energy, and a happy life, while a poorly chosen name can have the opposite effect. This belief in the power of names is rooted in ancient Chinese philosophy, particularly in the concept of "命" (mìng), which refers to destiny or fate. Chinese philosophy emphasizes the interconnectedness of all aspects of life, including one's personal name, and their impact on the individual's path in life.
Therefore, when embarking on the quest for a Chinese name, you should consider not only the aesthetic and phonetic aspects but also the symbolic and auspicious qualities that the name may carry. It is a choice that carries great responsibility and significance, after all it has the potential to shape your entire future! No pressure, really.
A Name for Every Occasion
In Chinese culture, the act of naming is not limited to people alone; it extends to places, businesses, and even inanimate objects. Each unique name is carefully chosen to reflect the essence and purpose of the entity it represents. It is a testament to the deep-rooted belief in the power of names to influence outcomes and create harmony in the world.
For example, traditional Chinese names for businesses often incorporate elements that symbolize prosperity, good fortune, and success. Similarly, place names and the Chinese characters chosen to represent them are selected with consideration for their historical significance and the natural beauty of the surroundings. These names serve as a testament to the cultural and historical tapestry of the People's Republic, weaving stories and connections throughout the vast landscape of the country.
Knowing all this, I'm sure you can see why I didn't like the idea of walking around with a gibberish Chinese word and calling it my Chinese name. So I decided I would wait until someone gave me a proper one. And because I'm stubborn, I never asked for one because I wanted to to come naturally. Finally, after a year and a half in China my patience paid off!
The Birth of 明月(MíngYuè)
The inception of my Chinese name tale transpired in the middle of my birthday trip to Xi'an in 2020. One day, I took a brief pause from trying all the Xi'an famous foods. On this day, I couldn't begin to tell you why, but I felt compelled to take a traditional Chinese calligraphy class. It was like the rich history of Xi'an was whispering to me, guiding me toward an unexpected and beautiful path.
As I strolled through the enchanting streets of Xi'an, my quest for a suitable calligraphy class venue commenced. For approximately two hours, I meandered through the city, exploring, but also keeping an eye out for somewhere that looked like it would offer calligraphy classes. I checked out various locations my map had recommended. Unfortunately, most of them were either shuttered for the day or housed entirely unrelated businesses.
My search eventually led me to a cute little shop which specialized in traditional calligraphy and watercolor paintings. To my delight, one of the artists also doubled as a calligraphy instructor, and he graciously offered to give me a lesson.
When we wrapped up the class, he asked me what my Chinese name was but of course at this point I didn't have one. When I revealed that I only had an English name, he asked if I would like him to give me a Chinese name and I couldn't believe my luck! Maybe this was why I felt so compelled to take a calligraphy class today - fate was finally ready for me!
My teacher offered me a cup of tea while he sat thinking for about 10-15 minutes. Finally, he decided on 明月(MíngYuè) or Bright Moon, as he thought it suited my personality.
The name 明月 comes from a famous poem from the Tang Dynasty. Coincidentally, Xi'an served as the capital of China during this era, giving my newly acquired name an added layer of significance. 明月 would be a permanent reminder of the city where I was bestowed the name.
The AfterBirth of 向明月(Xiàng MíngYuè)
For a long time after my encounter with the calligraphy teacher (about a year), I was still surname-less. This was alright with me to be honest. I didn't want to just select one of the most common surnames at random because they didn't have a strong meaning to me. The perfect name for me had to have some kind of symbolic meaning, I just didn't know what it was yet.
As luck would have it, a college friend from Hubei province had moved to Shanghai and we were at a birthday party talking about my Chinese surname (or lack thereof). She very generously donated her family name to my cause and honestly I can't think of a more symbolic meaning than that - a name . Finally, I had a real Chinese name!
So there you have it, how I became 向明月. It might not be a very conventional name, but I think it is an excellent choice and the right name for me.
TL;DR I got a new name for my birthday. Kind of fitting, no?