Choosing your Chinese Name

You will want to write your Hao 號 (号), your Chinese painting name, on your paintings, so the question is, what are you going to choose?

Note that “real” Chinese family names (surnames) are usually one character, and given names usually two characters.  The family name comes first, as with the famous artist Qi Baishi.  So you can choose 1, 2 or 3 characters.

There is no definite one-to-one match between Western names and Chinese ones, so you have some freedom. There are 3 main options: transliterate, translate or get creative.

Transliterate = pick Chinese characters that sound like the English name: this is usually what Chinese people do when asked to give a western person a name, and is also how the “your name in Chinese” websites work.  However, different Chinese people may choose very different characters, especially as Chinese usually has many possible characters/words for a given syllable sound.  Possible versions of Angela include An Ji (“peaceful lucky”) or Jie Ling (“win clever” or “clean little bell”, depending on the characters used). And the Chinese pronunciation often does not sound very like the English version – this video gives a good explanation of why.

Translate = use the meaning of the English name.  For example, Angela means “messenger” or “heavenly messenger” so I could potentially choose Tian An (“heaven grace”) or Shi Xin (“new message”).

Be creative = An alternative approach is to choose a painting name based on a personal characteristic. The famous artist Zhu Da called himself various names, including Bada Shanren (Man of the Eight Great Mountains). So you can pick a name relating to your interests or character, or you could also simply choose a Chinese name that you like: perhaps you have always wanted to be “beautiful orchid“ or “rain flower ”.

Your Chinese name needs a good meaning, a pleasant sound, and balanced characters, which is difficult for Westerners to judge without a lot of study or experience.  A very useful book that I use is “What’s in a Chinese Name” by Lin Shan (Federal publications, ISBN 981-01-2004-4).   Here are a couple of online articles about choosing a Chinese name:

If you choose a 3-character name with a Chinese family name first, then the whole thing  must take into account the meaning of the family name.  There are other conventions on given names.  And the whole name should not sound like other words with a negative meaning.

Whatever name you choose, make sure you record the exact Chinese characters and the meaning.

If you would like to discuss a suitable Chinese painting name,  contact me.