Why do Chinese Have Two Names?

Wendy Chang 張雅鈞✈️
4 min readMar 19, 2018
CR: https://goo.gl/H42iph

Last September, I traveled to Kyoto, Japan and stayed in a hostel for 2 days. The first person I talked to, besides the guesthouse host, was a girl from Germany. She introduced her name (but I forget what it is now) and then I introduced myself as Wendy. At that moment, I could see a glimpse of surprise in her eyes but she still bought it. Later, I said "You can call me YA-CHUN too. It’s my Chinese name.” She asked, “Why do you have two names? Isn’t it weird?” It took me a lot of effort to explain why.

Coincidentally, 10 days ago, I went to Taipei and stayed in another hostel. The first foreigner I talked to happened to be ANOTHER German girl. Again. She introduced herself as “Ara" and I introduced myself as Wendy. Since she is currently learning Chinese, I taught her how to pronounce my Chinese name. It is actually difficult to make it since the [ tɕ y ən] sound seldom appeared in German and English. (It sounds like “June” in English.) Then she asked me the same question: why do you have two names? It didn’t take long to explain this time. But then I realized it may be really weird and difficult for people outside Taiwan to understand.

While my host in Japan shortened his name to “Taka”, the first syllable of his family name, and Ara shortened her German name “Aranka” to “Ara” (I can speak German actually), my English name and Chinese name don’t have any relevance. And that is VERY common among Chinese/Taiwanese.

Why?

I guess all the reasons can be narrowed to just one: Culture.

Errr…we all know that. (Rolling your eyes)

Stop. Stop. Let me be clear, one reason, three aspects.

First, for individuals, using an English name may be a way of protecting himself/herself. Chinese name usually consists of three characters, one for family name and two for first name. When someone calls you by just two characters, the first name, it means he/she is very close to you. It is usually your parents, your friends, your classmates, and your teacher in elementary school. Most people will call others by three characters but sometimes it sounds rude too, depending on the situation. Therefore, I, as an example, would prefer to use English name the first time I meet new people. It can shorten the distance between us while keeping a little…

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Wendy Chang 張雅鈞✈️

左手寫媒體寫公關,右手點戲點電影,翻譯遊走語言間,紅白拖要不停走。Writer, translator, and polyglot. PR and communication professional. Twitter: @wendychang1114