We are Taiwanese names
Chinese names, happiness and the scent of Asia
German parents primarily give their children names with a pleasant sound. A name should make the child as unique as possible, bring him luck through its meaning, indicate the gender or even continue a tradition. Last but not least, the name should give little reason to annoy a child about it.
My father chose my name for me. After a quick look at a first name book, he decided on "Beate", a Latin word meaning "the lucky one". I am sure that he only wished well for me.
Of course I'm not always happy, who is that? But there are definitely situations that make me happy again and again. One of them are trips to Southeast Asia. The tropical climate is simply good for me, my body likes the warmth and my soul the sun. The people there are reserved, friendly and tolerant, the food is extremely tasty and the daily grind is quickly forgotten!
This feeling of happiness made me write this blog. The last vacation in Asia is just over and the November rain weighs heavily on my mind. What could be more obvious than remembering the beautiful moments and writing about them. I hope that my enthusiasm will carry over to you. But back to the names.
In China, too, names are supposed to bring luck, but here the criteria are somewhat different. First, briefly on the structure of Chinese names:
The monosyllabic family name is always written or mentioned first. There are only a limited number of family names, every tenth Chinese is called Li. About half of all Chinese have one of the following ten names:
Li, Wang, Zhang, Liu, Chen, Yang, Zhao, Huang, Zhou, and Wu.
I will soon explain how the names are pronounced correctly in an article on the official phonetic spelling of Pinyin.
Chinese first names always consist of two syllables or two characters. Female first names usually have a meaning associated with beauty and grace, while male names are meant to demonstrate strength and size. As with us, naming has recently become subject to fashion in China and Taiwan. In addition to the features mentioned above, some families look for particularly beautiful characters with a good sound, preferably consisting of 8 lines. The number 8 (bā) promises maximum happiness.
The difficult thing is that the number of characters in the long Chinese history has grown to about 87,000. Of this huge number, only a small fraction is still in use today. The average Chinese uses around 3,000-5,000 characters, and especially educated people use 8,000-10,000 characters. The Chinese script is not - like ours - made up of letters, but of symbols for syllables. Each of these syllables can also be pronounced in four different accents, each with a different meaning. (see Pinyin)
The second difficulty lies in the two different spellings. For thousands of years, Chinese from all over the empire were able to communicate using the characters, although the pronunciation was completely different from region to region. In the 1950s, simplified characters were introduced in the People's Republic of China under Máo Zédōng so that all people learn to read and write more quickly and illiteracy is eliminated. However, this tremendous progress also meant that people in the PRC can no longer read the historical documents and calligraphy of the great masters. In Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and in the Chinatowns around the world, the traditional characters, which consist of more and more complex strokes, are still in use. However, even the Chinese can no longer read all the characters there.
If parents choose particularly beautiful characters for the names of their offspring, it can mean that they first have to explain the pronunciation and meaning to others, because not everyone is familiar with these characters.
In the family, the Chinese are often addressed with the degree of kinship. In addition to mother (māmā) and father (bàbà), there are separate terms for little sister (mèimèi), big sister (jiějiě), little brother (dìdì), big brother (gēgē), paternal grandmother (nǎinǎi), maternal grandmother (lǎolǎo), Paternal grandfather (yéyé), maternal grandfather (wàigōng), various aunts, uncles etc. In Taiwan we also learned that the husband is addressed as xiānshēng and the wife as tàitài. Our Chinese teacher in Hamburg, who comes from Shanghai, could not confirm this for the PR China, it is an outdated language.
Nicknames, which reflect the typical characteristics of the person, are also common among friends.
Modern Chinese often also give themselves a name made of Latin characters, which is even entered in the passport, but can also be changed again. The names of American idols such as film heroes or pop stars are often adopted.
In business life, great emphasis is placed on business cards that are printed with the official Chinese and English names and contain a business function that sounds as significant as possible. Almost everyone is a manager for something. Incidentally, business cards are always presented with both hands and a slight bow. You should look the other person in the eye. When you are presented with a card, it is polite to look at it with interest and not to leave it carelessly in your pocket.
Stamp or seal
Also very important in connection with the name are stamps. Don't think of these rubber stamps like ours. A Chinese name stamp is an important status symbol and is required for official documents. It consists of high-quality polished stones, precious woods, crystal glass or other noble materials, the imprint can be round or square. The official three-syllable name is engraved in the old stamp script. The stamp is used on documents like a signature, its imprint must be deposited with authorities and it must be specially protected against theft (this is no longer common in the PRC today).
Many tourists have a stamp made with their name as a souvenir, although European names with Chinese characters look rather ridiculous to the Chinese and have little to do with a “real” name. Usually these translations have no meaningful or even a negative meaning according to the sound of the syllables.
When we wanted to have stamps or seals made during our stay in Taiwan, our Taiwanese colleagues consulted for a long time to find suitable names for us. The result was “real” Chinese names made up of three syllables that contain auspicious characters, have a positive meaning and sound at least similar to our real names. They selected glass stamps for us with holograms of dragons and phoenixes, two symbols from Chinese mythology.
My surname became Bǔ, surnames only have one syllable. The word means “divine”, but hardly any attention is paid to the meaning of family names.
Beate was shortened to Bì Yà, which means "fragrant Asia". This is how the characters are written in the traditional script (here from left to right): 卜 苾亞
In the past, the Chinese characters were written from top to bottom and the columns were arranged from right to left. This is still the case today in regions that use traditional characters, at least in some documents and books. The surname is therefore on the right on my stamp, the two first names are below one another on the left.
In the People's Republic of China, with the simplification, the usual writing direction in Europe was adopted. With the use of modern printing machines and computers, this direction of writing is spreading more and more.
I thought about my name, the “scent of Asia”, for a long time. The scent is not always good in Asia. Due to the warm climate, it often smells musty or of sewerage, even a "stinky tofu" or the delicacies in a Taiwanese Seven Eleven are not among my favorite scents. Fish, seafood and meat markets should also only be visited with a stable stomach.
But there are also the scents of jasmine, frangipani, orchids, tea, tropical fruits and many variations of delicious food. And lasting memories.
The scent of Asia is therefore a mix of good and unpleasant smells. And so it is suitable for me as a name, with good and not so good properties. All in all, it is a fragrance for me.
Back in Taiwan, I wasn't particularly fond of oolong tea. But when I smell it today, I immediately long for my second home. That's why we hold a tea ceremony at home at regular intervals to reminisce.
And every time I get off the plane in Taipei, Hong Kong or Bangkok, I immediately smell the scent of Asia, remember happy times and immediately feel at home.
Did you like my article? Feel free to write me your thoughts on it.
I wish you wanderlust
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