03 August 2012

Chinese Names and the Unfortunate Meaning of 精

I still haven't chosen a full Chinese name.

When I first tried to come up with a Chinese name, I looked up the meaning of Alvarez, which is a Hispanic "Alfher's son." Alfher itself means "elf army" or "elf warrior," which is pretty awesome!

"Adventure Time" © Frederator / Cartoon Network

So, I looked up "elf" in my Chinese dictionary and found the word 精灵 (jīnglíng), which is also used for spirits, fairies, sprites, and genies.

精 (jīng) by itself also means "essence," which I really liked. If I went with the traditional meaning of Katrina ("pure"), I'd come out with "Pure Spirit/Essence."

Sounds pretty good, right? It seemed to fit, if I took into account my physical size, my love for fairy tales, and my occasional intellectual pretensions. It even alluded to one of my actual names — when I was even smaller, my dad nicknamed me "Impy."

As I read the dictionary, the cool meanings of 精 kept coming:
  • vitality
  • energy
  • mythical goblin spirit
  • highly perfected
  • elite
  • the [top] pick
  • proficient
And then,
  • semen, sperm

Cue the record scratch, the face-palm, the dizzying pig's blood scene from "Carrie." The magical, wonderful 精, had to be scrapped, lest I suffer some schoolyard "haha, your name is Pure Semen!" taunting.

I decided to put off the search for a proper Chinese name until I'd learned more. In the process, I found that there are actually Chinese words that are recognized as surnames. All of the names I've encountered so far have several meanings, like 精 above, but one of the dictionaries I use also lists "Chinese surname" among them.

Eventually, I deduced three common characteristics or requirements for a decent Chinese name.
  1. The surname character is a recognized surname character.
  2. For non-Chinese people, the whole Chinese name sounds something like their non-Chinese name.
  3. The characters also describe one's personality or ideals, or just something aesthetically pleasing, like "Little Cloud."

My textbook features two foreigners, David March and Natalie Lynn, and their Chinese names are 马大为 (Mǎ Dàwéi) and 林娜 (Lín Nà). I'm not sure if their personalities really match "great horse" and "elegant forest," but I suppose it's also possible some names are more for sound than meaning.

A better example, I think, is Cris's Chinese name, 耿实勇 (Gěng Shíyǒng). 耿 (Gěng) is listed in my references as a surname, the whole name sounds similar to "Garcia," and the entire name itself means "bright, honest, brave" — quite fitting for my boyfriend, if I do say so myself.

Unfortunately for me, there don't seem to be a lot of Chinese surnames that start with A (there aren't a lot of Chinese surnames to begin with). So, I'm looking now at lists of surnames for B, R/L, W, and Z sounds and then picking out what seems appropriate or interesting:
  • 白 (Bái) - white, pure, clear
  • 毕 (Bì) - complete, full
  • 乐 (Lè) - happy
  • 罗 (Luó) - to collect, gather, catch, or sift
  • 饶 (Ráo) - rich, abundant; to spare
  • 芮 (Ruì) - small
  • 文 (Wén) - language, culture, writing
  • 菑 (Zī) - field ready for planting

I also like 平 (Píng), which means "level," "equal," and also "peaceful." While it doesn't sound anything like "Alvarez," it does match my preferred meaning for Katrina, "each of the two."

For the "ka" sound in my first name, I've only got 卡 (kǎ), which means "to stop/block" or "card" — not very interesting. The next closest sound would be three "kai":
  • 开 (kāi) - to open/start/drive
  • 恺 (kǎi) - contentment, joy
  • 凯 (kǎi) - triumph

I'm not too keen on the last one, though; I'm not a very aggressive person.

For T sounds, there is only 特 (tè), which means "special" or "unusual." Lest anyone think I'm being conceited, the rest of the tè aren't really good options:
  • 慝 - evil/demonic idea
  • 忒 - to make a mistake
  • 螣 - mythical flying snake (téng), now used to refer to a pest insect

There are also some tí that are all right:
  • 提 - to carry, lift, or put forward
  • 媞 - just a sound used in girl's names

If I used a B, L, or W surname, I could also go for a first name with L/R and Z sounds for Alvarez, just as Cris's name mimics the soft C and Y sounds in Garcia.
  • 利 (lì) - sharp, favorable, to do good, or to benefit
  • 立 (lì) - to stand, or to establish
  • 历 (lì) - to experience or undergo
  • 瑞 (ruì) - good luck
  • 睿 (ruì) - wise, far-sighted

Unfortunately, I can't seem to find a lot of interesting Z-sound words.
  • 泽 (zé) - pool, pond, or favor
  • 子 (zǐ) - child [this would make a nice allusion to the "son of Alfher" meaning of Alvarez]

Still, there's a lot to work with. I'm going to mix and match these and see if I can make a decision.

Anyone reading this have a preference, or better yet, a reference? Just nothing that means "demonic idea," or "semen."