The name game in China


  • Colours of China
  • Monday, 23 Apr 2018

THE Chinese name for Alipay, Alibaba Group’s e-payment platform, is Zhi Fu Bao, which literally means “payment treasure”.

Fifty-six years ago, a baby boy born in the small village of Yinghou in Shangdong province was given exactly the same name. Now that Alipay is a household brand in China, Zhi has recently become an Internet sensation after a copy of his identity card had gone viral on the social media sites.

His is perhaps one with the most frequently mentioned names in the country. Every time a person pays for a purchase, the shop assistant will ask, “Zhi Fu Bao or Wei Xin (WeChat Pay)?”.

Chinese names usually have three characters, although those with two are rather common in China.

The first character is the person’s family name. This is then followed by the middle name, which is generally shared by relatives of the same generation. The third is his given name.

Zhi, which means branch, is a rare Chinese surname. However, Bao (treasure) is a common name among men. Prominent figures with the name Bao include former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Hong Kong kungfu film star Sammo Hung Kam-bo.

Zhi Fu Bao, who runs a sundry shop, is the second of four siblings. His brothers’ names are Shun (smooth) and Fa (prosperity), while his sister is Hua (flower).

“The boys’ names were given by my aunt, while my sister’s one was picked by us, the three brothers,” he told the local media.

He said many people from nearby towns drove more than 10km to his shop just to pose for pictures with him.

On the other hand, because of the Alipay connection, he wishes to one day meet Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba Group.

And naturally, his shop, which he named Zhi Fu Bao Store, accepts payments through Alipay. In other words, you can pay with Zhi Fu Bao at Zhi Fu Bao’s Zhi Fu Bao Store.

Names are a big thing for the Chinese, who believe that a person’s name can help boost his luck, fortune or wisdom.

In the southern region, many people calculate their newborns’ five elements – fire, wood, water, earth and metal – based on the date and time of birth.

Then, when naming the children, the parents choose characters that “replace” the elements that the kids lack.

The names are usually read out loud several times to make sure they don’t sound like something else. But no matter how careful people are, things are sometimes overlooked.

There are many example of unintentionally funny names.

One of them is Zhu Huifei. In Mandarin, Huifei translates into “can fly”, but the family name Zhu (spelled as Choo among Malaysians) sounds the same as the word for pig. Therefore, the person’s full name could be read as “pigs can fly”.

Other unfortunate names include Shi Haowen (poop smells good), Dai Naizhao (wear brassiere), Shi Datuo (big poop), Bi Yuntao (condom), Nong Haoshuai (you are very handsome in Shanghainese), Cao Xiaoma (rape small horse), Niao Zaibiao (pee is coming out), Fan Tong (rice bucket, often a reference to those who are good for nothing), Dai Mojing (wear sunglasses), Wu Liuqi (five, six, seven) and Wei Zhu (feed the pig).

An Internet user wrote that she has a friend named Kong Long (dinosaur) and his sister is Kong Que (peacock). Some parents have been known to name sons Gao Fushuai (tall, rich and handsome) and daughters Bai Fumei (fair, rich and beautiful).

And last but not least, this person has the happiest name on Earth – He Hehe.

There is a rising trend of parents in China giving their children four-character names. Due to the now abolished one-child policy, a couple with only a daughter has no one to carry on the family name.

When these daughters get married and have their own children, some of the husbands incorporate the wives’ surnames in their kids’ names to show respect for the wives’ families.

An unofficial survey found that the number of people with four-character names has jumped ten-fold after the millennium.

According to a report by China’s Bureau of Census, the most popular surname in the country was Li, often spelled as Lee in Malaysia. This family name is shared by more than 95 million citizens or nearly 8% of the total population.

The second most common surname was Wang, spelled as Ong or Wong in Malaysia, which is used by nearly 89 million people.

The other widely used surnames were Zhang (Cheong, Teoh or Chong is the Malaysian equivalent), Liu (Lau or Liew), Chen (Tan, Chin or Chan), Yang (Yong or Yeong), Zhao (Chew), Huang (Wong or Ng), Zhou (Chow or Chew) and Wu (Ng, Goh or Ko).

These top 10 surnames accounted for some 550 million people (40%) in China.

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