If you’re Chinese, don’t give your progeny full dialect names

I recently had a chat with a friend about baby names. She’s asking for opinions because, well, she’s carrying a baby girl (congratulations!) and she wanted to know what her/my friends and I thought of her choice.

The name’s not important to this story. The point is, her husband and her had decided to use only an English name and the surname (or last name if you come from those western countries). I’m using the term “English name” as opposed to “Christian name” because it’s more generic.

Now, the typical Chinese name has 2 “English” equivalents, phonetically speaking (other than a direct English name). One is the Hanyu Pinyin version. For example, my name in Hanyu Pinyin is Chen Weilie (or Wei Lie in 2 characters, but it’s sort of understood when they’re lumped together).

The other equivalent is the dialect name. My Chinese dialect group is Hokkien, which means my ancestors came from Fu Jian in China. And my dialect name is Tan Wai Lip.

Now, my preferred name is “Vincent”. Or “Vincent Tan”. “Vincent Chen” is fine too. I just think that last one sounds funny to me…

Which gives an interesting problem, because my full “English name” is Vincent Tan Wai Lip. “Tan” is my last name. It doesn’t look very “last” to me…

According to the western naming convention, I should be “Wai Lip Vincent Tan”, which means in my culture’s convention, I’m “Tan Wai Lip Vincent”. The “Wai Lip” part is not a middle name, it is my first name according to western culture, and my given name in Chinese culture.

I’m bringing this up because, many of the online transactions I’ve made requires a “first name” and “last name” field. What do I fill in for those? I usually use “Vincent” and “Tan” respectively.

This worked fine till I got to PayPal. For withdrawal purposes, they required my name, after fully resolving the “first name” and “last name” part, to be exactly the same as that in my Singapore bank account. I’ll leave you to imagine all the hassle this gave me…

I’m sure Chinese aren’t the only ones with this problem.

So, back to that pregnant friend of mine. Even though she and her husband are both Chinese, they’ve decided that their daughter shall only have the “English name” and the surname part. Their daughter will still have a full Chinese name, only that she won’t have a full dialect name.

Their main reason?

Because the nurse at the hospital is prone to giving terrible sounding dialect names…