Fuling Kids' Names
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What's in a (Fuling Kid's) Name?

What do the names the children are
given at the social welfare institute mean?

Fu Dad Grant Balfour gives an overview
of Chinese names and naming patterns.



For most of the Western hemisphere, our last names are our family names, our given names come first, and in the middle we usually have either a second first name (like Jean-Paul or Elizabeth Anne) or a second last name (like Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Daniel Day Lewis).

In China, it's a little different. Family names come first, so that a man named Huang Weilun would be formally addressed as Mr. Huang. His given name would be Lun, and Wei would (most likely) be his "generational name". When written in Chinese, each name is a single character, so that Huang Weilun would be written as three characters. In our alphabet, it could be written in a number of ways: Huang Wei Lun, Huang WeiLun or Huang Wei-lun. Close family would probably call him "Lun," and when he was a little boy, his parents may have called him "Lun-lun" - doubling a name is a common form of endearment. (On the other hand, Weilun may not have been his birth name at all, but we'll get there in a minute.)

At the Fuling SWI, all the children are given the family name Fu, which means "good luck." Note that the "fu" in "Fuling" is pronounced the same, but is written completely differently in Chinese and has a completely different meaning. Often, names and customs are built around puns based on word pronunciations - bats are considered lucky animals in China because the word for "bat" is also "fu," again pronounced the same way but with another completely different character.

Keep this in mind if you happen to be traveling with an adoption group in which two children appear to have the same name. Because spoken Mandarin Chinese can have four different tones for the same syllable, the "same" two names in our alphabet can be pronounced differently... but even if they're pronounced the same, they're probably written completely differently in Chinese and have an entirely different set of meanings.


It's a widely held Chinese custom that the first name is a generational name - all siblings from a particular generation will share the same middle name. Sometimes these are chosen for a particular event in family history, or sometimes a family will choose generation names from a classic poem, going word by word, generation by generation. These will usually affect the choice of second names, because in China, every name has an obvious meaning. In my case, my name is Grant Balfour - it's far from obvious that "Grant" comes from the French word for "big," and you'd have to dig through a lot of baby name books to find out that "Balfour" means "pasture." But to a Chinese reader, Huang Weilun has a very clear meaning - "Huang" means "king," "Wei" means "outstanding" and "lun" means "ethics." The accidental name "big pasture" isn't quite as auspicious as the carefully chosen "king of outstanding ethics."

According to one Fuling parent who recently spoke with the administrators, the Fuling orphanage counts approximately every 300 new babies as one generation (that's a lot of brothers and sisters!). So far, they have gone through four generations and are on to their fifth. Older children who arrive at the institute are given the middle name "De," making their names match with Fuling's first generation.

Fuling's generational names are:

De - (pronounced "duh") Morality - This character is made by combining the characters for "straight," "heart" and "walking" - in other words, the sign of a real straight shooter. If you have trouble keeping secrets from your curious De child, you might appreciate the fact that the character for "straight" literally means "10 eyes see through any concealment." And if you're of German extraction, "Deguo" (moral country) is Chinese for "Germany."

Hui - (pronounced "hway")  Brilliance - This character appears in the Chinese word for "bright," but it's made by combining the characters for "broom" and "heart/mind" - in other words, it represents a clean, well-kept psyche. It's a component of dozens of expressions for various kinds of intelligence or cleverness.

Xin - (pronounced "hsin") New - This character has a connotation of sharpness and brightness, since the characters for "axe", "thornbush" and "firewood" are part of the word. Lutherans might appreciate that this character is half of the word for Protestantism (xinjiao, the "new religion"). It's part of the name for "New Zealand" (Xinxilan, the "new west orchid"), and is part of the traditional New Year's greeting "Xin Nian Kuai Yuele!" Happy New Year!

Ai -  (pronounced like "eye") Love - This character includes the character for "walking," changed to a representation of two shackled feet. That may seem strange, until you think of similar English words like "bonding." This is the same character in "I love you" (wo ai ni), and in "Ireland" (Aierlan, the "love you orchid").

Bao - (pronounced "ba-ow") Treasure - This character represents three valuable things from the earth - jade, ceramics, and shells - all gathered under one roof. It's also pronounced the same as the words for "fort" (a protective building made from earth) and "swaddling clothes," a word made of characters representing a person holding a baby in a blanket.


The big question most adoptive parents wrestle with is what to do with the Chinese name - which elements, if any, should one keep, and where in the child's new name should they go? Isn't it a little strange to rewrite a little person's name with a new name?

As mentioned earlier, a Chinese person's birth name might not be their adult name. In China, names are less permanent than we think of them. Legendary Chinese-American actor Bruce Lee was born Lee Jun Fan (a given name which means either "bamboo mushroom" or "brighten San Francisco," depending on which source you trust), and got his first roles in Hong Kong cinema as Li Xiao Long (literally, "little dragon"). The philosopher we know as Confucius is formally known as Kong fu-zi - literally, "scholarly teacher Kong." His parents knew him as Kong Qiu, his birth name, while his colleagues called him Zhong Ni, his "zi," or "style name." That's the name men traditionally take after their 20th birthday, and women take after they get married. After his death, Confucius also gained a few honorific names, or "hao," like Zhisheng ("greatest sage") and Xianshi ("first teacher"). Bruce Lee's "Little Dragon" would also be considered a hao.

In the adoption community, it has become fairly standard to use the Chinese name as a middle name. In my case, my daughter's birth name was Fu Hui Xiang, and her American name is Sophia Xiang Balfour. Most of the other families in our travel group kept the generational name as part of the middle name, and at least one family kept the "Fu" instead of the given and generational names. Personally, I like it when the Western name reflects the Chinese name in some way -- "Sophia" means "wisdom," which is similar enough to "brilliance" for me. But in the end, only you know which name really belongs to your child.

Grant with daughter Sophia Xiang, who he describes as "a bit of a prankster."


Further reading:

lFirst off, if you have any questions about anything to do with Fuling kids, Chinese names, adoption paperwork, foster care donations or even where to find the best Chongqing restaurants, pop in to the Fuling International Yahoo group. If you have a specific question about names that isn't answered here, feel free to leap into the discussion there.:


Someone there is bound to know something about whatever it is you want to know.

lWikipedia has a great article on Chinese naming conventions at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_given_name

It's worth it to follow the links to other articles in the series.

l If you'd like to look up any Chinese character, the visual Chinese dictionary at http://www.zhongwen.com is an excellent resource. You can search for characters by English meaning or by pinyin (that is, Chinese words spelled out in our alphabet), and each character comes with a thorough etymology and list of words in which it appears.

l For more information on Chinese surnames, look over this adoption-oriented page: http://www.magma.ca/~mtooker/names/surname.htm -- and if you'd like to know why some ethnic Chinese might not consider our "Fu" a proper last name, check out the list of authentic Chinese surnames at: http://www.chinavista.com/culture/letters/surnames.html

l If you'd like to know more about the different kinds of names a Chinese person might carry through their life, read: http://weber.ucsd.edu/~dkjordan/chin/hbnames-u.html and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_courtesy_name

lSome of the English names picked by Chinese people are funny - but they illustrate how important word meanings are for Chinese names: http://www.bebeyond.com/KeepCurrent/Recommended/PickName.htm

l Finally, if you're really curious, you can see the chop for Bruce Lee's unusual birth name at: http://www.bruceleefoundation.com/brochurepages/logos.html and a fuller explanation of his names' meanings at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Lee#Birth_name


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