Just a little over a year ago, I wrote a post about "'Farcical names'" (4/3/15), in which I related how an American businesswoman wanted to rescue Chinese from their predilection for adopting whimsical English names.
Now, in "iPhone, Cola and Kinky: what’s in a Hong Kongers name?" (SCMP 3/7/16), we find that the "Trend for Hongkongers choosing unusual English names continues as they compete to find most original one".
Soufflé, Arial, Focus, Hippo and Kinky. They might sound like the members of an avant-garde electro-pop band, but in fact they are just some of the more unusual names that Hongkongers are going by in 2016.
So why are quirky names so popular in Hong Kong and how do we explain their evolution? Post-colonial British influences mean most Hongkongers have an English name that they commonly use at work or amongst friends, while at home they will often answer to their Chinese name or nickname.
The tradition seems to vary according to a person’s class. Upper-class and Western-educated parents typically give their children English names at birth or soon after. Some Chinese parents pay feng shui masters up to HK$25,000 to come up with an original name for their child based on factors such as the time of their birth and characteristics they want their kids to have later in life. Feng shui dates as far back as 4000 BC in China. It remained popular in Hong Kong and Taiwan in the 1960s while being pushed out of China during the Cultural Revolution. It has since regained popularity in Hong Kong. It is sometimes used to choose a new name for a child later in life if a family believes they are suffering from cosmic problems, i.e. bad luck.
The passion for unique names is no less true of the Mainland. We receive hundreds of applications and inquiries from individuals who want to come to Penn as students or visiting scholars, and I'm sure that this is true of virtually all other schools in the country. I'm often bowled over at some of the English names they have: Echo, Cinderella, Peter Pan (a girl), Something…. Over the years I've seen an endless stream of mind-boggling English names from China.
It seems to me that innovation in naming is a trend that is increasing not just in Hong Kong and the PRC, but across the world. Just go to your local convenience store, and you're likely to find that the people working behind the counters have unique names. Sometimes I'm so intrigued by them that I ask, "Where did you get your interesting name?" and they'll say something like, "My mom made it up."
This is so different from when almost everybody in America took, or were given, Christian names, even if they weren't Christians.
[h.t. Mark Metcalf]