How Not to Pick Your Chinese Name

Good Friends:

The summer heat wave here in Shanxi has continued unabated.  I have been thinking about leaving Taiyuan for cooler environs, but I am finding it hard to do so.  Not because of my duty to my people and a feeling of responsibility for the future, but because Shanxi is currently blockaded by the Japs and the Commies.

Sweltering and half insane, I have had to find all sorts of diversions to pass the time.  Booze has helped.  But even when drunk, you can only watch so many hours of opera before demanding that the young female lead be delivered to your palace for a personal performance.  Thus my days have fallen into a monotony, and I was so bored for distraction that I agreed to a meeting with my US military advisors.

Now, normally I despise such meetings, as they are always telling me what I am doing wrong.  If I actually listened to these fools, I would have to re-organize my army and take on the Japs head first.  No thanks!  But out of boredom I agreed to meet with them.  Overall the meeting was useless, but one hilarious thing did emerge: they had all taken Chinese names, each more ridiculous than the next.

What is it with laowai and Chinese names?  Is it so hard to choose one that does not make you look like a total douchebag?  As I have noted earlier, laowai are always doing stupid shit that I real man such as myself would never do.  But to flub something as simple as a name?  As public service, I thought I should share a few basic rules when it comes to laowai and Chinese names.

Now, I am sure that many of you, when hearing about bad Chinese names, think of this guy:

Meet Da Shan (大山), the guy who is famous for being able to speak Chinese.  This makes a lot of other laowai super pissed off, since they speak Chinese but don’t get to be all famous for it.  On one hand I feel their pain, since I speak Chinese and am not famous for it, but on the other hand I really cannot relate because I am totally famous for other things, like being a powerful warlord.

There is also a bit of controversy surrounding his name, which literally translates into “Big Mountain.”  Besides the fact that he named himself after a bad reggae band, there is this question: Is this not a really stupid fucking name?  The answer: Yes.  But it could be much worse.  I would say it is about as stupid as me moving to Denver and telling people they should start calling me Rocky Mountain.

Perhaps I am being a bit soft on Da Shan, since we both share the 山 character in our names.  But really, there are far more stupid names for a laowai to choose.  I will demonstrate this by discussing two of the worst names ever to be chosen by laowai.

The first name is an unfortunate mix of three factors.  The first is the desire to name yourself after an animal.  Why the fuck would you do that?  You are a person (I think, although a few of the laowai I know are a bit ape-like).  If you have the character of any animal in your name, and you have never starred in an action movie, you are a douche.  The second factor is having a small dick, and feeling insecure about it, so you want to emphasize your “bigness’ by putting the character for big (大) in your name.  The third factor is actually thinking that you somehow deserve to be compared favorably to Bruce Lee.

As some of you might have guessed, the name I refer to is Dalong (大龙), or “Big Dragon.”  If you have this name, you are an idiot.  Bruce Lee’s Chinese name was Xiaolong (小龙) or “Little Dragon.”  That is a fucking awesome Chinese name–for Bruce Lee.  You expect me to call you “Big Dragon”?  How about I just call you a fucking idiot.

If our first horrible name displays equal parts ignorance, insecurity, and misplaced arrogance, the second horrible name reveals in its holder a willingness to debase themselves for fame.  I speak of what I take to be the most idiotic name ever taken by a laowai (and that says something), Aihua (爱华).  Meet Aihua:

Aihua.  What a fucking name.  It means “love China.”  I suppose it will not surprise you to know that Aihua is an actress.  Here is what the always reliable CCTV said about her:

[She is an] American girl who has embraced and adopted Chinese culture and tradition as her own. Meanwhile, she is beloved by the Chinese people, and they have accepted her as a Chinese, not a foreigner. She has graced the stages and TV screens of China since the young age of 10. “Ai Hua”, meaning Love China, is her Chinese name. And the name proves very appropriate, for not only does she love the Chinese, but the Chinese love her as well.

Shocking, is it not, that this CCTV report is inaccurate?   Note to all laowai: You will never be accepted as Chinese.  Picking a suck-up name might make us feel comfortable around you–it does show that you will kiss our asses for as long as we keep you around–but it does not make you Chinese.

I still cannot believe anyone would take this name.  To balance the scales, I am currently looking for a Chinese citizen to move Montana and take the name “Me Love USA Long Time.”  If you know anyone who might be interested, contact me at once.


Update:  The newish blog “Peking Order” (get it?) has a list of the top 5 laowai.  You will find that these “top” laowai are also dumb-ass laowai with seriously stupid names, a few of which have already been referenced above.  Check it out here.  BTW the Peking Order gets +6 internet points for referencing Yan Xishan, but -3 internet points for showing pity to Ai Hua.


37 Responses to How Not to Pick Your Chinese Name

  1. PRC FTW says:

    There was a really annoying guy in my language program that had the name “Xiaohu”–little tiger. I have to agree with the above analysis.

  2. The Kid says:

    I know a Chinese guy with a animal in his name, but it is some kind of mythical animal (and no not a damn dragon). It seemed kind of cool to me, although if it had been dragon, well not so cool.

    Yan–I will start looking around for someone to take that name. I assume you pay well? I know a few rather crazy girls from my Shanghai days.

    • HonoH Tron says:









  3. Qin Gui says:

    I will admit Da Shan has some awesome Chinese, but seeing his smirking face drives me nuts.

    Please, never put his picture in this or any blog ever again in the future.

    As for that Aihua chick, I never heard of her. Maybe she is does have a dumb name, but I would not kick her out of bed for that.

  4. Yan Xishan says:

    @PRC FTW: Xiaohu is a stupid name. Just call him Pussycat.

    @ The Kid: I should not be so harsh, there are probably some respectable names that contain not-too-obvious animal characters. But no Shanghai girls will be considered.

    @Qin Gui: I seriously doubt Da Shan will ever appear in this blog again.

  5. Jerry C. says:


    I am in the process of picking out a new Chinese name, so this was quite helpful. I am almost tempted to go with Dalong to be an asshole, but as I hope to be using this name for a long time, that is probably not wise.


  6. DALONG says:


    No matter what you say, I love my name.

  7. Yan Xishan says:

    @Jerry: Way to listen to your elders

    @Dalong: Don’t be mad kid, the truth hurts sometimes.

  8. Cooper says:

    Haha…good call! Especially about 爱华, christ.

    I have heard that he earned this name when he didn’t understand the Beijing expression 侃大山. Anyone confirm this?

  9. Yan Xishan says:


    I never heard that 侃大山 story… I would imagine one could figure out the origins of the name, but that would involve reading up about 大山, which I am not inclined to do. Any adventurous reader wants to go ahead and prove your internets skillz, step up and be heard.


  10. Baby, I love your way says:

    Yo I gotz da mad skillz.

    According to a very painful to read article I found online, Dashan was the name of the character he played the first time he was on TV. He just kept the name.

    Big Mountain indeed…

    I think I saw that Aihua chick getting her China love on during an infomercial or something.

  11. Yan Xishan says:

    “Mad skillz” indeed.

    +2 internet points for the Big Mountain reference.

  12. Dan says:

    Wow, thanks for the heads up that Chinese are intolerant, in your opinion. Chinese people can certainly be accepted as Americans or Canadians, or even French or British. But then, those aren’t real countries… with something to prove.

  13. Yan Xishan says:


    I apologize if I hurt your feelings. You seem like a lovely and sensitive laowai. I am sure you will be fully accepted as Chinese by your wife’s family. I hear they are extra open to outsiders up in Dongbei. And not just because they need the extra warmth during that long winter.


  14. da gong ji says:

    one of the troubles is trying to translate an interesting english name into chinese.

    i wanted to have a name translated from “ballsack foreskinski” but it ended up like a fuckin paragraph in chinese.

  15. zuo ai says:

    I chose my Chinese name from the only Chinese character from the Street Fighter video game, and so of course it involves a dragon in it. I honestly get a kick outta how corny it is… 飞龙

  16. Yan Xishan says:

    飞龙 is on the cheesy side, but Street Fighter was (is?) a great game, so I say live it up. Besides, I (and this is true) actually know an actual Chinese person with that name. Although they of course also had a standard Chinese surname, and I am not sure if that is the case here.

  17. FOARP says:

    Re: Aihua, I think I’ve seen her on one of those 19th century dramas playing an English woman married to a treacherous British diplomat. If it was her then her English really is fucked up – I thought she was Romanian or something.

  18. Noychoh says:

    I’ve read your essay and the comments with great interest. Now I will ask your opinion about my Chinese name: Maqi 马奇. I have not chosen it myself, it was given to me by my first Chinese teacher. In fact it is Chinese phonetical approximation of my original name which sounds like Maqiei. For the respect to my first teacher I have kept and used this name. Now what about the animal in my name?

  19. Yan Xishan says:

    “马” is a standard last name, so there is no shame, as long as you are using 马 as your last name. For those of you do not yet speak Chinese, 马 is pronounced “ma” and means “horse.” 马 is a common last name among Chinese Muslims, such as my mutton munching rival Ma Bufang.

    But in any case you will need to confirm that you are using 马 as your surname before I can give you the Yan Xishan Seal of Approval for Laowai Chinese Names. It’s prestigious.

    • Noychoh says:

      Yan Xishan! I have read your answer only now, 4 years after it habd been published, I have completely forgotten about my question :). May Your Honour Excuse your humble servant!

      No, I am not using 马 as my surname (the surname is 检), and I am not Muslim (thank to all Chinese gods of North and South), but 马奇 is my personal name.

  20. Anonymous says:

    are you all retards?!!! the name Shan Da is an important name to many Chinese. It is the main character in the book Forbidden City by William Bell. The book is based on the massacre of Tian An Men Square. Alex, Shan Da’s English name, is responsible for getting the story out of the country after watching his friends get mowed down right in front of him by the PLA. for you retartds out ther that’s the People`s Liberation Army. The chinese government used it against the people because students were participating in a peaceful protest to be treated as equals. The book is so accurate that it is illegal in china. 2600 students died that day and their families were billed for the bullets. Even more civillians died and their families were also billed for the bullets. Google is pulling out of china because the government is controlling what citizens are allowed to search for. Search that is punishable by death: Tian An Men Square. Alex or Shan Da has become a symbol of freedom for the residents of beijing. if you don`t believe me, read the book. you will see.

  21. In a post about retard names, it seems a little rude not to leave your name.

  22. Jason says:

    Can I get the Yan Xishan Seal of Approval for Laowai Chinese Names? My Chinese name is 陆杰森,and while I realize that I’m neither heroic nor a forest, it was also my Chinese teacher’s idea and is about as phonetically-matching as Chinese names come.

  23. Yan Xishan says:

    @William Bell (aka Anonymous): Sure, whatever.

    @Jason: Well,杰 by itself does not mean hero, but just outstanding. So I would translate your name as “outstanding forest.” As Chinese names go, you could do a lot worse. So yes, you can have the Yan Xishan Seal of Approval for Laowai Chinese Names.

    But you might want to keep an open mind and make a change in the future, as technically you are not an outstanding forest.

  24. Second best post ever on a China blog. First best is your post on top ten thinkers. Well done.

  25. Chris Hagen says:

    I did not even take the time to read your article in entirety. My take on your China experience is that you have simply skimmed the surface and know little to nothing on Chinese culture, history, and of course, names.

    Take any Chinese person’s name and translate it and you will find a strange, but fascinating group of characters. In the same way Chinese take what we would consider strange English names, I find it both refreshing and fun. Why adopt a name like Peter, or Mary, when there are so many more interesting names available? I had one person who worked for me call himself Debt. No matter how I tried to get him to change, he would not. Others such as Snow, Rain, Gold, Samartha, (instead of Samantha), what is the harm?

    Same for Westerners taking Chinese names. Why would anyone adopt a normal name especially when it is a great honor to be given a surname and a name from a Chinese friend?

    I see that no one has posted on your dismal essay for more than a year, good. Also, your reference to putting the word 大 in front of a name has nothing to do with size or ego, but all to do with hierarchy in the family.

    I suggest you do more research for further articles.

  26. Matt_XVI says:

    Yan Xishan,

    You are an epic douche who is the idiot calling others idiots.

    Your examples of English names do not make sense. Chinese names (and characters) are almost always based on meanings. It’s the standard. So yeah of course “Special Horse” sounds idiotic in English however 马特 is perfectly acceptable in Chinese. Try to find a Chinese name that doesn’t refer to a combination of nouns, verbs and adjectives. It’s inherent in their culture.

    You yourself have a fucking mountain in your name. According to your logic it seems like your telling us your making up for a small insecurity yourself.


  27. Anonymous says:

    I would also like to point out the stupid names the Chinese seem to take in English such as Cherry, Candy etc.

  28. Curioser says:

    I met a chap called Satan Wong in Hong Kong. Awesome! Is there an equivalent Chinese name for Laowai? Evil spirit, perhaps?

  29. Wan Da Shan says:

    I was given the name Wan Da Shan which I was told means rich in spirit…has anyone else heard or know of a similar meaning for this name

  30. Anonymous says:

    Hi Yan! Thank you for the tips.
    I guess they get this native north-american “feel” and channel to chinese through this whole yingyang/taichi self-made theory.
    Where they get stuff from the nature… Big mountain = Brave sitting bull. Go figure, maybe Freud explains it…

    Anyway. My name is 马雅各 – whacha say?


  31. Anonymous says:

    My name is Da Long! As you might have guessed, the name I refer to is Dalong (大龙), or “Big Dragon.” You are an idiot for claiming that that name is not influential and impactful. I expect you to call me Matthew, but since most people outside of the English world can’t pronounce “TH” correctly, how about you sound like a fucking idiot when you try to say my name. Secondly, and it is clear that you don’t, I have a large penis, and I make a lot of money, and I speak five languages, hence, I was given my name by my friends and family of my wife who decided that I had earned the name. They explained that it came from my love of koi fish. My full Chinese name is Yu Long Cheng or Wise Fish Dragon. 鱼龙城 forgive my characters if mistaken, but derived from the praised mythological tale that spans many Asian cultures depicting the strife of the golden carp that lived in fear and danger as it stood out from the traditional dark colored carp and was an easy target for predators and larger fish. As it grew it mastered survival and made it to its holy birth grounds where it was spawned. Upon return there had been earthquakes and the river had fallen and collapsed creating a massive waterfall that prevented the carp from returning. As a testament to the golden carps tenacity, he mused the strength and courage to ascend the waterfall where again he was challenged by bears and other creatures that attempted to catch him as climbed. Upon reaching the top of the falls and over looking the places he once travelled from a higher elevation, he realized that he was no longer a lonely golden carp but an almighty dragon as the experiences he had garnished had hardened his scales, sharpened his teeth, and forced him to grow in a way that would prevent all from challenging his strength. With this experience and strength it was left to the dragon to make sure that balance and harmony reigned.

    Maybe a cultural tale and elements of Chinese historical influence are essential for a foreigners name in Chinese. It is always a conversation starter, allows me to display my spoken Mandarin ability, and knowledge of some aspects of pre cultural revolution Chinese influences. My name for short is Da long, and it was not I that chose it, but one that I was anointed with. It is clear that your, post, blog, and personality are easily discernible through your interpretation of laowai use of these names in Chinese. What do you think about my two new buddies from Jiansu. “Golf” and “Glitter”. … Both guys by the way. You are clearly either jealous of the fame or success of these people for using the cultural phenomenon of reverse orientalism that exists throughout modern China today, or you simply have to much time on your hands.

    I found your blog because I was looking for girls names in Chinese that aren’t stupid since my daughter turns 1 week old today. I know that to you, my name may be stupid, and many people have asked how I got my name. But I assure you, in many circumstances after getting to know someone, I often ask if I should change my name. Unanimously, the reply has been, Da long, the name suits you.

    Maybe you should be more open minded and work on eliminating your intolerance as historically, names change as everything in life does. Maybe traditional Chinese names are a thing of the past and maybe as China now is home to more and more expats, or in my case, Los Angeles, is home to more and more Chinese that I am encircled by in my community, a cross cultural dialogue is appropriate.

    So all in all, either grow up, grow a bigger dick, actually be able to kick someone’s ass like I do and have had to do in China and other parts of the world when insignificant little assholes like you open their mouth without any point of reference, or just accept that your parents picked your Chinese name because conformity is the norm, and exceptionalism, has been ground upon in China for centuries.


  32. Rob in Wisconsin says:

    Is it just me or is #8 & #6 the same person??

  33. Anya Getman says:

    I hope you are still reading your blog. My Mandarin teacher seems to like this name — what do you think?

    Surname (first character)
    Gan (or should I use Guo ?)

    Given Name (middle character)
    •versed in, fully acquainted with

    Given Name (last character):
    •repose, serenity, peace; peaceful

    Anya Getman

  34. Anya Getman says:

    Or she might have preferred
    Ai ning

  35. Anya Getman says:

    过 爱 宁
    Guò ài níng

    to cross / to go over / to pass (time) / to celebrate (a holiday) / to live / to get along / excessively / too-

    to love / to be fond of / to like / affection / to be inclined (to do sth) / to tend to (happen)

    peaceful / to pacify / to visit (one’s parents etc)

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