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Culture Lesson: Why Chinese People Use English Names

Mar. 29, 2017

Chinese General Name

If you stay in China for a while, you will come to find that many Chinese people use English names. The amounts of Jacks and Lisas you meet will be an endless stream, despite their Chinese names all being very different. Many might ask, why are they using English names instead of their real names? Some might even assume Chinese people are acting pretentious. In reality, using an English name can be quite useful for a person’s career. Especially, for people working within internet or high-tech fields.

Equality is extremely important for people working in these fields and so is keeping a culture of equality in the workplace. This means that even interns should be able to call the CEO by his name. This company culture follows companies such as Facebook and Google, who emphasis the importance of a happy workplace. In Chinese, usually a person is called by their last name and title, such as the president being called “X 总 (X zǒng) President X .” Switching to English names loses all this formality, and the president merely becomes Sam or some other English names.

Nowadays, many Chinese people recognize this kind of company culture and support it. They know it can make the lines between ranks in the workplace disappear and allow people to have closer connections with people of other ranks. Yet in Chinese, there is a natural ranking and for someone to call their superior by their Chinese name would feel very awkward and out of place. For example, my friend’s boss is named “小丽 (xiǎolì)” where “小 (xiǎo)” means “little.” Her boss is much older than her and she can’t get herself to call her boss that name, it feels too disrespectful. Yet, calling her boss Lisa is quite easy for her.

Read more articles about Chinese culture:
Understand 人情 (rénqíng)? Prepare for an Easy Life in China
Get a Chinese Name

— Written by Jennifer Zhu —
Jennifer Zhu is a professional Chinese teacher from eChineseLearning. She has many years of Chinese language teaching experience and received her B.A. and M.A. in “Teaching Chinese as a Second Language.”

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