English names in Hong Kong

Sticking with the subject of names after my post about how I think my boyfriend’s name may be affecting his ability to get a job interview, I’ve been thinking about the English names people from Hong Kong give to their children. People in Hong Kong generally have a Chinese and an English name, due to the fact Hong Kong used to be owned by the UK. The reason that this has interested me is because of how strange some of the names are.

My boyfriend has a pretty uncommon name. I think it’s more popular in America, but i’ve never heard of anyone with his name in the UK. His brother and his parents have extremely old fashioned names, to the point where I am sure only 90 year olds would be called the same. It’s also common to find people with names you would never hear in the UK (unless the baby belonged to a celebrity); things like Angel, Apple, Coco and Bunny (and these are some of the more normal ones!)

You only have to look at some Hong Kong celebrities to see the strange names they come up with. (I don’t know who most of these people are or why they are famous, i’ve just been googling names)

There are old fashioned names such as:

  • Ada Choi
  • Winston Chu
  • Herman Li
  • Josephine Koo
  • Stanley Kwan
  • Raymond Kwok
  • Walter Kwok
  • Betty Loh
  • Kenneth Tsang
  • Elsie Leung
  • Albert Chan
  • Neville Poy

There are also names that are random words such as:

  • Fruit Chan (Food)
  • Hilton Cheong-Leen (Hotel)
  • York Chow (UK City)
  • Butterfly Hu (Insect)
  • Athena Chu (Goddess)
  • King Hu (Nobility)
  • Ringo Lam Leng-tung (Member of the Beatles)
  • Hacken Lee (Football team)
  • Gigi Leung (Film)
  • Race Wong (Sporting event)
  • Run Run Shaw (Action)
  • Teddy Wong (Cuddly toy)
  • Griffin Yue Feng (Mythical Creature)
  • Ekin Cheng (River)
  • Oxide Pang Chun (Chemical Compound)

…and of course…

  • Jet Li (Aeroplane)

3 (1)Jet may be an uncommon name, but it definitely makes him sound tougher.

It’s not just the celebrities making up names. You can see some more interesting names in this blog post by HK Girl Talk. The people of Hong Kong are not crazy though! There are reasons that they give their children names like these.

One reason is that the people of Hong Kong want to be unique. It’s very unlikely you would find more than one person in the world called “Steel Tong” and for them, this is a good thing. It’s also much more memorable than “Dave Smith” and in this competitive country, you need to stand out. In the UK however, a name like this probably wouldn’t have a positive effect.

Another reason is that some people do not 100% understand English names. In Hong Kong, Chinese names have a meaning – for example the name “Li Yong” means brave, so they may think that naming their child “Pretty” or “Strong” is a normal think, though of course it isn’t. It’s just a cultural difference that doesn’t translate. This also can refer to the old fashioned names – it’s not surprising that people in Hong Kong might not know which English names are currently popular.

I’ve always disliked strange names. I don’t think you should force something like that on a child. I can only see it as a selfish act and it can make their lives very hard! This is coming from a UK point of view though. A child in the UK would get horrifically bullied if they were called “Fish”, but maybe that wouldn’t happen in Hong Kong and maybe it really will help them get further in life when they are older. Not everyone has an odd name, but it is the norm rather than a rarity. If the reason for the strange names is because the parents don’t understand how English names work, however, I think that’s kind of endearing. (I still feel very sorry for the children though!)

What are your thoughts? Do you know any Asians with an “interesting” English name?

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12 thoughts on “English names in Hong Kong

  1. I laugh to my husband that they just pick any random English book and stick their finger into random page to get random word and make their name. never knew what they pick some crazy names, James or Anna is OK, because belive me some full names are just wicked – it makes their life much easier, especially that in the old time HK was British and still having a HK ID you have two names: Chinese and in English, but I will never get why people pick names like Rainbow, Iceland, Mango, Tango, Banana etc. Banana Wong, ewww. I always laugh when we go to restaurant he usually says Jason because it@s much easier for everyone to tell his name, even though his name is very easy – Sing, cantonese version of Sheng – means winning 🙂 does your bf have English name as well? and how`s he now? Updated his resume? 🙂 when my husband comes I can ask him to find a radio-show, like two weeks ago he was listening to it and they were talking about wicked names in HK, both of you will surely understand at least the name part 🙂 and btw. Fruit Chan is a director but his English name is literal translation of the sign used to make his name 🙂

    • I think I need to find some Hong Kong people with strange names and ask them why they have them!

      My boyfriend uses his English name only on most things if he can! I don’t think he wants people knowing he has a Chinese name. He just got a job interview for a really rubbish job but it is better than nothing 😀

      Ooo, that’s one thing I didn’t think to add in – that some names are literal translations of the Chinese names!

  2. I overheard a nurse once say that someone almost picked the name Syphilis because it sounded “pretty”. Once they explained what syphilis was, of course that changed.

    Personally, I use a western name once I started my own clinic. It was a business decision. My thinking was that people generally want to be able to understand their doctor and vice versa.

    • It actually does sound like a pretty word…if you ignore it’s meaning! 😀

      I think people generally feel more trusting of those with a familiar name. I think that is why all the Chinese students on my university course had English names, which I hadn’t expected. Just as a way to try and fit in a bit more.

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  4. This is an excellent article! I’ve been aware of this phenomenon for quite some time now and always get a chuckle when I see some of the very “unique” names people have in Hong Kong. I remember getting into a taxi one time and the driver was called Skywalker Wong. I guess he was a fan of Star Wars, LOL. Twenty years ago most people received their English names at school, so the majority of them ended up being related to religion, i.e. Peter, Mark, Abigail, Michael, Samuel, Elisabeth, and etcetera.

    • Thank you! Wow, Skywalker is a cool name! 😉

      I’m not religious at all, so I’m not sure if this is a Hong Kong thing or a Christian thing, but my boyfriend says he was given a “Christian name” at church in Hong Kong. I got very confused as for me a Christian name is just your first name. However it seems to be a completely different name that isn’t part of his real full name. Apparently his Dad filled in a form for his school and under his Christian Name, wrote this church name instead of his first name, and he ended up being called Joseph at school instead of his actual English name. I don’t know if you know anything about that? Seems very strange to me!

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