Taiwanese Family with Unique Baby Name Tradition

A couple of months ago, Cindy Chang wrote about her family’s interesting baby name tradition in the LA Times. Her Taiwanese family (now in the U.S.) has been naming all baby boys using the words in a special couplet, “probably part of a larger poem lost during the Cultural Revolution,” for at least 6 generations now.

Here’s the couplet (and the translation):

Hu guang xuan bei dou
Light from the lake reflects the north dipper (big dipper)

Shi dai le yong xi
Generations delight at the golden age

And here are the names in Cindy’s family that correspond to each word:

  1. Hu, “lake”
    Her great-great-grandfather was named Hu-zao, “fertile lake.”
  2. Guang, “light”
    Her great-grandfather was named Guang-xin, “shining prosperity.”
  3. Xuan, “reflects, announces”
    Her grandfather was named Xuan-yao, “announcing brilliance.”
  4. Bei, “north”
    Her father is named Bei-dwo, “northern bell,” and her uncle is named Bei-jiann, “northern key.”
  5. Dou, “dipper,” changed by her grandfather to Tian, “sky, heavens”
    Her brother is named Tian-shu, “heavenly axis,” and her male cousins are named Tian-chuan, “heavenly authority,” and Tian-dong, “heavenly pillar.”
  6. Shi, “world”
    Her nephews are named Christian Shi-jun, “world #1 talented, smart, handsome man,” and Julian Shi-xia, “world knight.”

But, like I said, this tradition only pertains to male names. So what’s Cindy’s Chinese name?

It’s Shin-tzer [pron. sheen-dzuh]. Shin means “heart,” and tzer means “swamp,” literally, though by extension it also means “glossy, radiant, enriching.” She says:

My name isn’t full of flowers, fragrance or delicacy like most Chinese girls’ names. My grandfather wanted me to have strength of character, not mere physical beauty.

Source: Chinese names blend traditions, drama (via Nancy Friedman – thanks!)

2 Responses to Taiwanese Family with Unique Baby Name Tradition

  1. I don’t know details, but my Malaysian Chinese friend told me that her extended family also has a poem which they use for “generation names.” I gathered that this is a common Chinese practice. Her generation name is “Siew” (pronounced syoo), so she and her female cousins all have Siew as part of their names. In mainland China I expect this tradition is dying out as so many younger people don’t have siblings or cousins.

  2. Interesting! I had no idea generation poems were such a common thing.

    Here’s Wikipedia’s page on Chinese Generation names & poems.

    Thanks Diane!

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