Question about Chinese names

Watching the Olympics, I have become aware that the names of many of the Chinese athletes seem to have an attractive (to my ears), almost lyrical quality, at least when converted to English. As an example the women’s 70m archery included Hui Ju Wu from Taiwan and Juanjuan Zhang from China.

I can think of three explanations for this:

  1. There is a tradition in China to consider this lyrical quality when naming children.
  2. This is an artifact of the conversion to English, this quality would be lost if we were aware of the subtleties of the correct pronounciation.
  3. It is all in my imagination.

Any thoughts?

Not a direct answer, but something to ponder:

Would it still be lyrical if the names were Wu Hui Ju and Zhang Juanjuan? In Chinese, their last names would be pronouced first, so take that into consideration when thinking about (1) and (2).

The meaning of the name is generally considered quite important., but I’ve never heard that the sound of the names was very important. In fact, from my experience teaching English in China, I can’t think of a student that had a “rhyming” type name like those you listed above… there may have been some, I just can’t think of any.

Mandarin Chinese is very lyrical in general. It’s not just the names.

Cantonese, though, is another story. Sort of like Yiddish. Very suitable for yelling.

You mean there are other ways to speak Cantonese?! :eek: :wink:

Concidering the language has only 400 something possible syllables with only about 3 dozen possible endings for a word its a rather easy language to rhyme in. Alliteration is also pretty easy when saying a name in English because we don’t distinguish the sounds like zh and j and sh and x.

There are other things to keep in mind:

  1. In Mandarin all words must end in a vowel or in n or ng.
  2. The spoken language uses tones, which requires that the foreign learner remember to alwaysuse the proper tone, no matter what emotion is being expressed. (I confess that this must be difficult for a Chinese speaker who is agitated, angry, fearful, cautious, or ill.)
  3. Chinese does not divide words into parts of speech; they consider only “full” and “empty” words. Full words say something; empty words don’t. Within “full” words there are “living” words (verbs) and “dead” words (nouns and ajdectives). When a Chinese says “sun shine,” he or she means that sun (subject) has something to do with shine (predicate), and that’s that.


[q]1. In Mandarin all words must end in a vowel or in n or ng.[/q]
As I sit here in the Beijing airport, I do have to point out that in Northern China a very large percentage of the words end in a very pronounced “rrrr” sound.

The “ng” threw me for a minute but this would be like “neng” or “ability to do something” rather than the Cantonese “ng” sound. :slight_smile:

I’ve never heard the living and dead words - interesting idea. Are you referring to the Chinese practice of di-syllabization (making a one syllable word into two syllables)? For example, saying “zoulu” or equivalent of “take a walk” as opposed to just “zou” or saying English equivalent of “walk”

I think it’s more accurate to say you need decent tones combined with speaking naturally and with confidence. i certainly don’t have perfect tones. Good tones certainly helps, especially in earlier stages on learning the language.

Tickler, there is a relatively common practice of naming people with two names that sound the same. Your example of ZHANG Juan-Juan is an example. When it comes to nicknames, especially for kids, the double name is extremely common. It didn’t take with my daughter, but at least half of her nursery school classmates are called “du-du”, “ling-ling”, “qing qing” and so on.

My source is Language for Everybody, by linguist Mario Pei: he outlined the eight parts of speech in English and said that some Chinese grammarians recognize full and empty words, and living and dead words as “parts of speech.”
In The Art of Plain Talk, educator Rudolph Fleisch explains “empty” words. If I were to say to you, for example, “Inasmuch as, but, therefore, in regard to, on the other hand, therefore…” you would look at me in bewilderment and ask yourself, When is he going to say something? Up to now, I used only empty words in that sentence.