Western Names in an Eastern Country

One of the things I’ve always found curious about Singapore is that there are lots of ethnically Chinese people that have Western names.  When I first found out about the Western style names I assumed that ethnic Chinese in Singapore had simply started using Western first names in place of Chinese first (or given) names, followed by their surname (ex: John Goh, Michelle Tan, Jimmy Lim, etc).

So, I was a bit confused when I found out that in Singapore, ethnic Chinese have a full Chinese name, but at some point choose an English name to use in addition to their Chinese name.  It sounded a bit silly to me at first, like a bunch of kids at a sleep over picking fake names to role-play with, but I’ve found a few reasons as to why it may be done.

The practice is very common in modern China.  The people there tend to choose an English first name for a variety of reasons.  They might do it because they frequently have to do business with foreigners, and an English name is easier for them to pronounce and remember.  They might do it as a way of expressing social status.  Some do in fact choose an English name that embodies their dream or ambitions for the future.  In China, it is believed that your name will affect your destiny.  This practice has carried over to Hong Kong and Singapore.

I’m just making a guess here but I think the reason that Western names are so popular in Singapore among ethnic Chinese has to do with business reasons.  Singapore is constantly maneuvering and positioning itself as a business hub, and more recently a technology and media hub, for this region of the world.  As such it does quite a bit of communicating with foreign investors and main branches of MNCs that have set up regional offices here.  So, for the sake of simplicity in regards to carrying out that business, I think people here choose English names to use in place of their Chinese names when in the work place.

If someone knows more about it than I do, please enlighten me in the comment section as I’d really love to know!

Also, I think it’s an interesting opportunity to be able to give yourself a name.  In Western countries we’re given the only name we’ll ever have by our parents at birth.  There is a way to legally change your name in the US, but who really does that?  You risk insulting your family if you do.  Sometimes our parents give us names that are really outdated, are in poor taste, or just make you say “WTF?”.  Having the opportunity to choose your own name, based on your own hopes and interests is great!

(Image from Posh Little Baby Names)