A Study of Naming Practices in Hong Kong


dr. Eugen Schochenmaier

Mondonomo, Chief Scientist

Jan. 28, 2022, 12:37 p.m.


The practice of using an English name is widespread among native
Chinese speakers. Research about this topic has been done not only
in Mainland China but also in Hong Kong and Singapore and with
Chinese minorities elsewhere. The case of Hong Kong is especially
interesting due to its colonial history, which only ended in 1997 with
the handover to China. 

Using qualitative interviews, the study carried out by Wibke
Eickmann in 2020 examines the thoughts and feelings about this
practice among students who grew up in Hong Kong after 1997.
Due to the high importance of English in education and commerce,
English names have become symbolic capital and an expression of
Hong Kongese identity. A good English name should be
recognizable but at the same time not too common. The two names
are used in distinct social settings: The Chinese one is reserved for
close friends and family, while the English name is used in casual,
everyday interactions.

It is evident to identify two leading aspects for Chinese people when
choosing an English name:

1. Sound: Often, the first English name has a sound like Chinese
name, examples are Lily, Sam or Helen for the Chinese names
Li, Sen and Hai-yan respectively.

2. Meaning: English names are picked either for their similarity
in literal meaning to the Chinese name (e.g., Pony for the
surname Ma or Jasmine as a typical Chinese given name) or for
their literal meaning in itself (e.g., Sunny).

This research contributes to the understanding of cultural, linguistic
and symbolic capital as expressed through names and to identity
negotiation theory and identity management theory and their
implications on naming practices.