What’s in a Name?

Editor’s note: This post continues our series highlighting the stories of CP staff adopting new names, either Chinese or English. Naming is an important part of cultural identity, and understanding the stories behind the new names we take on when entering new cultural contexts helps us to understand each other and our histories. 

EF Gregory grew up in the American South East, but spent seven of the past thirteen years living and working in China. She currently lives in the Los Angeles metro area with her husband and three small children. Gregory serves as CP’s Assistant Blog Editor.

William Shakespeare wrote that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet—but I’ve always disagreed. A name goes before you, conveying something about who and what type of individual you are. 

Even in English-speaking countries, where names don’t overtly convey parental hopes for their child, parents who name their child “Ace” or “Candy” likely have different goals than parents who chose the name “Henry” or “Eleanor.” This is even more true in China, where names often explicitly express what is wished for or expected of someone. If you want your child to be bright and cheerful, then you can name them just that: Bright Cheerful. They’ll walk around forever, expressing their parents’ hopes and dreams with their very identity.

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Names often explicitly express what is wished for or expected of someone.

I grew up in the States with a very normal, vanilla name. I don’t hate it, but I’ve never loved it, either. In some ways, it matched the way I thought of myself: nothing very special and not especially noteworthy. I’ve always loved names, though; even as a child when I couldn’t settle at night, I would lull myself to sleep by pondering the best names for my hypothetical, future children.


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I moved to China as a young adult, speaking not one word of Mandarin. As with every new student of Chinese, I was told I needed to pick a Chinese name. This was a task I was not up to. At that point, Mandarin was a language of indecipherable, one-syllable sounds, so I turned to a Chinese friend. I asked my very first friend to help me out, and she did. She took my English name, used the beginning sounds of my first, middle, and family names, and gave me a new, Chinese identity. I took the name, without thinking or questioning if I needed another name, because my friend said it was a good choice.

At first, my Chinese name didn’t mean much to me. I was confused by the way Chinese people introduced themselves, drawing the often complicated name characters on their hands and explaining their names by referencing other compound words that used the same characters. There are many characters that sound the same but express totally different meanings. For example, someone named Ming  (明) might introduce themselves by saying, “My name is Ming, like in mingxing, [the Chinese word for ‘celebrity’].”

My name, like all Mandarin words, was difficult to pronounce. My tones were bad, which meant I often said my own name incorrectly, and I had no idea what words used the same characters as the ones in my name. The whole thing felt like an elaborate cipher, one I couldn’t quite crack. But slowly, I began to learn. 

The first character in my given name could be used to signify something leisurely, restful, relaxed. That didn’t feel like me, someone who was anxious about adjusting to a new place and very uptight about most aspects of my daily existence. The second character in my given name meant beautiful. I had certainly never thought of myself as beautiful! 

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I liked having a beautiful name, one with a beautiful meaning.

Attempting to be a good student, I practiced my new characters, carefully drawing the strokes. I worked on my tones, and I learned the best way to explain exactly which syllables were the ones in my specific name. “What a beautiful name!” people often commented when I introduced myself. I liked that. I liked having a beautiful name, one with a beautiful meaning, one that didn’t feel at all like me, but also felt like who I wished I was.

Several months after moving to China, I doodled that new name in my journal. I was praying that day, reading scripture, spending a quiet hour with God. As I sketched my new name, I realized these characters were not actually given to me by my Chinese friend: this new name, the one that meant “beautiful” and “restful,” came from my Heavenly Father. 

He loved me, and when he looked at me, he didn’t see a plain, vanilla, stressed-out nobody. He saw his lovely daughter. And now I, too, could walk around this world, bearing my Father’s hopes and dreams. I didn’t have to live up to this identity: it was the name he had given me. It was who I was, how he saw me, what the world would hear when I told them how to call me.

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This new name, the one that meant “beautiful” and “restful,” came from my Heavenly Father. 

Since that day years ago, I’ve never gotten over the truth that God names us, not with who we think we are, but with his love. I don’t live in China anymore, and I don’t use that name on a daily basis. But I love it, and I feel loved to bear it. I don’t live up to my name—but it’s okay. God made clear how he feels about me when he put that name over me like a new dress. My Chinese name reminds me God does not see me the way I see myself, but with the tender, gracious eyes of a dad whose child is the apple of his eye.

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Further Reading

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The Internal Cross: A Pastoral Letter
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The External Cross: A Pastoral Letter
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Qingdao: How to Pray
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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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Stories from Shenyang

About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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Stories from Qingdao

About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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Stories from Xiamen

About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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Stories from Chongqing

About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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Stories from Nanjing

About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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Stories from Chengdu

About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

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About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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