Naming of a newborn is usually done in two ways. Traditionally, the parents will choose Chinese characters by sound or pronunciation of one character. One can choose a one- character name or a two-character name. In a two-character name, the parents would choose the last character first and then the middle character last. This is because the second character changes with each brother or sister while the last character often remains the same for all brothers and sisters.
An example of a single character name is the Lin brothers from Taipei. A Lin family from Taipei had two brothers. The elder brother was named Lin Yi, or Lin No. 1. The second son was named Lin erh, or Lin No. 2. The elder brother lives in Houston, Texas and sells musical instruments. The second son, Lin Erh, is in Germany. Lin Erh was once a famous piano teacher in Taipei.
An example of a two-character name is the naming of my two daughters. My wife chose the last character “En” (thankfulness, Christian) first. Then she chose the middle character “hui” (intelligent, Christian and Buddhist). So the Chinese name of my first daughter is Chen Hui-en. When my second daughter was born, a different second character was chosen as “tzu” (charity, which can be Christian or Buddhist as in Tzu Chi Bhddhists from Taiwan). So the Chinese name of my second daughter is Chen Tzu-en.
The illegitimate sons of Chiang Ching-kuo, by his lover were named Chang Hsiao-yen and Chang Hsiao-tzu. A year after Madame Chiang Ching-kuo, aka Chiang Fang-liang (Faina Ipat’evna) passed on December 15, 2004, the two sons officially changed their family name Chang to Chiang. So the two sons, one of them died in Beijing, are now known as Chiang Hsiao-yen and Chiang Hsiao-tzu (posthumously). In this case, the second character remained the same for the two brothers but the last character changed.
The choice of the changing character is not random. Usually a fortune teller is consulted to “calculate the character” by the proper number of strokes, rhyme, and meaning.
The proper number of strokes is always listed in the Chinese almanac. For example, the character meaning “one” is “yi” and it has 1 stroke. The character meaning “two” is “erh” and has 2 strokes. The family name Lin (forest, two characters for wood juxtaposed) has 8 strokes. So the number of strokes of the name Lin Yi has 8+1=9 strokes, and the name of the piano teacher Lin Erh has 8+2=10 strokes.
In naming a business, the number of strokes is very important because certain numbers portend prosperity while other numbers portend a life of poverty. In Chinese fortune telling, the number of strokes of a name chosen by the parents for a baby predetermines the baby’s fate and life.
Less educated parents traditionally chose flowery names for daughters while more educated families, “shu xiang zhi jia” (a family with literary fragrance) chose more reserved and more intellectual names for daughters. Two examples of this contrast are the names Chen Chun-lien, Chen of the spring lotus, and Lin Yuan-chun, Lin of the first spring.
Other good examples are the given names of the three Soong sisters: Madame Chiang Kai-shek’s maiden name is Soon Mei-ling, and she was the middle sister. The eldest was Soong Qing-ling, and the youngest is Soong Ai-ling. The names of the two sons of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek were Chiang Ching-kuo (Chiang of the longitude (meridian) of the nation) and Chiang Wei-kuo (Chiang of the latitude of the nation).
Baby’s names also reflect the parents’ wishes. Chen Chun-lien, Chen of the spring lotus, was born on April 7. Lin Yuan-chun, Lin of the first spring, was born on December 18.