EYESHENZHEN  /   Opinion

What’s in a name?

Writer: Debra Li  | Editor: Vincent Lin  | From:  | Updated: 2019-07-08

As if believing in the magical power of words, people often give themselves, their children, their companies and housing estates fancy names.

However, a little research will dispel that belief. For instance, experienced investors know that many small Hong Kong-listed private companies with the word“China” attached to their names— like China Ding Yi Feng Holdings Ltd. (suspended from trading this March) and China Finance Investment Holdings Ltd.— are untrustworthy. While rookies might take for granted that“China” is associated with“national” and“big,” the trick doesn’t work on veterans and insiders. Similarly, the mother of a young girl named Tracy who’s a posh white-collar working in a high-rise will still call her daughter Cuihua (once a popular name in the rural parts of Northeast China) at home.

Names always bear the mark of their times. When I first visited Shenzhen in the 1990s, a lot of corner convenience stores called themselves“shiduo dian” (literally: store shop), which is rarely seen today. Once a fashionable name because it contains the transliteration of an English word, it is seen as funny and uneducated to most people today.

While the older generation of Chinese entrepreneurs favors names with a foreign association— like Gree and Midea— the younger generation has taken names like Huawei and Xiaomi with pride. It’s also interesting to remember that JD (Jingdong) once called itself 360buy. When strong enough, one will certainly become more confident and willing to show the world where they’ve come from.

When Tencent’s“Honor of Kings” grew very popular among Chinese gamers in 2017, a young couple reportedly gave their newborn daughter the name“Wang Zherongyao” (the Chinese name of the game), which is a weird name they may regret in the future. That said, the public security authorities gave the green light for the odd name.

Another shop owner in Shenzhen got himself into trouble a couple years ago because his shop was named“ISIS,” and someone reported it to the police. Obviously, most folks have the common sense and good judgment to tell what is appropriate for a name.

While there are always people who prefer to call a rose by another name, the backlash against a national campaign targeting“improper” place names is understandable. The campaign was started in December but made headlines only recently after Hainan authorities told several Vienna Hotels in Sanya to change their name. The Shenzhen-based hotel group rebutted, saying that Vienna Hotels is an officially registered brand name.

Common sense in law drafting says that rules and regulations need to be unambiguous so people can follow them. Whether a name is weird, hyperbolic or foreign-sounding, different people have different yardsticks, which means the subject matter is quite subjective. In other words, it’s more of a dispute in the realm of taste and aesthetics, rather than right and wrong.

It’s soothing to see that the Ministry of Civil Affairs has issued a notice asking local authorities to be prudent in carrying out the campaign.

Sometimes, people will grow out of their names, like the boy next door who told me the other day that his official name is Zhao Honghao rather than Little Fatty. Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra has also changed its acronym from SSO to SZSO to avoid confusion— Singapore Symphony Orchestra is also known as SSO.

Let’s just give people the time and space to grow and evolve.

(The author is a features editor at the Shenzhen Daily.)