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    What's in a name? Destiny, Chinese say

2006-03-18 07:11

The bliss a newborn child brings to a family is always accompanied by finding a name for the baby.

Traditionally in extended families, grandfathers are often asked to decide on one or two characters for the name.

Chinese names are a good example of how the Chinese view the world and the importance of family.

Many of us put much thought, effort and research into naming our children. The charm behind this is the belief that a name can contribute to a child's destiny.

The Chinese have a long history of practising generational naming with meaningful characters. They are either an old form of characters, elegant characters, or rarely used characters.

The purpose is to give promise to the child, though no scientific research confirms this belief.

The words can make up a saying by Confucius regarding the Chinese view of life, or a poem reflecting a view of the world, or they can be the same ones as generations prior to keep the name alive.

In the years of political tumult such as the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), many people give their children or themselves a name with a political connotation.

Now people resort to retired characters with strong meanings to avoid giving a common name.

Naming a child is turning out to be a challenge for parents and grandparents. They want a name that has a significant meaning and melodic ring and, most important of all, is different from others.

In the information era, the rarely used Chinese characters are illegible to those people who do not carry the characters on their computers or mobile phones.

It makes it hard for banks, hotels and even police stations to access the information on the people who have names made of rare characters.

The Public Security Management Bureau under the Ministry of Public Security is thinking about setting up a pool of characters. The ministry has not clarified how big the database is or whether it is the only source of choice for posterity. Furthermore, the department will hammer out guidelines for changing names.

The ministry is coming up with the idea partly because the names made of rarely used characters are not accessible for the nationwide programme to popularize new intelligent, computer-read identity cards. The programme is due to end in 2008.

The rarely used characters have made it impossible for at least 40,000 Beijingers to get their new ID cards.

The pool of Chinese characters the Ministry of Public Security is going to offer is supposed to facilitate its programme and help those who cannot get the new ID cards.

However, its good intention is presented too simply.

How can the ministry know the size of the database for the names of all newborns, with 15.5 million born every year?

How can it deal with the floods of identical or similar names if people had to pick up the characters from the pool?

The utmost importance of the database is controversial for imposing restrictions on people when naming their children.

The Chinese go through great pains in giving names to their offspring. When they choose the elegant, symbolic characters, which happen to be rarely used, they put faith in them.

More thought should be given to the implications of name-giving in this country when the Ministry of Public Security wants to handle the rarely used characters.

The individuals' right to name themselves and their children deserves due respect. Theoretically, they have the right to take whatever characters for their babies' names as long as they are not obscene, misleading or derogatory.

We are living in an age of technology, which has offered us an onslaught of solutions to our problems.

Why can't the Ministry of Public Security collect a pool of brains to update a means to input all Chinese characters?

When the pool of characters in computers is big enough, the limit on people's choice is not necessary.

(China Daily 03/18/2006 page4)


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