January 20, 2006

Mr. Understanding-the-key-point Chen

This is a quick link to an interesting post at Pinyin News on "Chinese names, stroke counts, and fengshui", commenting on a WSJ story about a current Chinese fad for name changes:

The article repeatedly talks about this as if it were part of fengshui (fēngshui / 風水 / 风水). Coming up with a lucky name, however, traditionally belongs to fortune-telling, an entirely different field, though I suppose it’s possible that the two have become combined in modern China, where the traditional ways were broken.

Here's one of the name-changing narratives from the WSJ piece:

Chen Mingjian changed his given name in 1998, after he was fired from an investment consultancy he co-founded. A feng shui master said Mr. Chen's original given name, Jian, or "healthy," attracted money and success but mainly for his employers, not for himself. The name Mingjian, which means "understanding the key point," would give him a better chance at earning a personal fortune, the master said.

Mr. Chen now owns HollyHigh International Capital Co., a mergers-and-acquisitions consultancy with offices in Beijing and Shanghai. "Name changing ... gives you psychological assurance in difficult times," says Mr. Chen. "My career didn't take off until I changed my name."

Mr. Chen says eight of 32 of his classmates from prestigious Tsinghua University, most of them bankers and investment bankers, have followed his example and changed their names in recent years.

"I may change my name again if there are dramatic changes in my life," says Mr. Chen.

Pinyin News provides extra flavor by comparison to Jerome Rothenberg's Gematria Poems, and several (nonlinguistic but interesting) fengshui links.

Posted by Mark Liberman at January 20, 2006 09:30 AM