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The Big Reveal

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I’m going to reveal something which I’ve kept under wraps all year, the reason being that I’m not particularly fond it. A lot of friends have asked me numerous times throughout the year and I’ve refused to tell them each time. We all have things we don’t want people to know, right? Also known as secrets, these little things about yourself that you keep private and don’t want others to know about doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re ashamed. Or, does it…?

Now that I’ve absolutely unnecessarily built up this ‘big secret’ to a sufficient degree, such that I’m sure you’re all on the edge of your seats, reading with extreme interest, intrigued to find out what I’m on about, be ready for disappointment 😀

My Chinese Name!

Yes, I do have one of these.
Of course, living in China, attending university here, everyone has a Chinese name. Ours were given to us by our SOAS tutors last year, although a couple of people did come up with their own names. In all honesty, I’m really not a fan of my Chinese name, and I wish I’d had the foresight back then to do something about it, but I suppose months of compliments have changed that opinion, and while it’s certainly not the case that it’s grown on me, I guess I’d say that I’ve grown into it.

Most Chinese names are two or three characters, with the family name (surname) appearing first, and the given name appearing second. The family name will always be one character, and some really common ones are 李 Lǐ, 张 Zhāng, and 王 Wáng.

马 Mǎ, another pretty common family name so happens to be one of the common Muslim names in China. Literally, it would mean horse, but could be said to derive from Mohammed, which cannot be written in its polysyllabic form in Chinese. Interestingly, this happens to be the family name given to me, and I still wonder if this was intentional on my tutor’s part, or if it was just due to the fact that my surname starts with the same letters. (Because this was how they came up with some of the names: transliterations. For example, Anna could become 安娜 Ānnà). At the time though, I didn’t know about this so it didn’t mean anything to me back then.

This doesn’t mean, however, that anyone surnamed Mǎ must be of Muslim background, nor that all Muslims have surnames distinguishable from the dominant Han Chinese. As I’m learning (with research for my project, yay!), certain groups of Muslims in China, namely the Hui group, are almost completely assimilated with the Han Chinese, and in many cases, it is impossible to distinguish them, on grounds of language, dress, culture and customs.

Onto my given name, then. I’m a flower. A chrysanthemum, to be precise. My given name is 菊 Jú, another reason which points to the fact that my Chinese name is purely based on a transliteration of my surname, but admittedly, Ibtehaal would be kinda difficult to transcribe with Chinese characters.

马菊 — Mǎ Jú

Now bearing in mind, with a two character name, you’re called by both characters, whereas with a three character name, it’s okay for you to just be called by your given name. I’m glad this means people don’t go around shouting “Ju” to get my attention. (Say it aloud to understand what I mean)

I would have liked a name with three characters though, because I think it rolls off the tongue better, and I feel like mine is just too short for me. Moreover, it doesn’t have a particularly special meaning… I mean, being a chrysanthemum is all very well and good, and the horse isn’t really meant to mean anything in terms of a person’s name, after all – you don’t choose your surname. It’s just there to give you some identity, but the meaning isn’t actually important. Or maybe it would be if both characters in my name had a connection…. Sigh.

Luckily, I’m absolutely in love with my ‘English’ name. (Oh, the irony…)
Thank you, parents! 😀



About Ibtehaal

I graduated with a degree in Chinese and Economics, which involved spending a year studying Chinese in Beijing. This turned out to be the hardest but most rewarding thing I think I have ever done. I've now returned to China for another year, to study in Shanghai and figure out my next steps.

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