Mosquito, Circle, Tomato－Chinese people come up with strange English names at times, names that can baffle foreign employers and even cost them their chance of securing a high-profile job.
An American expatriate in Shanghai saw an opportunity here and decided to launch a consulting business on the best choice of English names.
Lindsay Jernigan from Memphis, Tennessee, asks her clients to answer 10 questions on her website (BestEnglishName.com) to help them nail down a suitable name with minimum fuss.
After paying 15 yuan ($2.5) by Alipay, China's version of PayPal, they get a choice of five recommended names. Since September, her website has been visited 20,000 times. About 1,800 people have paid to see what answers the quiz yields.
About 200 people have forked out more money－120 to 200 yuan ($19 to 32) each－to consult with Jernigan in person or through QQ, a popular online chatting tool in China. Most plan to study or live abroad.
Jernigan started her business one year ago when she realized how an inappropriate name could create an awkward first impression and even cost people a shot at a job.
She told the story of one young man who was not even granted a job interview by one of Jernigan's friends because he put the name Kaka on his resume in homage to the Brazilian football player.
The friend found the name strange and inappropriate. It conveyed the impression that he would not be able to handle himself well with foreigners in a social setting or mixed working environment, Jernigan said.
Food is another popular choice in China, with many women wanting to be called Apple or Cherry, she said.
Suhail Nasir, who hails from Pakistan but has lived in Shanghai for 10 years, said he and his friends in Shanghai find some local people's English names "hilarious". He said he once had to persuade a colleague at Alcatel Lucent to change his name from Coke to Robert.
"This is an idea that many people had before, but no one thought it could be a profitable business," he said. "I'm just surprised that (Jernigan) actually managed to make a business out of it."
English names are common in big international cities like Shanghai because many non-Chinese find it hard to read or pronounce Chinese names, said Zhao Ronghui, a director of the Institute of Linguistics at Shanghai International Studies University.
English-speaking people usually adhere to a pool of names that may have their origins in the Christian Bible or popular Western mythology, whereas, technically speaking, any Chinese character can be used in a Chinese name.
Such rules do not apply when choosing an English name, however. Rather than choosing something humdrum, Chinese are just as likely to pick something that has a specific meaning for them－such as their favorite foreign sports star or fruit.
Jernigan said most of her clients want a name that is unique and easy to pronounce. They pay far more attention to the meaning than their Western counterparts, who may not even be aware their own name is Bible-derived or has another meaning.
"Young Chinese have a strong sense of self-awareness. They also hope their English names will be cool, like their names online," Fang Yongde, an associate professor of intercultural communication at Shanghai International Studies University, said.