Wednesday 21 April 2010

Vocabulary: Chinese Names with English Meanings

Photo from Chinesehour Blog

Have you ever wondered that learning English vocabulary can be easy? How easy? You may be carrying one of them with you all the time, printed on your ID card. What I mean is, from your own surname! Believe it or not, some Chinese surnames do have actual meanings.

I have selected a few more common ones, some are Cantonese and others Mandarin. If you happen to have more updates, let me know! I will add them in.

Bong (n) [C]
  • a musical noise made especially by a large clock
Boon (n) [C usually singular]
  • something that is very helpful and improves the quality of life 
  • Boon companion
    • [C usually singular literary] a very close friend
Chin (n) [C]
  • the part of a person's face below their mouth

Chow (n) [U old-fashioned Slang]
  • food; something to eat

  • gung-ho (adj informal)
    • extremely enthusiastic about doing something, especially going to war
  • heigh-ho (exclamation)
    • used to express the fact that you cannot change a situation so you must accept it
  • ho-hum 
    • (exclamation) an expression used when someone is bored, or when they accept that something unpleasant cannot be stopped from happening
    • (adj) boring or ordinary

Ching (n)
  • ching / ka-ching
    • (exclamation) used for talking about large amounts of money and wanting a lot of money
Lam (n)
  • on the lam [US]
    • to be escaping, especially from the police
Law (n)
  • go to law
    • When someone goes to law about something, they ask a court to decide if it was done legally.
Lee (n)
  • [S] the side of hill, wall, etc. that provides shelter from the wind
  • the lees
    • the substance which is left at the bottom of a container of liquid, especially in a bottle of wine
  • (exclamation, old use) look
  • lo and behold (humorous)
    • something that you say when you tell someone about something surprising that happened
Loo (n) [C]
  • UK informal toilet
Ma (n)
  • (informal, old-fashioned) a mother
  • (mainly) US a title for an old woman

Ping (vb) [I]
  • to make a short sharp sound
  • (message) to send an email or text message
  • US for "pink" (= an engine noise)

Pun (vb [I], n [C])
  • to make a pun
  • a humorous use of a word or phrase which has several meanings (eg. jerk) or which sounds like another word (eg: red / read) .
  • (vb [I] or [T] disapproving) to pretend
  • [C usually singular disapproving] something which is not what it seems to be and is intended to deceive people, or someone who pretends to be something they are not
  • (vb) [I] to break a religious or moral law
Tang (n) [S]
  • a strong sharp taste or smell
  • Tongs (plural n) a device used for picking up objects, consisting of two long pieces joined at one end and pressed together at the other end in order to hold an object between them

Photo from

Wan (adj literary)

  • (of a person's face) more pale than usual and tired-looking

Woo (vb [T])
  • to try to persuade someone to support you or to use your business
  • (old-fashioned) If a man woos a woman, he gives her a lot of attention in an attempt to persuade her to marry him

Yam (n, [C] or [U])
  • a potato-like root from a tropical climbing plant that can be eaten, or the plant it grows from
  • US a sweet potato

Photo from

Enjoy learning English-cum-Chinese surnames!