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How to make a good Cantonese name (The British way)

It has been a tradition for officials from Britain to make a Cantonese name for themselves, as they wanted to blend into the Hong Kong society and make Hong Kongers feels they respect our language and us.

Recently, we heard that our friend Mr. Luke de Pulford, who has been supporting freedom and democracy movement in Hong Kong, is looking for a Cantonese name.

In this article, we will study and find the pattern of how British officials make their Cantonese name, and suggest some Cantonese names for Mr. Luke de Pulford that sound Hong Kong and meaningful.

What guidelines did British follow to make their Cantonese name?

Based on the enquiry Apple Daily made with British Consulate-General in Hong Kong, these are the guidelines they follow when they need to make a Cantonese name for British officials.

  • Make the Cantonese name based on the pronunciation of the name of that official.
  • Make a 3 characters Cantonese name (2 characters Cantonese name is not common in Hong Kong).
  • If the last name of that official is enough to make a 3 characters Cantonese name, ignore the pronunciation of its first name.
  • Choose a common Cantonese surname.
  • Use meaningful characters for the first name.

It is very easy to find some fancy characters in the dictionary, but the hard part is the phonetic. You need to know IPA for this part.

Besides, tone pattern for Cantonese name is also something we need to consider in order to make a name that sounds great, thus you need to learn Jyutping as well.

Cantonese naming pattern for British officials

In order to study how British officials actually made their name, we have chosen some British officials which we Hong Kongers familiar and listed them below.

English NameCantonese NameEnglish name pronunciation in IPACantonese name pronunciation in IPA
Crawford Murray MacLehose麥理浩k r ɔ: f ə d  
m ʌ r ɪ  
m ə k l h əʊ z 
mɐk6 lei5 hou6
Chris Patten彭定康k r ɪ s  
p æ t ə n
pʰaŋ4 tɪŋ6 hɔŋ1
David Wilson衛奕信d eɪ v ɪ d w ɪ l s n wɐi6 jɪk6 sɵn3
Margaret Thatcher戴卓爾m ɑ: g r ɪ t  
θ æ t ʃ ə  
tai3 tsʰœk3 ji5
Theresa May文翠珊ð ə r i: z ə  
m eɪ
mɐn4 tsʰɵy3 san1
Luke de Pulford???l u: k  d ə  p j l f ə d ???

With this table, we can see that Crawford Murray MacLehose, Christ Patten and David Wilson make their Cantonese name using the pronunciation of their last name as a reference.

A reasonable guess for how they did this is they use vowels and consonants in their last name that exist in both English and Cantonese as a key to search for meaningful Cantonese characters.

For example, for the pronunciation of Christ Pattern’s last name, “Patten”, only consonants p, t and n exists in Cantonese, and these consonants are kept in his Cantonese name (except consonant n).

For tone pattern, only Crawford Murray MacLehose and Chris Patten’s Cantonese names follow the most common tone pattern for naming, level-oblique-level(平-仄-平); the tone pattern for the rest are in oblique-oblique-oblique(仄-仄-仄).

By the way, I have no clue how did Margaret Thatcher get her Cantonese name.

Suggestions for the Cantonese name of Mr. Luke de Pulford

Based on the all the guidelines and patterns we found above, we will use the pronunciation of Mr. Luke de Pulford’s last name to make his Cantonese name.

For the pronunciation of his last name, “Pulford”, consonant d and vowel ə do not exist in Cantonese phonology.

The remaining consonants in Mr. Luke de Pulford’s last name, can be translated from IPA to jyutping as the following:

Consonants in IPAConsonants in Jyutping

With that, we can start building a Cantonese name. For the Cantonese surname, I cannot think of any common surname that starts with consonants b.

Using surname that starts with consonant p (in Jyutping not IPA) is a good alternative, as it is very similar with consonants b.

Therefore, we would suggest Mr. Luke de Pulford to use 潘 [pun1] as its surname in Cantonese, which is a very common surname.

Now we can use the remaining consonants to search for characters as his name.

We have picked two names that we think sounds great for Mr. Luke de Pulford.

pun1 fok3 dak1


德 [dak1] means virtues. This name is meaningful and follows the most common tone pattern for name, level-oblique-level(平-仄-平).

pun1 fuk1 dak1


福 [fuk1] means blessing. One drawback of this name is it sounds “too loud” for its tone pattern, level-level-level(平-平-平).

That’s it for this article on how to make a good Cantonese name with the British way!

3 thoughts on “How to make a good Cantonese name (The British way)”

  1. Nice post! What do you think about the last name 貝? It starts with jyutping “B”, and while not as common as Poon (Pun), it is well known, being the last name of architect I.M. Pei (who was raised in Hong Kong).

    I wonder if a distinguishing feature should be the “L” sound of “Pulford”. If Pulford is pronounced PULLferd, then (1) “L” sound is important, (2) the ending is quite different from “Ford”.

    May I suggest 貝理復 Bui3 Lei5 Fuk6?

    Literally, “shell/treasure”, “reason/principle/manage”, “return”, 貝理復 means “the treasured return of reasoned principles for excellent management”. This ties the name directly to the slogan the slogan “光復香港”. It also ties to the idea of “Glory to Hong Kong”, where the Chinese title uses the word 歸 – literally “return” or “belong”.

    Note, Tony Blair is 貝理雅.

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