How to choose an English name
August 2010 (perspective of a Ph.D. student)
If you need to pick an English name, the only way to prevent yourself from picking a stupid-sounding name is to choose one from the 100 most popular English names for your gender during the year you were born. As an example, on this website you can look up the most popular American names by birth year.
Warning: Do not try to be creative
If you need to pick an English name for yourself because you are moving to America (or another English-speaking country) or need to interact with Americans in business, please do not try to be creative. If you try to be creative, then you will most likely choose a name that Americans will think is absurd and horrible. They will not take you seriously with such a name. For example,
Basically, you don't want your passport to look like this poor guy's:
This is not a joke. When an American first meets you, he/she will already know that you are a foreigner due to your appearances and foreign-sounding accent, so you don't want your name to make you stand out even more in a negative way. You need a name that sounds as normal to American ears as possible, to prevent yourself from facing even more discrimination and ridicule.
(I'm just using America as an example; this article is equally relevant if you are moving to England, Australia, or any other English-speaking country.)
The ONLY method you should use to choose your English name
I know this sounds harsh, but this is the only method you should use when picking your English name. Using any other method will result in you picking a name that Americans will make fun of, often 'behind your back' when you are not even in the room. Here is how to do it:
1. Choose a name from the 100 most popular names for your birth year
Most importantly, you must choose a name that lots of American parents actually chose for their own children during the year you were born. The year is very important, because trends in names change over time, so if you pick a name that was common in the 1950's but is rare today, then it will sound out of place.
Fortunately, the United States Social Security Administration has a website that allows you to look up the most popular American names for every birth year. For your convenience, you can type in your birth year here to search for the 100 most common names for American babies born in that year:
You must choose your name from one of these 100 names. Even if you randomly choose a name (for your gender, of course), then congratulations, I guarantee that you have chosen a better name than most of your friends who tried to be creative!
I suggest to avoid the top 10 most popular names since you risk having other people in your class, team, or organization with that same name. You can pick from 11 through 100. That's still 90 names to consider.
2. If possible, choose a name that sounds somewhat similar to your real name
If you can pick an English name that at least starts with the same letter or phonetic syllable as how your real name would be pronounced by an American, then that could make the name seem more personally-connected to you.
For example, if you are a Chinese man with the name "Sheng", then the English name "Shawn" might be a good choice, since it sounds similar to your Chinese name.
3. Do not choose a variation as your official name
Do not take one of these 90 possible names and change it to make it sound more unique or cute. This is almost as bad as simply picking your own English name without any guidance!
Also, do not try to shorten a name or adopt a more casual version of it. For example, you might have friends who chose name variations (usually ending in the letter 'Y') like Jacky, Ricky, or Bobby. These are nicknames that Americans call their children, so they are not taken seriously for adults.
If you choose a name from those 90 choices without changing any letter, then you should be fine. It's okay if your friends want to call you by a nickname or variation, but for your official name, use one of those 90.
4. Do not worry about what a name means
Lastly, don't worry about considering what a name 'means' when trying to decide between names. Most Americans don't even know what their names mean, and they certainly won't care what your name means if it's one of the 100 most common names for your birth year. For example, I recently learned that my name Philip means "friend of horses". Nobody I know has ever commented on the meaning of my name. Unlike in other languages (e.g., Chinese) where names have significant symbolic meanings, nobody cares about the 'true meanings' of English names.