When doing business in China, a lot can get lost in translation.
But Lindsay Jernigan, an American entrepreneur, noticed one particular piece of information was getting twisted in the cultural exchange: the chosen English names of young Chinese.
The names ranged from the unusual — “July”, “Billboard”, “Popeye" — to the arguably-inappropriate — “Cherry”, “Twinkle”, “Lady Gaga”.
The intentions behind the bizarre monikers are good. The thinking is that a unique English name will stick in the mind of a Westerner, or convey a particular attribute or character trait. But, instead, according to Jernigan, the names often end up being a distraction, or even an impediment.
“I realized it was actually hurting their careers a little bit, and their international relationships.” Jernigan told NBC News.
So she started a website, bestenglishname.com, to help Chinese workers divine "better" Western names. According to Jernigan, online resources before launching bestenglishname.com weren’t helpful.
“It was the blind leading the blind. It was Chinese people trying to pick English names for themselves,” she said.
The site offers lists of generic English names, as well as running commentary on what makes a good name and which names to avoid. There are even lists of names specific to particular industries (are you a man working in finance? Go with “Spencer” or “Malcolm”).
But for a fee, users have the option of getting a “custom” name. The website has a Buzzfeed-like quiz that generates a list of work-appropriate English names that users can choose from, once the fee is paid. Questions include preferences on music, sports, and celebrities.
For a more bespoke service, users can get a personal naming consultation. The fee for a better Western name? About $30.
Jernigan wanted to be clear the site wasn’t making fun of any Chinese with unusual names.
“The problem we’re trying to fix is really smart people having ridiculous names just because there wasn’t a good resource.”