Business is in a Chinese name: An old tradition has spawned an industry, writes Teresa Poole

AT CANTON'S New Century City shopping mall, the 'Likey Dog' shoe shop would have benefited from one of China's newest service industries. In keeping with the conviction in China that there is money to be made in unlikely ways, the Xiu Cai professional naming company would for 600 yuan ( pounds 46) have suggested something more apt for a footwear store. And, for a mere 60 yuan, its computerised team can also devise a propitious name for a new baby.

Operating out of two rooms in a converted hotel, Xiu Cai is typical of the south's new entrepreneurial service companies. It operates in the grey area between state and private enterprise, utilises the spare time of underpaid state employees, and has invented the need for a paid service where none existed.

Xiu Cai was set up four months ago. Five people work full-time in the office, including Qiu Xue, the chairman. Then there are about 30 professors and scholars at local universities for whom creating names for companies and children is a sideline that helps eke out the meagre state wage. The biggest partner, with 60 per cent of the shares, is a fully-fledged state enterprise, the Hua Tian Industrial Company. Such are the distinctions blurred between state and private enterprise these days in China.

Armed with the mandatory black leather three-piece suite in the reception room, and the computer equipment next door, Xiu Cai is carving a business out of the Chinese traditional art of naming - and the opportunities that come with economic reform. Chen Qi Fang, one of the full-time employees, specialises in English names for new joint venture companies. Mr Qiu says Xiu Cai is a 'natural result of the social and economic progress. Now more and more enterprises pay attention to their names. And some want to change their names.' More than 300 customers have employed the firm.

When the client has explained what sort of name is required, the details are forwarded to one of the professors, who earns 20 per cent of the fee. Moonlighting by academics is commonplace because official salaries have not kept pace with the rewards in private industry and joint venture companies.

At Xiu Cai, a panel discussion is held to decide on the three best names to offer the client. Names are checked against an expanding computer bank to avoid duplication. Satisfaction is guaranteed - the customer can insist on more names until it finds one acceptable. 'No one else can compare with this company in terms of so many professors,' said Mr Qiu.

Wei Weiming, 61, has been a full-time Xiu Cai namer for four months, after a career teaching in the army and studying philosophy. 'The companies usually want a name which is unique, new, and with a sense of contemporary 'nowadays'. And it should let people know the company has a large scale. And it should be lucky.' The most popular Chinese characters denote imminent prosperity. Chinese-English names can be devised that are comprehensible in Chinese characters or English words.

Sometimes parents come; one family's 6-year-old son had always gone by a nickname but was now due to start school. Their only request was that his name should not include the characters for 'strong', 'root', 'tree' or 'ball'. The professorial namers opted for Liang Hao Jian, which they said signified intelligence, the likelihood of a successful mid-life working career, and a very happy old age.

'There are no special styles these days,' said Mr Wei, whose own name signifies a great and bright future and was given to him after the 1949 Communist victory when he joined the army.

There is a Chinese saying: 'Better to teach your children skills than give them a lot of money. But better to give your son a good name, than teach him skills.'

'A name is more important than money or skills,' Mr Wei said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
The spider makes its break for freedom
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United player ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: C# Developer - (C#, VB.Net, SQL, Git, TDD)

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Developer (C#, VB & ASP.Net, SQL Server, TSQL) - Pe...

Recruitment Genius: Associate Sales Consultant

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Associate Sales Consultant i...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established and expanding ...

Recruitment Genius: Water Jetting / HGV Driver - Industrial Services

£14000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Skilled Labouring staff with id...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot