She’s an Eastern-leaning nature name with an affectionate French twist and ties to the Harry Potter ‘verse.
Thanks to Gwen for suggesting Chou as our Baby Name of the Day.
I hesitated to write about Chou for two reasons: first, she has very little history of use in English. Second, I always flounder when I try to write about non-European languages. The potential to get it wrong is sky high.
With that disclaimer, let’s plow forward, because there’s a lot to love about this single syllable name.
Is Chou feminine or masculine? It depends. Chinese languages seem to give this one to the boys, or more commonly, reserve it as a surname. Zhou is the preferred transcription, but it also typically a surname – one of the more common in China today. The Zhou Dynasty ruled China from 1046 to 256 BC. Some sites indicate that it means autumn – we’ll get back to that in a minute.
More commonly, Chou is listed as a Japanese feminine name meaning butterfly, with Cho as another possible spelling. This takes us to Harry Potter. Fans will recall that Harry’s first crush was Ravenclaw Quidditch team member Cho Chang, who later dated Cedric Diggory and eventually fought alongside Harry in the final battles at Hogwarts.
This is where it gets interesting: all of the Harry Potter books have been translated into Mandarin. They call Cho Chang by the name Zhang Qiu. Zhang is the surname, and Qiu the given name. In Chinese, Qiu is the equivalent of Autumn. There’s also much chatter that chou chang is a phrase meaning melancholy – which fits with much of what happens to the character, but isn’t something that I could verify outside of the Harry Potter fan community.
So let’s say that as an Eastern appellation, Chou or Cho definitely nods to the natural world.
In the Western hemisphere, she’s a cabbage.
But it isn’t a deal-breaker. In French, chou is a cabbage. But she’s heard more commonly outside of the produce aisle as an affectionate term of endearment, the equivalent of sweetheart or darling.
In Chinese and Japanese, Chou rhymes with go, but in French, Chou sounds like shoe. In English, I can imagine this one being mangled as chew, too, but that’s just not right.
You can manger du chou – eat some cabbage – but you’re more likely to be calling a child or loved one chou or even chouchou.
Let’s say that you’re trying to find a name that encompasses French and Japanese heritage. In that case, Chou saves the day. But how about the rest of us? Is Chou wearable for a wider audience?
That’s a tough call. In the middle spot, she’s always a possibility. As a given name, she’s more of a risk. The spelling Cho simplifies matters, but only if you prefer the Eastern-leaning pronunciation. It also could mark as you as a super-Harry Potter fan. (Luna Cho, anybody? Or maybe Ginevra Chou …)
File this one under intriguing, culture-spanning middle name options, or first names for the downright daring.