butterfly 3
butterfly 3 (Photo credit: brockvicky)

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.


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About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. Instead of cabbages, chou makes me think of Choux pastries or cream puffs. I guess it could work as a middle name ala Cherie or Bijou, but I’d save it for a term of endearment.

  2. It looks like, not only are you hesitant to write about non-European names, but we’re hesitant to talk about them!

    Ever since I read the Harry Potter books I’ve wondered how Rowling arrived at Cho Chang’s name. Granted she was trying to emphasis the diversity represented at Hogwarts, but the name seemed almost to be trying too hard. Maybe it’s because I’m not from the UK, but Cho Chang doesn’t sound like the names of my Chinese friends. It’s neither extremely Anglicised (a lot of my Chinese friends have lovely, and sometimes daring, classic English names) nor extremely Chinese, at least in the way Chinese names are usually transliterated where I’ve lived. However, I’m probably speaking from my own ignorance, and I do have at least one friend with “Cho” as a family name (hmm, I’ve done a quick bit of research and it appears as though it’s always a family name, not a given name).

    The information you provided about chou chang *possibly* meaning melancholy is a fascinating interpretation of the name.

    I’ll stop rambling now. . .

  3. My Mother used to call me ‘chouchou’! Thanks for the memory! 😀

    That aside, I do rather like Chou. It’s definitely got the right stuff as a middle, and I could see some adventurous non Chinese using Chou as a first. Fairly easy to figure out, a bonus. Gotta love the cabbage bit too. Hey, it’s clearly a ‘why not’ choice for me! 🙂

  4. The last time I went on an exchange trip to France, I was on the receiving end of Chou from my partner’s grandmother. I agree with you, it would make a super middle name.