Teenage entrepreneur Beau Jessup shares the secret to her success

By Bi Mengying Source:Global Times Published: 2019/6/4 19:23:41

Beau Jessup Photo: Courtesy of Beau Jessup

Nineteen-year-old Beau Jessup is currently studying Social Anthropology at The London School of Economics. She started her own business when she was just 15. 

Most media coverage about Jessup has been focused on her entrepreneurship, about the British teenager who is paying her way through college by helping Chinese parents find names for their children through her website Special Name. 

However, there's more to the story.   

Appropriate and special

In a TED Talk in 2016, Jessup explained that during a trip to China about two years prior, one of her father's colleagues asked her to recommend an English name for her daughter. Based on a description of the young girl's personality, Jessup picked a name that delighted the colleague. This encounter inspired her to build the Chinese-language website specialname.cn, to help Chinese parents pick English names for their kids.  

Jessup built a database of 4,000 names for the website with five characteristics associated with each name to best represent what that name means. After parents enter the gender and characteristics of the child, an algorithm recommends three names and provides two examples of famous people associated with each name. Parents can share the names with family and friends through Chinese messaging app WeChat.  

"The parent involves their family and friends in the final decision, making their chosen name both appropriate and 'special,'" Jessup explained. 

Still growing

According to report published by CNBC in March, Jessup initially provided the service for free, but after naming 162,000 babies, she introduced a fee of 79 cents. After the introduction of fees, the site named 677,929 babies, which the report estimated amounts to revenues of around $407,443. As of the writing of this article, the number of names has increased to nearly 714,000.

Back in March, Jessup was in negotiations with a company who shares her vision for Special Name and wished to purchase the business, CNBC reported.

"Business is still growing steadily, and sales are exceeding expectations," Jessup told the Global Times. 

"I have received two offers to sell specialname.cn, one from a Russian investor and the second from a well-know Chinese Mother and Baby forum. I have declined both offers in favor of a partnership with a leading communication company in Beijing. Special Name is like my baby, I created this website when I was a teenager and now as a young woman, I want to be part of its future," she said. 

Cultural barriers

For many Chinese people, English names don't have any meaning. 

"I studied in the US for college. Yet I didn't use an English name until grad school. Before I began grad school, I randomly picked one - Cassie. But it didn't mean anything to me," said Wang Shuo, who has since returned to China and is currently working as an HR specialist at a multinational corporation in Shanghai. 

"However, English names do have meanings and have personalities associated with the famous people that also have that name," Jessup pointed out. 

"For example, King Arthur, a 5th century king, is associated with strength and honesty, so if I wanted a name that combines 'strength' and 'honesty' I might chose Arthur," she explained.

Wang noted that many people use English names at work in Shanghai, even when speaking to other Chinese. While she picked Cassie, a commonly used English name, she has come across some very odd English names at work such as Carrot, Tomato and Apple. 

Jessup has had similar experiences. Examples she gave in her TED Talk include Rolex Wang, Goofy Li and Gandalf Wu.    

"Most of my customers are parents who hope and expect that their children will study abroad… The English names used by our Chinese friends are an additional name which is used primarily to help them fit in rather than stand out when they study abroad. They want an appropriate name rather than a unique English name," said Jessup. 

Jessup noted that the most common characteristic chosen to describe both boys and girls by Chinese parents is "kind." 

"I think this gives an insight into parents' hopes for their children and the priorities of Chinese people in general," Jessup further noted. 

'Not about the money'

"Actually, sometimes it was not about just making the money. It's just a nice thing," said Jessup, who started learning Chinese when she was 8, in her TED Talk. 

She noted that helping parents to give children culturally appropriate English names was fulfilling as well. 

"While we laugh at silly names, we are also reminded that we are trying to fit in and get along," she added. 

"The first time a parent sent me a photograph of their baby, a beautiful little girl 'Ellen,' the mother thanked me for giving her a special name and she said that she hoped this name would help her make friends in the future," Jessup told the Global Times.

"I actually cried. I felt like I had been part of something really special."
Newspaper headline: That special name

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