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Chinese Names

Names are listed in a different order from those in the West. Each person in China receives a family name, a generational name and a given name in that order. Generational and given names can be separated by a hyphen or by a space, but are often written as one word (e.g., former President Deng Xiao Ping has the family name of Deng, a generational name of Xiao and the given name of Ping, his name could also be written as Deng Xiao-Ping). However, many business people in China adopt a Western "first" name in order to accommodate Western visitors. The Chinese are very sensitive about status and titles. Use official titles whenever possible in addition to the name. Never use the word "Comrade" to address anyone in China unless you are a Communist also.

The surname precedes the name and should always be separately written without the hyphen. If the personal name has two characters they may be written separately, or better connected by a hyphen. These principles may be illustrated in the three syllables connoting the designation of China's modern statesmen. Do not write Lihungchang; or Li-hungchang; or Li-Hung-Chang; but either Li Hung Chang, or (better) Li Hung-chang.

Chinese from the People's Republic of China are likely to use Pinyin spellings (Mao Zedong) for all proper names. Ethnic Chinese from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and other places generally use the old Wade-Giles spellings (Mao Tse-tung). Ethnic Chinese from countries other than the People's Republic, who live in the United States, may havea preferred spelling that is a variant of a standard family name (Wong instead of Wang, Lee rather than Li, Loo rather than Lu). Or they may have a Western given name, retaining a couple of initials to standfor part of their Chinese name (Timothy T.C. Wong). In Pinyin style, the personal name generally is not hyphenated (Zhao Ziyang, Lui Binyan, Mao Zedong), while Wade-Giles style generally does use hyphens (Wang Mao-hsin or Liu Mei-lai).

Married women generally adopt their husbands' names, although not in all cases, especially in the People's Republic of China. It would be inappropriate, for example, to refer to Chou En-lai's widow, Deng Yingchao, as Mrs. Chou or Madame Chou. Common Chinese family names include: Chan, Chang, Chiang, Chin, Chow, Chung, Lee, Louie, Lum, Wong and Woo. Generally, the usage of Chinese names is: Chiang Ching-kuo, Mr Chlang, Mrs. Chiang.

Whether Chinese names are interesting or not, depends a good deal upon one's understanding of them, and much more upon whom they represent. The name Li Hung-chang is no better sounding than any other Chinese name, and yet it attracted the attention of the world for a quarter of a century, and is full of meaning. Li is the family name; it means plum, and is said to indicate its owner's descent from the founder of Taoism. This old man, born nearly six hundred years B.C., was said to have had his birth in the shade of a plum tree, which is called Li, and so he was called Mr. Plum. The given name of a Chinese boy is supposed to indicate his disposition, his character, his prospects, or the desires of his parents for his future. And so the given name of the great Chinese diplomat, who with Gladstone and Bismarck made the triumvirate of the latter half of the nineteenth century, was Hung-chang, and may mean " illustrious bird," or " learned treatise." His brother, Han-chang, who was also a viceroy, was known as "Bottomless bag," perhaps in reference to the depth of his diplomacy.

It may not be uninteresting to notice the meaning of the names of some of the men who have played a prominent part in the reforms of the late 19th century. Next to Li Hung-chang, the most "illustrious bird" of the lot, is the great viceroy, Chang Chih-tung, the famous author of the book, China's Only Hope. His family name Chang means "to open out," while Chih-tung signifies "him a cave," the whole name apparently meaning "one who opens himself up as a cave " is opened. Another great viceroy who was appointed with Chang Chih-tung and Li Hung-chang as Peace Commissioner, is Liu K'un-yi, and his name and surname, taken together, indicate that he will "put the earth in order." And it may be said that among the great patriots during the coup d'dtat, none were more reliable than Liu K'un-yi.

The Provisional President of the Chinese Republic, the man who first made himself famous with Europeans, by giving them his protection during the Boxer rebellion, was Yuan Shih-kai, whose name indicates that he is the " first " of a " generation of victors," and it would be safe to allow the world to decide whether he has made it good or not. Prince Ch'ing's name is Yi Kang, and proclaims him an "assistant generation," whatever that may mean. As a matter of fact, the Prince of Ch'ing's character was as indefinite as his name. He was one of those nondescripts who never make any serious errors, and yet never take a stand which indicates a strong character.

The first President of the Peking Imperial University, who was, by the way; one of China's great liberal leaders, was Sun Chia-nai. His family name Sun means "grandson," and his given name a "house-vase" grandson of a house vase," a name which in the West might be open to the suspicion of ridicule. The man who so long held the position of Taotai at Shanghai, who was in charge of the railroads and telegraph communications for so many years, was Sheng Hsuan-huai. His name Sheng means "abundant," and his given name, Hsuan-huai, means to "reveal thoughts." If he had revealed all the abundant thoughts that passed over his wires during the Boxer outbreak he would have been in danger of having his own thinking apparatus removed with the sword.

Jung Lu, the lifelong friend of the Great Dowager, the man who really defended the Legations during the Boxer rebellion, and then was objected to on the Peace Commission, and given the cold shoulder by the very Ministers whose lives he had saved, had a name which meant "glorious salary," or " happiness," which is regarded by many in China as a fair equivalent.

The names of girls are equally attractive. The regular name for a little Chinese girl baby is "My thousand ounces of gold." This can scarcely be called a name. It is the way they speak of their little girls, just as the ordinary term for woman is met jen, "a beautiful person." Little girls are called " Jade," one of the semi-precious stones-the stone most prized by the Chinese-or " Pearl," " Rose," or "Lily," or any of the flowers. Indeed the appellation for a Chinese girl or woman is just about what it is in any other part of the world.

But it would be a misrepresentation of the Chinese to stop here. They more often speak of the little girls, especially among the common people, as ya t'ou, or hsiao ya t'ou, "Little slave," just as they speak of a boy as " Little dog," "Little pig," or "Little bald head." This is not necessarily a reflection on the child, or an indication that they do not love them, but only a way they have of speaking to them, as we call them "Bub," "Sis," or '* Johnny."

Again, they commonly speak of either boys or girls as "Number one, two, three, four, five, or six," and this in all walks of life. The daughters of Prince Ch'ing, and the sisters of Prince Su, were all well-known examples of this custom, while the sons of some of the princes were not known to the servants of their own households except as "Mr. Three," "Mr. Four," as I think I have mentioned elsewhere in the case of the family of Prince K'e.

The names of a few Chinese cities have a well-recognized notation which it would be affectation to attempt to alter. It is as out of place to insist upon writing Kuang-chou fu for Canton, or T'ien-ching for Tientsin, as to set down Napoli and Bruxelles for Naples and Brussels. There are other words in which it is likewise inexpedient to sacrifice intelligibility to mechanical uniformity. In central China a final letter is often dropped, and thus grew up the notation Pekin and Nankin, instead of Peking and Nanking, which should always be used. There is an aspirate usually marked by an inverted apostrophe, as T'ai P'ing.

The names of cities should not be written as one word - e.g., Paotingfu, but separately with or without capitals, either Pao Ting Fu or Pao-ting fu; never Pao-ting-fu. The first two syllables are related in meaning (Guarding Tranquillity), while the third shows the rank of the city as prefectural (governing a group of county-seats).

Chinese experience equal difficulty in finding the phonetical equivalent of foreign names. The Eames family (Miss Emma Eames was born in Shanghai) is kuown as Ae-mih. Jardine is expressed by Cha-teen, and Lane, Crawford, by Lane. Ka-la-fat. The Chinese place the family name first.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:45:50 ZULU