Thursday 20 September 2007

What's in a name?

My niece and I have the same family name (Eng) and the same given name (Ting). Yet the written character, meaning and pronounciation of our ‘Ting’ are different in Chinese.

A Chinese name is written with the family name (surname or last name) first and the given name (usually one or two characters) next.

Chinese family names are patrilineal, passed from father to children. Although there are thousands of Chinese family names, the 100 most common surnames are shared by 85% of the population. Historically, it was considered taboo to marry someone with the same family name — even if there is no direct relationship between those concerned, though in recent decades this has no longer been frowned upon.

Some families have generational names whereby one of the two characters in the personal name is shared by all members of a generation. Eg. Ong Siew Poh, Ong Siew Hong, Ong Siew Chuan...

Nowadays, many Chinese choose to adopt a Westernized name which is usually written before their family name. Eg. John, Ong (family name) Siew Poh (given name).

Some of my non-Asian friends get so confused, they coin the strangest names. In the example above, you can either call him John or Siew Poh, but not Ong Siew or Ong Poh.

Confused already? It’s ok, we understand.

7 comments:

mooiness said...

You can also add "Mr. Poh" to the list. Heheh.

For registration purposes in Western countries, your example would become "John Siew Poh Ong". Then Chinese ppl would say, "why his name so funny one?"

I think once they know this structures:
- English given name before family name
- Chinese given name after family name

Then it's easier for them to grasp it.

Anonymous said...

Hey I's got it...LOL

Blur Ting said...

Now, even I am confused :-)

The Real Mother Hen said...

If I ever have a kid, going to call him/her "Hello Hello Hello" - then no matter it's given name or first name or last name, it's all HELLO :)

Seriously though, I think I'll name my kid, "Ryan de XinYee roazmoz Yappy Brown" - go figure!

Anonymous said...

Okay, I think I got it.
I am Shello Go Kiam Eng or something like that.
That was fun. =)

Unknown said...

I got it. You can call either the given name or family name but you can''t make a mixed version of both as that would spoiling the name. right?

Blur Ting said...

RM, You've got it!