Ambiguous Simplified Characters in personal names

Discussion in '中文+方言 (Chinese)' started by terredepomme, Oct 7, 2011.

  1. terredepomme Senior Member

    Human Language
    The last thread about merged(ambiguous) simplified characters got closed because it drifted away to a SC/TC debate. So please let's stay on topic this time.

    Converting ambiguous SC to TC is usually not a problem because there is context. But what about mainlanders' personal names in SC?

    Let's suppose a mainlander who, at his birth, was named 王干复. And Wang decided to travel to Taiwan; how would the Taiwanese write down his name? 王幹復? 王乾復? 王幹覆? 王乾覆? 王干復? 王干覆? Because these all sound the same, and mister Wang himself wouldn't really know which TC his name stands for, unless he asked his parents "what TC did you have in mind(if any) when you gave me this name?"

    And if someone had the name 发 in it, would you have to listen to the person pronounce his own name before deciding that it is 發 or 髮?

    I asked a Taiwanese friend about this curious matter, and he said that normally, there are "lucky letters" that people generally choose for their children's names, and for this case, it would probably be 發 instead of 髮. This is the same in Korea too, but it's not like there's a law that mandates to name their children only in certain characters, so no one can really tell for sure that it's not 髮. So it seems to me that it ultimately comes down to guessing. And for 干乾幹, I don't really know which one is supposed to be more lucky(吉祥) than others. And after some google search, I discovered the scary fact that some people are actually named as 干干...

    How do you deal with this problem? I guess the problem could be solved if the parents were made to register the TC version of their newborns' names along with the SC one, (just like Korean parents enregister hanja version along with the hangul version which they commonly use) but since this is apprently not the case...
  2. Ghabi

    Ghabi AL/OL/Ar/Zh mod

    Hong Kong
    Hi. As I mention in your previous thread, I know people in Hong Kong who just keep the simplified form of their surname 肖 instead of "traditionalizing" it into 蕭. But this can be regarded as a special case, since 肖 also happens to be a traditional character, and thus doesn't look odd in a traditional-character text. We can't do that with 发, I suppose, since it would look incongruous in a traditional-character text. As you say, most people would put money on 發 if they're to make a guess (although there was a poet named 李金髮). As to 王干复, it sounds so outlandish that I won't even venture to make a guess. Of course you're right to say that "it ultimately comes down to guessing", but I think we have to admit that some guesses are more reasonable than others.
  3. terredepomme Senior Member

    Human Language
    Well that wouldn't really cause ambiguity because last names are not arbitrary like first names. It's not like there are two surnames 肖(肖) and 肖(蕭) and they risk mixing up.

    But the thing is that it's not even "guessing" because there is no "answer." We know for sure that the 发 in 李金发 is 髮 because he was born in 1900, which was before the simplification. But for someone born after the simplification and whose name is written exclusively in SC, it's a different matter. So in the end, one would have to agree on what TC to write 王干复 in, or ask Wang himself what TC he would prefer. This seems quite laborsome in my opinion.
    And this is not just a hypothetical situation because it's perfectly normal to have 干 or 复 in one's name. I just googled and got results for all 李干干, 李幹幹, and 李乾乾. So technically it's possible that two mainlanders whose names are the same as 李干干 could have different names in Taiwan...!
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2011
  4. SuperXW

    SuperXW Senior Member

    As far as I know...

    1. A few elderly who had traditional characters in their names before the characters were reformed, might like to keep their traditional characters when registering for IDs. In most cases, one can choose their characters freely, I think. (For that I heard some Chinese have gotten really strange simbols for his name...I suppose traditional characters are acceptable too.)

    2. During the time of reforming, there were two kinds of people in China. People living in rural areas who were less literate wouldn't argue about characters with the government. For some parents who were more literate, they wouldn't insist to pick a troubling character for their kids either. Typical names in that age were no longer 發/復/覆, but 东方/建国/学军 etc.

    3. For the younger generation who were born after the reform, they don't have a problem taking simplified characters as the standard.

    4. Take special note on 乾. The character traditionally has two pronunciations and two basic meanings. 乾qian2卦 and 乾gan1燥. Only the meaning in 乾燥 has been simplified and merged as 干燥, while terms like 乾坤, 乾隆 never changed. So if someone has the name of 乾qian2, they won't make it 干.
    It's very possible that some mainlander or computer system taking 李乾乾 as 李干干. If it's read qian2, I would say 李干干 is wrong.

    5. 肖(生肖/不肖) 萧(吹萧/萧条/萧何) are still two characters in simplified Chinese. I know mainland people with both surnames. 肖xx and 萧xx. They are not the same. Were they being merged in some degree? I don't know. But if they are in a name, we still distinguish them.

    6. I just remembered, we do have many other good examples. 周杰倫 or 周傑倫? Are 杰 傑 different in TC? I'm confused...
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2011
  5. terredepomme Senior Member

    Human Language
    Those are really interesting bits of information, SuperXW, thank you. Though I still don't have an answer to how people deal with this problem...
  6. Ghabi

    Ghabi AL/OL/Ar/Zh mod

    Hong Kong
    Of course we should consult the bearer of the name, if circumstances permit us to do so. I don't think anyone would argue against this.
  7. terredepomme Senior Member

    Human Language
    ...But what if the circumstances don't permit? There are many people with one of these 100 or so ambiguous SC in their names, you can't go asking every single person what their names stands for. You would have to go all that process of contacting him before you could even write down his name? What if that person's already dead?
    Not only is it laborsome, but it could also cause some serious confusion, since mainlanders with the same name can have different names elsewhere.
  8. terredepomme Senior Member

    Human Language
    To my knowledge, not really. I've read that the government oblige everyone to name their children straight out of the 8000-ish standard characters table, which is of course simplified. They won't allow anyone to name kids with obscure letters or with TC. But I could be wrong.
  9. Ghabi

    Ghabi AL/OL/Ar/Zh mod

    Hong Kong
    Hi Super. 杰 and 傑 are 異體字, which mean they co-exist in traditional Chinese.

    @Terre: there are always problems concerning proper names. I live in a traditional-Chinese environment, and I have to ask people how to write their names wherever circumstances permit. If I can't ask, I can only guess, and I make mistakes frequently.
  10. terredepomme Senior Member

    Human Language
    It seems that only 傑 is really being used though, at least in Taiwan. But I could be wrong.
    But like I said, there can't be "guesses" or "mistakes" because there is often no answer at all. For example when you have to write down the name of a dead person who never mentionned how to write his name in TC. You would have to agree with the general populace of TW/HK/Macau on how to write his name, and while this would be possible for celebrities, for the rest it would be impossible.
  11. SuperXW

    SuperXW Senior Member

    So you are questioning about a really rare situation:
    1. The person has taken a strange character or meaning in TC in his/her name. e.g. Not 發, but 髮. So our general guess would be wrong.
    2. Others don't know the correct way to explain his/her name. So the person is not famous.
    3. The person is not easy to contact. So he/she is not your relative, not your business partner. The person is not active, or the person is dead... Then why do you care about his name, if I may say...!? He had a strange name, such as 髮 but not 發, and it causes confusion, that's his problem, not yours...

    If you are talking about cases like 周杰倫 or 周傑倫, I admit that it's laborsome to find the answer, which even I am lazy to do. But he's a celebrity after all. If it's necessay, we can always ask Taiwanese fans to explain it. The information won't lost.
    How serious this can be? A mainlander's name IS romanized into English on the passport, completely losing its tones and can never be translated back. How do you think the customs deal with it? People there don't read Chinese at all, yet they have to make sure "you are you".

    So I think I have answered your question about "how to deal with it", and I don't see it so "serious". Because if the info is worthy, we can still dig it out.

    By the way, in SC 覆 survives too. (Only 複 is merged to 复.) We have 复杂/重复/复数 and 颠覆/覆水难收. They should not to be confused.
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2011
  12. terredepomme Senior Member

    Human Language
    It is not so rare that the person that you're mentioning is neither famous nor someone you personally know. For example, say that I would like to cite a academic paper of a mainlander in my paper for a Taiwanese university, but his name contains an ambiguous character. I do not personally know this guy, or perhaps he is dead; I can cite him but some other researcher can also cite him with different TC and people consulting my research might think that it's the different author being cited! It wouldn't be a problem if the person is a famous figure in academia, but when you're doing research you get to cite plenty of obscure people who don't even have their own Wikipedia page... And it's not this guy's problem, but it is mine. I can think of many more examples like this.
    But the problem is that only a certain usage(to reply) of 覆 is simplified to 复... so it can be either 覆 or 复! Not to mention that 复 also stands for 復... (Dear lord...)
  13. xiaolijie

    xiaolijie Senior Member

    English (UK)
    I my experience, names in Chinese characters sometimes have problems, and this exists anywhere, any country, not just in mainland China. Many Japanese don't know how some other Japanese names are written and how to read some that are written, but this is normal and there are always ways to find out how, if the need is there.

    Even in English, we sometimes don't know whether someone's name should be written with an "i", a "y" or "ie", pronounced as /i:/, /i/ or /ai/, but that doesn't stop such names existing.
  14. SuperXW

    SuperXW Senior Member

    I know, about the citation thing...I know it's troubling, and sometimes there's just no way to figure it out...
    Still, we deal with it just like dealing with other troubles: make a good guess, just like the time when we read a piece of news on a US newspaper about a Chinese man's death, we take a careful guess about his name, and put it on our Chinese news-blogs, marking it 音譯. That's the best we could do.
    About the 复復複覆 confusion...deleted. :D
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2011
  15. terredepomme Senior Member

    Human Language
    ...Completely different matters, Xiaolijie. To be exact the Japanese have problem PRONOUNCING some names. But they don't have problems transliterating written names. Even if I don't know that 結城 is read as Masayuki, I can write it with no problem. And as names are never written with Kana, how do I read aloud his name is not really a problem. If I meet a guy and he introduces himself by saying his name, sometimes I would have to see how he writes it, but it's a completely different problem here. / For English names it is even less relevant because you never transliterate these names within the English language. And like in Japanese the difference in pronunciation doesn't really hinder the consistancy of the written form.
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2011
  16. terredepomme Senior Member

    Human Language
    Like I said twice before, it wouldn't even be a "guess." Two newspapers can report the dead man's name differently and none of them would be right or wrong. And it's not like all the press in HK/TW/Macau are going to gather and discuss the TC version of some dead person's name before they make it the headline news. ...Anyway, it seems that the response to my question "how do they solve this problem" is: they can't! It remains a problem. Really heartbreaking to know that.
  17. Ghabi

    Ghabi AL/OL/Ar/Zh mod

    Hong Kong
    I don't think anyone is denying that problems can arise, and that sometimes we can't solve them. And I'm sorry to hear that that breaks your heart.:( I was not aware that that's such a poignant matter. Thanks for letting us know how you feel.
  18. SuperXW

    SuperXW Senior Member

    They are now two different systems, of course they can't make a 100% accurate translation... Why do you only feel the little trouble in TC/SC, while not feel the big troubles when dealing with English and other languages? Before an English press publishing a Chinese name, of course the editors will sit together and discuss how to spell it. What's the difference? Besides, media in HK/TW/Macau won't ALL sit together to discuss that. When there's no standard, the media companies would just make up their own, none of them would be right or wrong. No party would blame you. Why are you heartbreaking......
  19. terredepomme Senior Member

    Human Language
    ...The obvious difference is that those are different languages having problems while this is the same language having problems in transliteration.
  20. viajero_canjeado Senior Member

    English - Southeastern USA
    Hey terre,

    The line between different "languages" can be blurry, such as the sociolinguistic classification of Arabic as a single language, many of whose speakers are unable to communicate except through MSA. That's beside the point though. What I mean to say is that traditional and simplified are two discrete writing systems, so if you're very concerned, why not treat them as such? You could cite a mainlander's name in simplified characters (and append a quick explanation of 簡體)just to make sure it's clear. Most TC readers can understand simplified anyway; this way you aren't forced to view an originally simplified name through the lens of traditional characters.

    Just a thought!
  21. terredepomme Senior Member

    Human Language
    They are not. 99% of the characters have one-to-one correspondance.
  22. viajero_canjeado Senior Member

    English - Southeastern USA
    Hmm... that's an interesting take. If they're the same system, though, then why are we having this conversation on how to switch from one "set" of characters to another? To me, the idea of having a "correspondence" suggests an inherent distinctness. I suppose we could expend our time more wisely than in deciding whether TC and SC are two different sets, systems, or some other word (because it's beside the point), and instead answer any remaining questions you might have on the matter. :)
  23. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Bắc Kinh
    Wu Chinese & Italian
    Come on man, SC/TC is not a big problem.

    What about oversea? Where 李一,李宜,李意,李易,李益,李毅 are all registered as Li Yi, and there is no way to distinguish them, apart from sex, birth day and birth place.

    And also, I've seen people from Zhejiang province, but in their ID card can be written: Zhejiang, Zhejian, Zhejang, Zejiang, Chekiang, Chejang

    So according to the documents, they were born in different places!
  24. dlj0811 Banned

    there are two type of Writing simply and traditional~
    They are of the same meaning
  25. dlj0811 Banned

    李一,李宜,李意,李易,李益,李毅 same sound but not same image~

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