Chinese names in English - surname before or after name

Discussion in 'English Only' started by HyeeWang, Jan 20, 2011.

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  1. HyeeWang Senior Member

    Recently,VOA news and many other sources always place surname before one's own name when telling Chinese name,such as Hu Jintao,the Chinese president, where Hu is surname and Jintao is his own name. Why?
    Does English habit change? Or others?
  2. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    English has always used Chinese order for Chinese leaders, even back when we spelt them Mao Tse-tung, Chou En-lai, Yüan Shih-k'ai. However, Chinese people working in Western countries usually adopt Western order (or get given it willy-nilly).
  3. HyeeWang Senior Member

    Hehe. Thanks. I see. I will comply with western order later.
    By the way,What does "get given it" mean?
  4. Askalon Senior Member

    English (US)
    I've always heard him called Hu Jintao--never Jintao Hu. In English, switching names around to fit the convention in English-speaking countries (with the personal name first and the surname last) is still quite common, but I think it's more for immigrants that actually live in an English-speaking country, and less so for prominent Asian politicians and whatnot. I've never heard Kim Jong-il's or Ban Ki-moon's names switched around either, for example. I think it's become pretty common knowledge that some Asian names have the surname first anyway.
  5. Fabulist Banned

    Annandale, Virginia, USA
    American English
    Keeping the original order is fine if you always use the full name and use the name in isolation. It's OK, therefore, for famous people. It doesn't work so well for ordinary people or those whose names might have to be alphabetized in a list. You wouldn't want another Kim Jong-il to be referred to as "Mr. Jong-il" or put on a list as follows:

    Johnson, Richard
    Jong-il, Kim
    Josephson, William
    Kendrick, Alfred
    Koppel, Theodore

    Another country where hereditary names are usually given first and personal names second is Hungary. Go there and you will find names like Kun Béla and Kossuth Lajos. But they are always referred to as Béla Kun and Lajos Kossuth in English-language histories. Likewise, pianist/conductor Kertesz Istvan is Istvan Kertesz outside Hungary.
  6. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    I agree with the above comments on the practical matters.

    I believe that many English-speaking people who know Kim Jong-il by his name in the traditional order simply think of that as his full name, rather than as the inherited name followed by his given name.
  7. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    (Ethnic) Chinese politicians normally get to preserve the <Surname>+<Given Name> word order even in English-speaking contexts - therefore, Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore. In other contexts, they might need to put the surname last to avoid confusion. In academic contexts, putting the surname first might result in faulty alphabetisation (as pointed out by Fabulist). Many ethnic Chinese people might also have English given names or English-based Christian names - like myself - and might therefore also put the surname last for this reason.
  8. Fabulist Banned

    Annandale, Virginia, USA
    American English
    It's difficult for a "Westerner" unfamiliar with Chinese, Korean, etc., names to know whether a name has been inverted or not, because we can't tell family or hereditary names from personal names.

    It's easier (at least for me) with Hungarian names, because many of the personal names are the Magyar versions of saints' names, e.g. Istvan = Stephen, Laos = Louis. Fortunately, outside of Hungary, Hungarian names are almost always shown with the personal name first in running text (outside of alphabetized lists like indexes). I do occasionally see a pedantic music CD label attributing the composition to, say, Bartók Béla, but that's unusual.

    But unless it includes a "western" personal name, such as the name of a Christian saint, I have no idea which element of an Asian name is the family or hereditary component and which is the personal component. I don't think I am unusual in this respect, at least in the United States.
  9. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    American English
    Just as a note: one approach I see in Hong Kong for Chinese people who have also adopted a western name is this:

    Lawrence Lee Wing Chun

    The charm in this is that it satisfies both formats:
    West: Lawrence Lee Wing Chun
    East: Lawrence Lee Wing Chun
  10. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Yes, my name is in the form given by Copyright, and this is the way it appears in my official documents. Professionally, I use this format:

    Lawrence W. C. Lee
    L. W. C. Lee

    (and so gets alphabetised as Lee, Lawrence W. C. or Lee, L. W. C.)

    I have a British bank account, and because it requires a single 'Middle' name, it becomes

    Lawrence W. Lee
    Lawrence Wing Lee

    If I went to North America or Europe, and was asked for my full name, I would give it as

    Lawrence Wing Chun Lee.

    Some people might also give it in the format

    Wing Chun Lawrence Lee.
  11. Daffodil100

    Daffodil100 Senior Member

    The translation of Chinese citizens' full name that given name after surname has been sanctioned home and abroad by usage. And except for a few cases, the name should be Pinyin - the phonetic symbom of Mandarin. For example, Zhou Enlai for the late Chinese Premier, instead of other pronunciations of dialects. I hate the name spelt in dialects which the other people couldn't understand.

    The Chinese government is going to make the translation of Chinese citizens' name standard officially. Here is the URL link about it in Chinese.

    It would cause confused and even make trouble if a Chinese doesn't follow the standard translation mode and write it inapropriately in any official papers such as Passport.

    By the way, in any official papers, Chinese from the mainland should use the official name instead of other name they coined for themselves. If you got a diploma, but it is stated in English name, Lily, Mary, etc. that you coined for yourself, it is not recognised officially.
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2011
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