The order of surnames and given names in East Asian languages

« previous post | next post »

From Frank Chance:

I have complained for years about the reversal of Japanese names in the Western – and Japanese – media.

If China can dictate pinyin, as it essentially did in 1979, Japan can lead in the change to respect the original language.

Here's an article that speaks to this issue:

"Japan asked the international media to change how we write their names. No one listened", by James Griffiths, CNN Business (3/21/20):

In a full-page spread on March 2, 1979, the Los Angeles Times introduced its readers to Pinyin, a Chinese romanization system it said was changing the "familiar map of China."

In the new system "Canton becomes Guangzhou and Tientsin becomes Tianjin." Most importantly, the newspaper would now refer to the country's capital as Beijing, not Peking.

This was a step too far for some American publications. In an article on Pinyin around this time, the Chicago Tribune said that while it would be adopting the system for most Chinese words, some names had "become so ingrained in our usage that we can't get used to new ones."

The Tribune would continue using Peking into the 1990s, though by then it was something of an outlier. The New York Times noted in 1986 — while announcing its adoption of Beijing — that the name "has now become equally familiar" as the old moniker.

Now, Japan wants its turn. As the country marked the dawn of the Reiwa Era last year with the coronation of Emperor Naruhito, its foreign ministry felt it was an opportune time to request that the names of Japanese officials be written differently.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's name, for example, would become Abe Shinzo, with his family name coming before his given name — just as the international media prints the names of Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

But if history is any guide, the Japanese government may have a long wait ahead of it before the English-language media conforms to its request.

In the Japanese case, the practice of writing a person's given name first and family name second was not imposed by Westerners.  Rather, it was established by the Japanese themselves at the end of the 19th century.

The family-name-first format has always been used in Japanese. But during the Meiji Era that began in 1868, the order was reversed in English to begin with the given name, a format more familiar in the West.

While that decision may have made life easier for some 19th century Western diplomats, Japan's neighbors soon proved that foreigners could (for the most part) handle writing the "last name" first. And for almost two decades now Tokyo has been trying to reverse the Meiji reversal. Last year's request to the international media was only the latest attempt.

Japan is being "being hoisted on its own petard," said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Tokyo's Temple University. He added that in the past, the country was "eager to distance itself from its neighbors so as not to be confused with them." Now, though, it wants the West to treat it the same.

It's not only foreigners who are slow to change, however. Many Japanese are accustomed to writing their names in English with the family name last, and while the government has changed how it refers to the Prime Minister and other officials, the domestic English language press still largely uses "Shinzo Abe."

Even if Japan does achieve some consistency across its own government, Peking became Beijing in the American press thanks largely to the widespread adoption of the new name (and Pinyin generally) by the US State Department. Japan may need to lobby diplomats to make the change before it can get journalists to follow suit.

For now however, it appears that, should the Tokyo Olympics go ahead, the man leading the celebrations will remain — as far as English-language media is concerned — "Shinzo Abe."

It's a tough call.  My practice is to follow the preference of the individuals with whom I interact on a personal or professional basis.  However, for my students and those who publish in books and journals that I edit, I always have to insist that, in their bibliographies and footnotes, they give the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean surnames first and given names second.  Even if the persons they are citing are well known by their English-style names and have a clear, established preference for the English order (e.g., Ken Watanabe, Akira Kurosawa, Haruki Murakami, Yukio Mishima, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, Banana Yoshimoto, Natsume Sōseki / Kinnosuke, I. M. Pei, Jack Ma, Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, and Yo-Yo Ma), you can't refer to them as "Mr. Ken", "Mr. Haruki", "Ms. Banana", "Mr. I. M.", Mr. Yo-Yo", "Mr. Jackie", et al.).

One thing that always surprises me, though, is how many Europeans write their surnames before their given names (e.g., some Greeks and Hungarians).  I wonder what the rules for that are in European languages overall.

 

Selected readings



50 Comments »

  1. Philip Taylor said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 5:25 am

    "[Y]ou can't refer to them as "Mr. Ken", [etc.]" — in fact, you can. When I worked, for a couple of years, for Molin's Ltd in the U.K., the company was owned and run by Mr Desmond Molins who had inherited the business from his father in the early 30's. As the older workers, particularly at the Deptford factory, still remembered Mr Molin's senior and referred to him as "Mr Molins", his son Desmond was universally referred to, and addressed as, "Mr Desmond", a term both of respect and of affection.

  2. Leo said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 5:29 am

    (Anecdata warning) Russian names often seem to be given surname-first, usually in official contexts.

  3. Bob Ladd said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 5:36 am

    In reply to the last short paragraph of the OP, I'm fairly sure that Hungarian is the only European language in which the usual order is family name then given name (e.g. Nagy János). However, there are quite a number of languages (certainly French and Italian, possibly also Greek as mentioned in the post) in which family name first has a bureaucratic feel but is nevertheless used in quite a lot of contexts where English would preserve the usual given-then-family order. The name of the 1970s French film Lacombe Lucien illustrates this usage; Wikipedia tells me that in English the film is known as Lacombe, Lucien. The comma in the English title conveys the bureaucratic feel, and also – accurately, I think – suggests a subtle phonetic difference between the status of the family/given order in the two languages. In French and Italian, it isn't weird to state your name that way, just bureaucratic, so you pronounce it in a single phrase just as if you were saying Lucien Lacombe. In English, it is weird, and if you did say your name that way you would tend to pronounce it in two separate intonational phrases.

  4. Bob Ladd said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 5:38 am

    Leo got his comment in while I was composing mine. It appears Russian can be added to the list with French and Italian.

  5. Keith said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 7:22 am

    The Economist ran a short article about this in the first issue of 2020 to explain why Japanese names would appear henceforth as family name followed by given name.

    https://www.economist.com/asia/2020/01/02/why-japanese-names-have-flipped

  6. Not a naive speaker said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 7:56 am

    "The Orphan Tsunami of 1700" published by the USGS in 2005

    https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/pp1707 (Report Piece – Front matter Page v)

    On the page Language Notes

    JAPANESE CITIZENS' NAMES appear in customary order, family name first. For clarity, the authors family names contain small capital letters on the title page, pages 110-111, and the back cover.

    Brian F. ATWATER ブライアン・ F ・ アトウォーター
    MUSUMI-ROKKAKU Satoko 六角 聰子
    SATAKE Kenji 佐竹 健治
    TSUJI Yoshinobu 都司 嘉宣
    UEDA Kazue 上田 和枝
    David K. YAMAGUCHI デイビッド・K ・ ヤマグチ

    Google fails to translate the title (as given in the book) from Japanese to English (word spaces and all)
    みなしご 元禄 津波 -> Minako Genroku Tsunami
    みなしご -> Orphan

  7. Vance Koven said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 8:57 am

    Hungary is becoming a mixed-use society. On the Facebook page for the town from which my wife's paternal family hails, about half the people–generally but not exclusively the younger ones–write their names family name last and personal name first. If you're familiar with the language, then it's probably easy enough to figure out which is which regardless of order. But in some cultures (including Anglophone ones–I'm an example!) it's not easy to know which name is which, and so convention matters a great deal.

  8. DaveK said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 9:03 am

    I've seen a similar issue come up with Spanish culture surnames in the US. Some people seem to retain the original system (e.g. Juan Martinez y Garcia) some drop the "y" and some use the matrinym as a middle name. At my job I sometimes have to call strangers who've written down their names on a form and I just have to hope for the best.

  9. Dara Connolly said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 10:38 am

    Not a naive speaker said,

    Google fails to translate the title (as given in the book) from Japanese to English (word spaces and all)
    みなしご 元禄 津波 -> Minako Genroku Tsunami
    みなしご -> Orphan
    ======================
    I don't understand why Google translate renders みなしご (minashigo) as Minako.

  10. Bathrobe said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 11:23 am

    No one has referred to the opposite problem: the assumption by non-native speakers that family names are not invariably placed last in English. On plane tickets, in passports, in bibliographies, and in phone books (now anachronistic), the family name comes first. I've had a passbook and a plane ticket messed up by naive non-native speakers who are unfamiliar with the conventions of English.

  11. AntC said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 11:33 am

    For Chinese who've adopted christian/baptismal names, it works well to put the family name in the middle, after adopted name, before Chinese given names.

    There's also the languages where people go by one name: Bahasa Indonesian, for example. Or Welsh before the English invaded: 'Jones' was tacked on by the bureaucrats.

  12. a s said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 12:08 pm

    It's common for Westerners to forget which order Japanese names go in, but sometimes the Japanese forget it too. In One Piece everyone has Western names but they've been read backwards – Edward Newgate's family name is Edward.

  13. Coby Lubliner said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 1:43 pm

    In the TV series Hell on Wheels Ulysses S. Grant introduces himself as "Grant, Ulysses."
    Let's not forget that name lists are generally (and, in pre-Internet days, were invariably) arranged with surname first.

  14. Stuart Martin said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 4:50 pm

    One oddity that still throws me is when Korean celebrities list their names on social media in Western order but still spelled in Hangeul. I don't understand the rationale.

  15. Garrett Wollman said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 4:54 pm

    In the specific context of international sport, it depends to a very great deal on the International Federation in question (really a very similar situation to names with diacritics). The practice of the International Skating Union (whose world championships I would be attending today had they not been canceled) is to always put the family name last, but with all-caps in the French style. In-venue announcers are, I believe, given a pronunciation guide that indicates the athlete's preferred name order. Since athletes can and do compete for different nations, they can adapt to the most common usage of the country they are representing.

    In other sports, where more than one event occupies the venue at the same time, there are often displays intended for the athletes and/or judges which show names surname-first, in addition to the spectator video feed which might do it the other way, depending on who is producing the graphics. (These days, most, but by no means all, International Federations have their own TV production crews rather than relying on a local "host" broadcaster.)

    For all international sports, it is usual practice these days to make introductions in the host country's official language(s), followed by a different announcer speaking English, with the name of the athlete only given once, at the end of the introduction. In English-speaking countries only one announcement might be given, or the rules of the IF might require a second language (historically French was common, since many IFs are based in the French-speaking part of Switzerland). I don't know any relevant languages but I wonder how this works for host-country languages that have a different word order or require special case marking of names in the context of an introduction.

    The IFs in general are very bad at dealing with people who do not have "conventional" name structures, whether they be ordinary Malaysians (like the diver Nur Dhabitah binti Sabri), Indians, and Indonesians, or European royalty (like Prince Albert II of Monaco, who is on the record books as Albert Grimaldi).

  16. Garrett Wollman said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 5:00 pm

    Forgot to mention: one of the reasons this comes up in sport so much is that essentially all of the sporting federations were organized in Europe a century ago, and nearly all sporting records assume that every athlete *has* a surname and that this is the most useful way to distinguish athletes from one another. They weren't set up in the expectation of ever having to accommodate the great variety of naming systems in East and Southeast Asia.

  17. R. Fenwick said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 6:54 pm

    For what it's worth, I've been seeing a growing trend in written West Circassian to give the surname first as well. The 2012 encyclopedia of Circassian mythology is one example that comes to mind; the authors' names are cited on the Russian title page as Mikhail Mizhaev and Madina Pashtova, but their Circassian names (on the cover and on the Circassian title page) are given as Мыжей Михаил and Пащты Мадинэ. I'm not sure where this practice comes from; I don't believe any of the surrounding regions have similar naming practices that might have influenced it.

  18. Calvin said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 7:51 pm

    There are still occasional blunders with East Asian surnames even in major newspapers. In this NYT article (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/01/world/australia/the-authorities-yielded-professor-speaks-as-ordeal-in-china-ends.html), Feng Chongyi was correctly addressed as "Professor Feng"/"Mr. Feng", but the Chinese premier Li Keqiang was "Mr. Keqiang" (in the photo caption).

  19. Leo said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 9:54 pm

    When I worked in admin for overseas students in Britain (mostly from East Asia), emails to the office manager were almost invariably addressed to Mr. Chris.

    English male names are often potentially forename/surname reversible, e.g. David Cameron, Michael Jordan, Richard David James (Aphex Twin), which must worsen the confusion.

  20. Kristian said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 9:55 pm

    I was confused by your saying that you have to insist your students write the last name first because this is the standard practice for bibliographies anyway. Do you mean your students think that since Western names are reversed, they should reserve the Asian names too? Or are they confused by which is the family name and which is the given name? If they are confused (and are students of Asian studies) then other people are going to be even more confused.

    Maybe the Japanese government thinks English speakers are showing the Chinese more respect by following their conventions, but I'm not sure that is actually the case. Asian names (and maybe especially Chinese ones) are unfamiliar to most Westerners and I imagine lots of English speakers are not even aware they are following Asian conventions — rather, they interpret a name like Mao Zedong as one unit and think of "Mao" as just the short version of this. Until I learned better, I guess this is how I thought.

    In Finnish it is possible to put the family name in the genitive and then put it first (Niemisen Pentti instead of Pentti Nieminen). This is colloquial, though.

  21. Philip Taylor said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 10:32 pm

    And in Vietnam, one is normally addressed by younger Vietnamese L2 English speakers with whom one is friendly as "Mr Phil", or whatever, a direct calque of "Ông Phil".

  22. Ferenc Gerlits said,

    March 21, 2020 @ 10:55 pm

    Hungarians have always done what the Japanese have been doing until now: surname-first in Hungarian-language texts, surname-last in foreign texts. Social media, where multilingual posts are common, makes things more complicated.

    Interestingly, neighboring countries have developed different ways of dealing with this: in Romanian texts, Hungarian people are referred to using the Hungarian name order, so "preşedintele UDMR, Kelemen Hunor" and "strada Brassai Sámuel", while in Slovak texts, the foreign name order is used, so "predseda Most-Híd Béla Bugár" and "ulica Jánosa Aranya".

  23. Robert Coren said,

    March 22, 2020 @ 3:31 am

    When I was in Budapest a few years ago, as far as I could tell every name on a public monument, or in the descriptions of artworks in museums, etc., was family-name first. I hadn't previously been aware of this practice in Hungarian, and for the first time I understood what the "Liszt Ferenc Chamber Orchestra" actually is.

    I have an (USAn) acquaintance named Austin Paul. I sometimes wonder (but have not asked him) how often people get the order of his names wrong.

  24. liuyao said,

    March 22, 2020 @ 4:51 am

    With many (if not most) Chinese names, even non-speakers can correctly guess which is the surname (single syllable). Japanese is harder, so some technical solution may be needed in the transition period.

    One possibility is to start using Sᴍᴀʟʟ Cᴀᴘ for all surnames, like how HJAS (Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies) used to do it. In the digital age, there should be tools in the browser that convert regular text to Sᴍᴀʟʟ Cᴀᴘ in each text box, like how Grammerly works. I used https://manytools.org/facebook-twitter/smallcaps-text-tool/ to generate these:

    Shinzo Aʙᴇ, Ken Wᴀᴛᴀɴᴀʙᴇ, Akira Kᴜʀᴏsᴀᴡᴀ, Haruki Mᴜʀᴀᴋᴀᴍɪ, Yukio Mɪsʜɪᴍᴀ, Ryūnosuke Aᴋᴜᴛᴀɢᴀᴡᴀ, Banana Yᴏsʜɪᴍᴏᴛᴏ, Nᴀᴛsᴜᴍᴇ Sōseki / Kinnosuke, I. M. Pᴇɪ, Jack Mᴀ, Jackie Cʜᴀɴ, Bruce Lᴇᴇ, and Yo-Yo Mᴀ.

    It also helps with double-barrel names in English (Andrew Lʟᴏʏᴅ Wᴇʙʙᴇʀ). Not 100% fool-proof, as some Sᴍᴀʟʟ Cᴀᴘ look the same as regular typecase, and there are s1ome very rare single-letter surnames in Chinese (e.g., E).

    And I just found that copy-&-pasting into Google may cause trouble.

  25. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 22, 2020 @ 5:14 am

    I'm not sure why English-language publications should even try follow the conventions in this regard of another language rather than silently adapt to the dominant local convention. Word order is notoriously variable from language to language, and trying too hard to retain the source language's word order at the expense of a word order in the target language inevitably leads to stilted and unidiomatic "translationese."

  26. Guan Yang said,

    March 22, 2020 @ 5:31 am

    I have seen Swiss tv shows where the name was reversed. Wikipedia explains it this way: "In the rural use of several regions where heavy dialect is spoken (i.e. Bavaria, Saxony, the Palatinate or the Saarland), the order is reversed, e.g. "der Mühlbach Klaus" instead of "Klaus Mühlbach". The definite article is always added in this style of naming."

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_name

  27. Judith McCrea said,

    March 22, 2020 @ 10:27 am

    The small caps approach is bound to cause problems with Scottish names. For example; MacRae and Macrae are TWO DIFFERENT surnames but would be represented as the same in small caps. Perhaps the surname could be underlined on first use.

  28. Philip Taylor said,

    March 22, 2020 @ 11:38 am

    Leaving aside whether or not MacRae and Macrae are two different surnames, I cannot agree that both would be represented as the same in small caps, if by "small caps" is meant "caps and small caps" as used by liuyao above. Using caps and small caps, the two would appear as "MᴀᴄRᴀᴇ" and "Mᴀᴄʀᴀᴇ", which are visually distinguishable.

  29. Gregory Kusnick said,

    March 22, 2020 @ 4:38 pm

    Let's not forget "Bond, James Bond"!

  30. B.Ma said,

    March 23, 2020 @ 1:30 am

    As a Chinese person with a Western and Eastern name, I'm a fan of underlining the surname, as it means the surname can be in the middle which preserves the typical English and Chinese order, and avoids the capitalization issue raised two comments above.

    However, underlining still assumes that the name contains a part which can be considered the surname (reference https://www.kalzumeus.com/2010/06/17/falsehoods-programmers-believe-about-names/)

  31. Ellen K. said,

    March 23, 2020 @ 9:19 am

    @Stuart Martin

    Names being reversed on social media may be a result of two separate name fields. I know Facebook has three separate name fields, labeled (in English (US)) "first", "middle", and "last" with "middle"' optional)

  32. Fred said,

    March 24, 2020 @ 3:47 am

    South Estonian (but not standard Estonian) also has surname reversal, where the surname is then in the genitive, e.g. standard Estonian Olavi Ruitlane > South Estonian Ruitlasõ Olavi.

  33. Rodger C said,

    March 24, 2020 @ 7:39 am

    FB's "first,' "middle" and "last" are provincial and must be confusing to many.

  34. Philip Taylor said,

    March 24, 2020 @ 9:00 am

    'FB's "first,' "middle" and "last" are provincial and must be confusing to many' — I would go further than that: they are ludicrous, and demonstrate that Facebook is (as one would expect) totally ignorant of the wider world outside of its own very limited universe.

  35. Andrew Usher said,

    March 24, 2020 @ 9:06 am

    Not many English-speakers, I'd imagine. Many Americans are not familar with any other terms, which is why they get chosen.

    The practice of distinguishing the surname regardless of order is I'm sure of European origin, even if it's most helpful with Asian people's names. That I've most commonly seen is to use all-caps, which would indeed smash 'MacRae' and 'Macrae' – but it's unsafe to assume case-sensitivity in names, anyway.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  36. Andrew Usher said,

    March 24, 2020 @ 9:15 am

    Philip Taylor:
    What alternative would you suggest that would get the point across? I understand they may not be your favorite terms, but at least they serve the purpose of telling you what goes where. I mean, I imagine you would like even less to get a computer system addressing you as 'Taylor Philip'!

  37. Philip Taylor said,

    March 24, 2020 @ 11:02 am

    Andrew — "What alternative would you suggest that would get the point across?".

    "Given or personal name(s), in preferred word order", "Family name(s) (–ditto–)", and "other name(s) (–ditto–"). I do not have sufficient breadth of knowledge to even try to guess for what fraction of the world's population this would suffice, but I would suspect that it would cover a significantly greater fraction than the incredibly parochial "first,' "middle" and "last" names apparently used by Facebook, and yield considerably less ambiguous data into the bargain.

    For my wife (Vietnamese), these fields would be "Lệ Khanh", "Âu Dương", and <none> respectively, from which anyone familiar with Vietnamese naming would immediately be able to infer that she uniquely among her siblings owns "Khanh", shares "Lệ" with her female siblings, and shares the family name "Âu Dương" with all her siblings and with her father.

  38. ajay said,

    March 25, 2020 @ 5:56 am

    As the older workers, particularly at the Deptford factory, still remembered Mr Molin's senior and referred to him as "Mr Molins", his son Desmond was universally referred to, and addressed as, "Mr Desmond", a term both of respect and of affection.

    A system similar to one that Jane Austen readers will recognise. The oldest sibling is "Miss Bennet"; her younger siblings are "Miss Elizabeth Bennet", "Miss Lydia Bennet" and so on.
    And for titles of nobility, John Brown, Earl of Clydebank, would be "Lord Brown", but his son William, Viscount Govan, heir to the Clydebank title, would be "Lord William Brown".

  39. Robert Coren said,

    March 25, 2020 @ 10:19 am

    @ajay: Early on in E. M. Forster's Howards End, Mrs. Munt asks Charles Wilcox, whom she has just met, "Are you the elder Mr. Wilcox or the younger?" — wishing to know whether she is talking to Charles or his younger brother Paul. He, however, thinks she is asking whether he is indeed Charles or his father Henry, and answers "the younger". Confusion results.

  40. Michèle Sharik Pituley said,

    March 25, 2020 @ 12:43 pm

    > Let's not forget "Bond, James Bond"!

    Or even "Dentarthurdent"

  41. Michèle Sharik Pituley said,

    March 25, 2020 @ 12:49 pm

    I am in a musical group that has toured Japan several times. Our Japanese management company usually purchases our plane tickets.

    One year, we had a member who was born in Korea, moved to the US as a child, and is now a US Citizen. She goes by . (She legally changed her name to combine the given and middle because other Americans would only call her by the first instead of both.)

    All of the European-derived American names were in LN, FN order on our plane tickets, but hers was in reverse order. Since her family name is Kim, the US airport people couldn't wrap their heads around how that was the family name and was listed first instead of her first name. Made for some stressful times at the check-in counter until we finally got it all straightened out.

  42. Michèle Sharik Pituley said,

    March 25, 2020 @ 12:50 pm

    Argh! Don't use angle brackets. Sigh.

    She goes by combined given and middle names then family name.

  43. Adrian Bailey said,

    March 25, 2020 @ 1:15 pm

    I am somewhat at a loss to understand what the problem is with giving surname last for *everyone* in eg. UK texts. This would seem to make it relatively easy for readers to know which part of a name is the surname.

    On the subject of Hungarian, women's married names add extra complications. The traditional form is Petőfi Sándorné (Mrs Sándor Petőfi) with the alternative, long-winded but less male-chauvinist Petőfiné Szendrey Júlia (Mrs Júlia Petőfi née Szendrey). Perhaps because neither of these alternatives are that great, more Hungarian women seemed to keep their maiden name than did so in the UK.

    In official documents in Slovakia the surname tends to be given first; I don't know if this is a hangover from the days of the Hungarian Empire or a general feature of bureaucratic language in certain parts of Europe.

  44. Ellen Kozisek said,

    March 25, 2020 @ 4:22 pm

    @Rodger C and Philip Taylor

    I expect most people outside the U.S. would choose "English (UK)" rather than "English (US)", and "English (UK)" has "surname" (and "first name", "middle name"), rather than "last [name]". And I would think most people in the U.S. picking English (and specifically U.S. English) as their language (there's lots of language choices!) understand "first, middle, last" just fine.

    Having lots of language choices, including two different English options (not counting upside down English), strikes me as quite the opposite of provincial.

  45. Ellen Kozisek said,

    March 25, 2020 @ 4:33 pm

    Actually, for something like Facebook, where it doesn't really matter which is your surname, first, middle (optional), last is pretty straight forward if you take it literally and have either 2 or 3 names. On the other hand, if you interpret last name as "surname" then Facebook will get it backwards if the surname should be first. I've no way to test what Facebook does with languages used by people who typically put surname (family name) first, but someone else could play around with that.

  46. Philip Taylor said,

    March 26, 2020 @ 4:40 am

    Adrian — "I am somewhat at a loss to understand what the problem is with giving surname last for *everyone* in eg. UK texts. This would seem to make it relatively easy for readers to know which part of a name is the surname". Well, as a native speaker of <Br.E>. I would personally consider it disrespectful. To give just one example, one of my three Chinese teachers was Zhōu Shàngzhī, who introduced himself as such and who was invariably referred to as such by all members of the class (he specifically asked not to be called Zhōu Lăoshī, although that is how he was invariably addressed back in SISU). When I got to know him better, on a personal basis (I visited him in Shanghai and Kyoto), I would call him simply Shàngzhī, of which he also approved. But I cannot imagine for one second ever thinking of him, or writing of him, of referring to him, as "Shàngzhī Zhōu" — it would just feel utterly, competely, wrong. And I think a great part of this derives from the fact that his name, like all names in Chinese, is tonal — the tones are so much a part of his name that if I were even to try to say "Shàngzhī Zhōu", my mind would start oscillating furiously, trying to decide whether I should be saying "Shāngzhì Zhōu" or "Shàngzhī Zhōu", because the tonality of his name is so much a part of his identity in my mind that I would almost certainly try to layer the natural tonality on the "wrong" (= "unnatural") word order.

  47. Adrian Bailey said,

    March 26, 2020 @ 10:26 am

    Philip, I honestly don't think it's disrespectful at all. Getting people's first name and surname confused is disrespectful, and this problem is caused by eschewing local convention.

    Viktor Orbán would be nonplussed if we started calling him Orbán Viktor, not least because some people would call him Mr Viktor.

  48. Leo said,

    March 27, 2020 @ 6:22 am

    How about "Zedong Mao"? The weight of convention would seem to resist that quite heavily.

  49. Kristian said,

    March 28, 2020 @ 3:17 am

    @Philip Taylor
    The tonality of his name is important in Chinese, but it can't be in an English speaking environment because English speakers can't pronounce the tones correctly anyway.

    If I become famous in China and people there want to refer to me surname first, given name second, I would find that natural if that's their convention. I would prefer that to their being confused as to which is which. It's not much different from being Monsieur in France and Mister in England (and having no title at all in other countries).

  50. Ellen K. said,

    March 28, 2020 @ 2:02 pm

    Seems to me whether or not switching the order of names makes depends on i FCC you think of the full name as one unit, or as two (or more). And I suspect that varies a lot, with no simple pattern.

RSS feed for comments on this post

Leave a Comment