Writing indigenous names in Taiwan

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In Taiwan, a woman from the Bunun tribe is pushing to have her name given just in the Roman alphabet, not in combination with or substituted by Chinese characters presenting a Mandarinized form.  (Bunun language here.)

My Bunun name is …

Pinyin News (11/27/23)


A candidate for the Indigenous constituency in Taiwan’s Legislature has, in protest over government policies mandating the use of Chinese characters, changed her name to “李我要單列族名我的布農族名字是 Savungaz Valincinan,” which translates as “Li I want to list my tribal name separately; my Bunun name is Savungaz Valincinan.”

The anti-character, pro-alphabet movement is gaining traction and visibility among Taiwan's indigenous people for a variety of reasons, such as those described in this excellent LA Times article:

"Some Indigenous people in Taiwan want to drop their Chinese names: ‘That history has nothing to do with mine’"

Stephanie Yang and David Shen (5/2/23)


The name on his government ID when he was growing up — and how his classmates, teachers and baseball teammates knew him — was Chu Li-jen.

At home, however, he was always Giljegiljaw Kungkuan, or “Giyaw” for short, the Indigenous name bestowed on him by his grandmother.

By the time he was a teenager, he wanted to go by his Indigenous name all the time, as a matter of pride. But his parents worried that abandoning his Chinese name would only cause him trouble in a Chinese-dominated society.

In 2019, he finally made it his legal name with the Taiwanese government after Cleveland’s MLB franchise — grappling with its own name issues — invited him to spring training. He wanted to ensure that come the next season, the letters emblazoned on his jersey would read: “GILJEGILJAW.”

“Honestly I didn’t think too much about it,” said Giljegiljaw, 29. “I just had the simple notion that I wanted to carry my name on my back, on my jersey.”

The LA Times article goes on to give case histories of individuals from other groups who use their indigenous names.  It explains that there are four ways to do this on their identity cards:

1. Han (characters) and indigenous (Romanization)

2. Transcription of indigenous name in characters and indigenous name in Romanization

3. Transcription of indigenous name in characters only

4. Indigenous name in Romanization only

Considering the generally favorable government support for minority and topolectal languages in Taiwan, in contrast to the situation in China, I think we will see more people switching to the alphabet in the former, with little chance for that to happen in the latter.


Selected readings


  1. Chas Belov said,

    December 10, 2023 @ 1:16 pm

    Singer Chang Chen-yue (張震嶽), whose Amis name is Ayal Komod, immediately comes to mind, although his recordings are in Mandarin.

    I note the linked article has a "Taipei Taiwan" dateline and uses the term Taiwanese throughout. However, the photo caption includes the usage "Chinese Taipei" in addition to "New Taipei City, Taiwan," an interesting usage mix.

    While "Giljegiljaw" is a mouthful, I grew up in Pittsburgh and regularly had to deal with Polish surnames, so I'm sure I could learn to deal with it – actually, after a few tries, it seems to be rolling off my tongue. (Note the hard "g" per the article.)

  2. Michael Carasik said,

    December 11, 2023 @ 5:57 am

    For those who are interested in that guy's baseball career:

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