Posted by: rbbadger | April 22, 2009

Your name’s not on the list? Change it.

The New York Times carries this interesting story about Chinese names.  Like in Korea, there are a huge number of people who, though not related, carry the same name.  And very often, there is an equally huge number of people bearing the exact same combinations of family names and personal names.  There are, as the story points out, enough people with the name Zhang Wei to populate a large American city.  At last count, there were about 92 million people with the family name of Wang.  There about 91 million people who carry the family name of Li.  So in order to be different, parents often go hunting through the dictionaries for obscure characters to set their children apart.  The Chinese government has decided to put an end to this.

In Korea, there are often large numbers of people bearing the same combinations of family names and personal names.  There has been a trend to set the children apart by either giving them only one-syllable personal names instead of the usual two.  I used to have two students named Chae Jun-woo and Chae Jun in the same class. Another trend is to give the children names that are purely Korean and which can’t be written in Chinese characters. 

The story features a woman by the name of Ma Cheng.  This isn’t a too uncommon name in China.  馬 means horse, so there isn’t a problem.  It is a family she shares with the President of the Republic of China (Taiwan) Ma Ying-jeou and the cellist Yo-Yo Ma.  Where the problem arises is with her other name 騁. This is a pretty rare character. The Chinese government computers can only handle about 33,000 characters.  Her name is not in the government database. 

You can read the story here.

(The computers here in Korea generally only handle the traditional Chinese characters apart from some word processing programs.)



  1. WOW! That’s crazy! I’m so grateful I haven’t had that trouble with my unusual name!!!

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