conuly: Quote: "You only wish you were as cool as I am" (cool by upthebum)
[personal profile] conuly
First, we have Betty Brown's view of "difficult" names like "Ko", of all things, which doesn't even merit a response.

Here's a not at all related article about the bureaucratic trouble with having a unique name in China. Many commenters have pointed out that it's more sensible to give your child a two-character name than to give them a very *obscure* name, but I don't know enough about Chinese to agree or disagree with that.

Name Not on Our List? Change It, China Says

BEIJING — “Ma,” a Chinese character for horse, is the 13th most common family name in China, shared by nearly 17 million people. That can cause no end of confusion when Mas get together, especially if those Mas also share the same given name, as many Chinese do.

Ma Cheng’s book-loving grandfather came up with an elegant solution to this common problem. Twenty-six years ago, when his granddaughter was born, he combed through his library of Chinese dictionaries and lighted upon a character pronounced “cheng.” Cheng, which means galloping steeds, looks just like the character for horse, except that it is condensed and written three times in a row.

The character is so rare that once people see it, Miss Ma said, they tend to remember both her and her name. That is one reason she likes it so much.

That is also why the government wants her to change it.

For Ma Cheng and millions of others, Chinese parents’ desire to give their children a spark of individuality is colliding head-on with the Chinese bureaucracy’s desire for order. Seeking to modernize its vast database on China’s 1.3 billion citizens, the government’s Public Security Bureau has been replacing the handwritten identity card that every Chinese must carry with a computer-readable one, complete with color photos and embedded microchips. The new cards are harder to forge and can be scanned at places like airports where security is a priority.

The bureau’s computers, however, are programmed to read only 32,252 of the roughly 55,000 Chinese characters, according to a 2006 government report. The result is that Miss Ma and at least some of the 60 million other Chinese with obscure characters in their names cannot get new cards — unless they change their names to something more common.

Moreover, the situation is about to get worse or, in the government’s view, better. Since at least 2003, China has been working on a standardized list of characters for people to use in everyday life, including when naming children.

One newspaper reported last week that the list would be issued later this year and would curb the use of obscure names. A government linguistics official told Xinhua, the state-run news agency, that the list would include more than 8,000 characters. Although that is far fewer than the database now supposedly includes, the official said it was more than enough “to convey any concept in any field.” About 3,500 characters are in everyday use.

Government officials suggest that names have gotten out of hand, with too many parents picking the most obscure characters they can find or even making up characters, like linguistic fashion accessories. But many Chinese couples take pride in searching the rich archives of classical Chinese to find a distinctive, pleasing name, partly to help their children stand out in a society with strikingly few surnames.

By some estimates, 100 surnames cover 85 percent of China’s citizens. Laobaixing, or “old hundred names,” is a colloquial term for the masses. By contrast, 70,000 surnames cover 90 percent of Americans.

The number of Chinese family names in use has tended to shrink as China’s population has grown, a winnowing of surnames that has occurred in many cultures over time.

At last count, China’s Wangs were leading with more than 92 million, followed by 91 million Lis and 86 million Zhangs. To refer to an unidentified person — the equivalent of “just anybody” in English — one Chinese saying can be loosely translated this way: “some Zhang, some Li.”

The potential for mix-ups is vast. There are nearly enough Chinese named Zhang Wei to populate the city of Pittsburgh. Nicknames are liberally bestowed in classrooms and workplaces to tell people apart. Confronting three students named Liu Fang, for example, one middle-school teacher nicknamed them Big, Little and Middle.

Wang Daliang, a linguistics scholar with the China Youth University for Political Science, said picking rare characters for given names only compounded the problem and inconvenienced everyone. “Using obscure names to avoid duplication of names or to be unique is not good,” he wrote in an e-mail response to questions.

“Now a lot of people are perplexed by their names,” he said. “The computer cannot even recognize them and people cannot read them. This has become an obstacle in communication.”

But Professor Zhou Youyong, dean of Southeast University’s law school, said the government should tread carefully in issuing any new regulation. “The right to name children is a basic right of citizens,” he said.

Miss Ma said that while her given name was unusual, bank employees, passport control clerks and ticket agents had always managed to deal with it, usually by writing it by hand. But when she tried to renew her identity card last August, she said, Beijing public security officials turned her down flat.

“Your name is so troublesome and problematic,” she recalled an official telling her. “Just change it.”

Miss Ma argues that the government’s technology should adapt, not her.

“There were no such regulations when I was born, so I should be entitled to keep my name for my whole life,” she said. If she changes her name to get an identity card, she noted, it will be wrong on all of her other documents, like her passport and university diploma.

Besides, she said, “I can’t think of another, better name.”

Using the time-honored Chinese method of backdoor connections, Miss Ma was able to get a temporary card in January. She must renew it every three months but considers that a small sacrifice for keeping her name.

Zhao C., a 23-year-old college student, gave up the fight for his. His father, a lawyer, chose the letter C from the English alphabet, saying it was simple, memorable and stood for China.

When he could not get a new identity card in 2006, Zhao C. sued. But security officials convinced him that it would cost millions of dollars to alter the database, his father said, so he dropped the suit in February.

His case might suggest that resistance against China’s powerful bureaucracy was futile. Still, the government’s plan to limit the use of characters has not gone all that smoothly.

The new rules were originally supposed to be issued by 2005. Now, 70 revisions later, they have yet to be put in place.

An official this week batted away questions, saying publicity might delay the rules even longer.

Date: 2009-04-23 02:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think there is a sensible point among the controversy over Betty Brown, that there is confusion between Chinese names and English names for the same person. At uni, we have a sizeable proportion of Chinese students in our year, and they sometimes go by Chinese names (eg in official group lists) and at other times English names (eg if they actually introduce themselves to English students). Generally, there's no relation between the two, either - I know a Sau Mon who goes by Simone in English, but she's very much the exception. This is further compounded by a strangely small pool of adopted English names; I've lost count of the numbers of Chinese Vincents and Esthers in our department, and yet I've never met a single English person called either.

Date: 2009-04-23 04:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I have met a LOT of Vincent's. Hell, my very blonde haired blue eyed white boy ex-boyfriend is a Vincent. :)

Date: 2009-04-23 05:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The way we understand it, many Chinese-Americans, at least in past generations, chose American names for their kids (and themselves) based on what sounded good. They favored names that sound like words for success, prosperity good luck and so on. This may be part of the reason for all the Vincents. And Winstons, and Winnies. Also, immigrants would often get a new name from the officials. You'd come in and say your name was Lu Xing-yu and they'd put down Louis Yu or something. (You'd be lucky if they got it that close.)

But like most things it's more complicated than just that. (,M1)

Date: 2009-04-23 05:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
These aren't immigrants - they're students who are Chinese-born and come to England to go to university. Their English names are not official beyond the fact that they use them consistently.

Date: 2009-04-24 12:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Ah, okay. Well, they might choose those names themselves, then, but this is all just guesswork on our part. The "Vincent" thing sounded familiar.

Date: 2009-04-23 05:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The bureau’s computers, however, are programmed to read only 32,252 of the roughly 55,000 Chinese characters

This is the really stupid part of it to me -- the government programmed the computers to read only 60% of their characters, and now wants to force people to change their names because they can't spend another year (or whatever) upgrading their software to read the remaining 40%? Okay, I don't know Chinese or pattern recognition software, but if they were able to get their computers to recognize more than half the language, how hard can it be to recognize the rest?

Date: 2009-04-23 05:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Part of the problem may be the way Chinese writing evolved and is constructed. What you have heard about it being a lot of ideograms which came from pictograms, each representing a whole concept, is only partly true (,M1).

Try as they might, today's government officials can't get around the fact that Chinese is not just one language, it is several languages, sometimes mutually exclusive. The so-called "obsolete" characters are traditional ones that have been abandoned in the search to create a simplified form of writing. Even the simplified character system still has two or three thousand characters. And many people respect the traditional forms and wish for their children to learn and use those.

What Betty Brown said is not so much a racist statement as an assimilationist one. She is probably not aware of the fact that the last time people were made to do this, it was part of one of the most shameful episodes of U.S. history ( Her mind may deliberately not be making the connection. Anyway, it's not going to happen.

Date: 2009-04-29 08:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I am confused? I don't think I can even understand the confusion of the Betty Brown thing. You have a legal name and that legal name is what you use on legal documents and for stuff requiring legal names. So, when you go to vote, you use your legal name, not your nickname. So what if your name is Fields of Ambrosia, but you go by Sheila. Sheila would be your nickname and not your real name. And if you really don't like Fields of Ambrosia and find it inconvenient, you can change it to Sheila. So, yeah. I don't understand the issue on either side. My name is Maya and people mispronounce it more often then not. But, it's my name and I'll make them say it right if I ever let them say it at all.

China insisting you change your name because of computer character limits? Well, that sort of stupid is easy enough to understand. Painfully stupid, but very clearly so.


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