Jian Shuo Wang Becomes Wang Jian Shuo

During this trip to YLF, and recent other trips in US, I just realized in more and more occasions, my name is printed as Wang Jian Shuo instead of Jian Shuo Wang. If you didn’t noticed the difference yet, let me tell you explicitly: it is all about first name first or the last name first for Chinese people.

I write about Why I don’t have an English Name 4 years ago. If you don’t have the time to read that long article, the quick reason is about how you can legally proof that you are the person identified by your English name. But in the last few years, more and more I feel a Chinese name is all about the Chinese identify that I feel very comfortable of.

Change of Orders

The order of the change is a small change, but it means something significant to me.

When we translate someone’s name from US to China, we keep the order. Bill Gates is translated to directly to Chinese using pronunciation, and the Gates part always comes after Bill. I cannot think of any scenario in China that people address Bill Gates as Gates Bill… The only transition from the last few decades was, there was to be a dot between the Chinese translation of first name and last name. Now, the dot is used and still regarded as the right way to do it, but fewer and fewer people will need to add the dot. Maybe because it is not directly in the keyword or easy to access via Chinese IME.

For the same reason, the translation of Chinese name to English seems easy. Pinyin is already a great way to do the word to word translation, but why Chinese name has to be put upside down to fit the English standard?

I didn’t think about this until recently I saw my name more and more often printed as Wang Jian Shuo. It at least reflected that the culture and people exchange in the two countries (or more countries) are more frequent. Just as people in China don’t really need the dot or even dash to help get the first name and last name apart (because the names are very family to many people already), people don’t need to change the order of Chinese names to fit the English tradition, since people will gradually know how that Chinese names always have surname first and given name last.

19 thoughts on “Jian Shuo Wang Becomes Wang Jian Shuo

  1. The Japanese have a lot of experience with this, and a good way to keep their name and educate foreigners about LastName FirstName. When they write their name in western letters, they write the last name in CAPITALS. Your name, for example, would be WANG Jianshuo, my name would be Micah SITTIG. I like that way.

  2. Good suggestion Micah.

    Some Chinese first names has 2 words (e.g. Jian Shou). It will be better that you join this word together without spacing to become JianShou.

    Add another point, when you display 3 words Wang Jian Shou, others might not able to identify which is your FirstName and LastName. Usually Western names will only display 2 words e.g. Bill Gate or Micah Sittig. There is possibility other might think that your FirstName is “Wang Jian” and LastName is “Shou”.

  3. Hi Jianshuo,

    I wonder if you would be covering topics regarding Chinese dairy produce, food/ veg regulatory bodies in china and other thing along those lines in light of the recent tainted milk scandal?

    I’m sure many would be interested to find out more

  4. @anna, I will definitely write about it these days. Sometimes, news comes and I just need some time to understand what is going on and form some thoughts around it. I think I am pretty close to that point.

  5. Keep your name as it is Jian Shou. As you say it is you; it is central to your identity.

    It may take a short moment for people to ask, if they need to, to clarify your family name and your given name. We English speakers – I am from UK -need to learn that people in different places have different name structures, and recognise it is a central part of honour of another culture to learn how that culture’s name is made up, and learn how to pronounce it. As you say, Bill Gate’s name is not changed in China, and in all my trips to China no one has ever asked me to change mine.

  6. It is at least quite common in the UK now. During the Beijing Olympics Games, all the media spell the name of the current president as Mr. Hu Jin Tao or Mr. HU Jin Tao (all the letters of surname are capital). Meanwhile, more and more people know that the Chinese put the surname in front of the first name and they never ever use the initial like Mr. J. Hu.

    People gradually know more about cultures and they feel trendy if they can do the things in the way of another culture. Hence, people sees that as the correct way to introduce a Chinese name.

    There is one more thing. I still remember that when I first introduced myself to my tutor as the English name Liz, he said, “no, that’s not your name. what’s your real name?” As for him, only the Chinese name is the real one, coz I may have different names in English, French, Spanish, etc. Since then, I never have English name any more.

  7. I always replace my last name with 2, because my true last name ‘Tu’ have the same pronunciation with 2 or to, I like it.

  8. Jennifer 8. Lee (New York Times reporter, author of ‘The Fortune Cookie Chronicles’) changed her middle name to the auspicious-sounding number and that is the way The Times uses it. I asked her if it could be pronounced (in English) ‘eight’ or ‘ba’ and she said either, though as an American (parents immigrated from Taiwan) she says ‘eight’. Incidentally, as the eldest of 3 children born to a couple that entered the US at JFK airport, her first name begins with ‘J’.

    In America it used to be the case that one could use a stage name if no fraud involved, but as you point out, now security for travel and credit means this is less possible.

    Another point is tht styles change for how married women caall themselves, both in China and the West.

    I think we should keep track of naming conventions over time, as it indicates Western influences (how easy for others to pronounce) and what parents expect from children.

  9. WJS,

    Its often not obvious to me (as an English native speaker) what is the last or first name. Most Chinese will put the first name first and the family name last when it is in English. So unless you do what Micah suggested “WANG Jianshuo” or “WANG Jian Shuo” then it is totally unclear to foreigners if your last name is Wang or Jian. We do not know that Wang is one of the most popular surnames in China.

    Maybe we will reach a tipping point where Chinese will all use their exact name in Pinyin as their English name but we haven’t reached that tipping point yet.

  10. Could anyone help me to translate my Chinese name to English name ?

    Some of my non-Chinese friends found my name too difficult to pronounce.

    My Chinese name is Lee Hau Yee 李巧儿

  11. Hi

    I am a foreigner and I live in China and study Chinese language. I have a Chinese name 石中行 and friends just call me 小石头 (small stone), so I was wandering does my Chinese name has the same status in China as a foreign name for a Chinese person living in the West (as Jie or. Liz pointed out), where we think that the only real name is original one (in this case Jie I guess, and in mine Dejan) or do Chinese people prefer Chinese name for a foreigner?


  12. I would say that name is functioned as an identity for other people to recognize you. As English is regarded as a world language and more and more people around the world tend to use it. It’s understandable that many Chinese people prefer to have English name which I personally call it ‘nick name’ when involved in dealing with people outside of China to make it easier and convenient for English speaker to call and remember.

    Like many other things, there is no right and wrong. I respect the culture and naming scenario of different country but do find myself frustrated trying to remember a name from other country apart from motherland.

    It’s also quite common to have a nick name among people for below reasons:

    1. showing the relationship between each other;

    2. memory convenience.

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