November 29, 2005

Chinese names

Posted in Fun at 12:51 pm by Feng

In the western culture, people usually call each other by their first names. But for many Chinese, their first names are rather difficult for westerners to pronounce, like “Jianjun”, “Jianqiang”, “wenxuan” etc. In that case, our surnames — which are simple and short — are called instead. But the Chinese pin-yin is sometimes very different from the English pronunciation. A friend, whose surname is “Shen” ([ʂən], where [ʂ] is similar to [s] but with the tongue curled upwards) , is upset about this, because his labmates always shout his name loud: “Shame!” In the same lab as his, there is a Chinese girl, whose surname is “Cao” ([cáo], where [c] is similar to cats). It couldn’t be worse — people call her Cow all the time.



  1. gordo said,

    It’s strange, but Americans who are friends sometimes call one another by their surnames, but without a title like “mister”. This is especially true when several members of a circle of friends share a first name. So when I attended an Irish Catholic university, most guys named Mike were referred to by their surnames. Referring to a mere acquaintance by surname without a title, though, is considered rude.

  2. gordo said,

    Also, I sympathise with your friend. There are a lot of Hispanics where I live, and in Spanish, “gordo” means “fat” or “fat man.”

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