Thursday, October 2, 2014

Names, names, names

I always get a little irritated when someone calls me Yu. What Yu? The more courteous ones would address me as Mr Book, a name which appears logical to many. But they are NOT my names!

The name my father gave me is Yu Book in Romanised form and my surname or family name is Lim. But most Aussie or westerners just don't get it. I can understand their ignorance, but in our own backyard Malaysia, many forms still carry the column "First Name" and "Last Name". (Take a look at those from the local airlines, credit card companies, merchants and even banks.)  If I go by their simplistic approach, I might have to fill them as Lim and Book respectively. But obviously they are not the right answers sought.

This is basically an east-west divide; but many in our own backyard have also lost their common sense in blindly adopting the "First and Last names" nomenclature.

I usually take pain to explain to my western and non-East Asian acquaintances. Chinese names come in two parts, the preceding one represents the surname or the family name. The second and third ones have to be taken together. Amongst the more traditional Chinese, one of the two components in the given name has a generational identification. (You can tell someone is your remote cousin, even though he might be decades younger than you, or is almost as ancient as your grandpa.) To help people in my part of the world, in my case, I hyphenate my given name: Yu-Book. In Rome, it is best you do what the Romans do. In Australia, I carry my card as Yu-Book LIM, with LIM spelt in capital letters, for the benefit of East Asians so that they would not be confused what my surname or family name is.

Coming to Romanising Chinese names, Mainland China is not doing justice to themselves. I think the Taiwan version, which I have adopted, is basically the right approach. China’s President Xi's (Mr Eleven to an Indian broadcaster!) given name "Jinping" is spelt as one word. It should have been Jin-Ping, where each component carries a meaning and when both taken together and hyphenated, the name becomes totally wholesome - in the manner what one's parents aspires his child to grow up into.

The Version in mainland China is most confusing, especially in geographical names: Beijing, Wuyisan, Xian, etc. There may be an even better approach than the Taiwan version. My name should perhaps be spelt as LIM YuBook, so that Beijing, Wuyisan, Xian etc can be spelt as Bei-jing, WuYi-san, Xi-An, etc. From them, foreigners would also be able to discern it is a capital city (jing), a mountain (san) or a road (lu). Think about it!

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