Chinese Names in the English World
The most common names in Hollywood for Chinese are often one syllables. 'Lee', 'Chan', 'Woo!', and so forth. It's likely that I'll be the only Chinese born writer on here for some time, so I'd like to share my culture with you all and why Hollywood is wrong. That way everyone will have a better understanding when writing ethnic characters from my culture and better their writing knowledge.
I'm born in Singapore, by so far, what I consider, the only 'real' multi-cultural country in the world, so I have quite an edge in writing characters of different ethnicity given my upbringing. For me, it's not weird for me to see people of other races, and our countrymen accept and often make fun of our own physical and cultural traits with no animosity, since we've come to accept every race as part of our lives. In fact, when I went to Melbourne last year, I got completely uncomfortable by the lack of other races.
Anyways, so here's the thing on our names. Most modern Chinese have a three syllables name, though there are two syllables as well, more so in the past than present, depending on the time and dynasty. Your family name is always first, aside from some American Chinese who chooses to put their family name last. So my name, is read Huang Jun Xiang phonetically, with Huang being my family name. However, some Chinese names is writtern different in English compared to the phonetic version. My family name, Huang, is actually written Ng in English, Jie can be Chay and so on.
Now, phonetically, our words can be pronounced in four different tones on the vowels, which each tone having different set of words, with each word having different strokes, and each word having different meaning dependent on what comes before or after them of doesn't appear.
Go to this wikipedia link and play the sound in the corner to hear the difference in the four tones for a single letter combination.
So, for my given name, Jun Xiang, we'll use the Xiang as an example. It can also be pronounced with four tones. For mine, it is said in the second tone, and the word itself is 翔 which when paired with another word, fei (飛) means fly. When spoken in the first tone and paired with another word, it becomes xiangji, which means 箱子 (box).
For a more easily recognizable reference, Bruce Lee's Chinese name is Lee Xiao Long, His family is Lee, pronounced in the third tone, and his given name is Xiao Long, pronounced in the third and second tone respectively. Now, the common misconception with the pronunciation is because phonetically, it is insanely stupid when translated from Chinese phonetics to English phonetics. If you still can't get the sound of the phonetics (and I can't blame you, it's confusing for new learners), here's a rought idea of how it would sound like in English phonetics.
"Lee? Xi-ow Long (hold your nose for the 'long' to get the correct sound)"
Not kidding you, you have to read the 'question mark' for it to sound right. Because there are no signs for the phonetic tones in English. Here's the Chinese PinYin phonetics for my xiang. xiāng xiáng xiǎng xiàng Which are all sets of different words. Respective example, 香 翔 想 像. In turn, the four words roughly means, 'smell', 'fly', 'thought' and 'alike'.
I think this is enough for one post, and I've ran out of ideas. So, if you people have any specific question you'd like to clarify (which I assume is alot), feel free to ask.