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• 2/6/2014

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  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.

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• 2/6/2014

Interesting stuff. So, just to be clear, is two syllables always written as two words in the phonetic English version? Personally I prefer writing characters with ethnicities I'm familiar with. If I did attempt writing a Chinese character, the name would just be one of several things I got wrong. So I stick to what I know or write in fictional universes so no one gets to tell me I portrayed a race/nationality wrong and ignorantly.

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• 2/7/2014

Writing it as two seperate words would be correct. But most Western countries tend to write it as one word (i.e Zhang Wei would be written as Zhangwei), which is wrong, since the family name should always be seperate from the given name. For three syllables name, you can combine the two words of the given name into one phonetic word. Example, my Ng Jun Xiang can be writtern as Ng Jun Xiang or Ng Junxiang. Though the first one is the more traditional way, the second one has been modernly accepted as 'okay'.

Additonal knowledge onto that, It is also standard to address two syllables names as a complete name, so even though the family name is Zhang, informally, you don't call the person as Wei or Zhang. Informally, you should always call Zhangwei, unless the individual allows it, like how I allow my western friends to call me Jun for short. Formally, it can be seperated, but only by the family name as Mr. Zhang.

The way for three syllables would be slightly different. For myself as an example, formally, you call me Mr. Ng. Informally, you call me Junxiang or Jun Xiang, but never as Jun or Xiang unless as a allowed nickname. Lastly, my full name can be phonetically written as Ng Junxiang or Ng Jun Xiang

In summary, all Chinese name, when called informally, would usually be two words long, regardless of the length of the full name be three or two words. 

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• 2/7/2014

This is really interesting. A long time ago, I started writing this book centered around a triad. The main character's last name was, coincidentally enough, Huang. (Maybe he's a second cousin of yours.)

I stopped writing at page 160 since I realized that I knew much too little about Chinese culture to write about their gangs. But it's always been my intention to come back to it after getting a bit more knowledgeable, so this is really cool. 

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• 2/12/2014

Fascinating stuff dude.

Living in Melbourne I've got to ask you about your trip, as Australia likes to call itself multicultural (which it is if your definition of multicultural is a mixture of total assimilation or segregation with little or no in between at times). Was it disturbing that you didn't see a mixture of races, or that various races didn't mix? Greeks, Italians and Yugoslavians often live and frequent similar areas to that of anglo-saxons, and South Asians are sprinkled about everywhere. Especially Sri Lankans: Melbourne has the highest population of Sri Lankans in a single city outside of Columbo, but there is a huge amount of Indian students as well. Arabs are usually found in poorer areas (mixed with what Australians describe as "ethnics": Greeks, Italians, Yugoslavians etc.), and in recent years they have been joined by Africans in the same context. Although where South Asians live are spread around like the other ethnicities (apart from higher concentrations in poor areas), they often end up in somewhat segregated areas when working or shopping etc. to the point where in the city there are a lot of areas where South Asians drastically out number any other ethnicity.

My year 7 class was probably composed of something like 15 anglos, 10 ethnics, 8 East Asians, 2 or 3 Africans...and strangely no South Asians...but South Asians usually try to send thier children to more dignified schools no matter the cost. What would the ratio be like in Singapore?

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A FANDOM User
• 2/12/2014

I was more weirded out by the split in the racial mix. The Asians were in the Asian community specifically, natives with natives. So you don't really see them 'mix' so to speak. 

So, for comparison, my old class had 39 students. 7 Malays, 4 Indians, 1 Eurasian, 1 Burmese, 1 Indonesian, and the rest of the 25 were Chinese. If you look up the racial demographics of Singapore, that's pretty much the percentage as close to exact as the national percentage as possible. The mix is very even, so aside from places like Chinatown, Little India and other places of specific culture, everywhere else is a balance see of that same percentage.

It wasn't like that in Melbourne, where, if you look at this wikipedia map, there are very specific congregation of different country. It's not as spread out. So yeah, out multicutural is just complete and utter assimiliation into one lumping mass of unidentifiable blob of people instead of having any gaps. Very flat out equal.

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• 2/12/2014
182.55.132.178 wrote:
I was more weirded out by the split in the racial mix. The Asians were in the Asian community specifically, natives with natives. So you don't really see them 'mix' so to speak. 

So, for comparison, my old class had 39 students. 7 Malays, 4 Indians, 1 Eurasian, 1 Burmese, 1 Indonesian, and the rest of the 25 were Chinese. If you look up the racial demographics of Singapore, that's pretty much the percentage as close to exact as the national percentage as possible. The mix is very even, so aside from places like Chinatown, Little India and other places of specific culture, everywhere else is a balance see of that same percentage.

It wasn't like that in Melbourne, where, if you look at this wikipedia map, there are very specific congregation of different country. It's not as spread out. So yeah, out multicutural is just complete and utter assimiliation into one lumping mass of unidentifiable blob of people instead of having any gaps. Very flat out equal.


Yep, that sounds like a pretty accurate description. Well observed.

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• 2/14/2014
And I just realized I didn't log in for posting again. Somebody shoot me.
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• 8/16/2014

Facinating stuff, even if i can't fully get my head (and tongue) around it. I'd do a post about scottish names but it'd be about 4 lines long and boring as fuck haha

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