Lyons F. Livingston had commented on Philatelist (January 1949 issue) that “no Chinese name can be transliterated exactly”, he was right on the dot, especially pre-1949.
How an old Chinese name appear in foreign language, it depends on:
- which spelling methods to use between foreign/Chinese:
- Wade-Giles 韦氏拼音/ 韦德 – 贾尔斯/威妥玛拼音 by Thomas Wade, the old way starting 1859/1867; or
- Pinyin 拼音 the current way since 1980s
周学熙: Zhou Xuexi in pinyin and Chou Hsüeh-hsi in English
- which systems to use within Chinese:
- within Chinese, which dialect to use, i.e.
- Foreign languages
周学熙: Chou Hsüeh-hsi in English and Chow Hsen Hsih in French
Ok, if the above haven’t confuse you yet, here we’ve more because a Chinese, in the old days, used to have a few names. They were:
- 名 ming: the name one was born to
- 字 zi: courtesy name (or adult name; “字”限于有身份的人) taken at the age of 20, by which a man is sometimes called
- 官名 guanming: formal name / nom de plume
- 号 hao: pseudonym, an alternative courtesy name
- 晚号 wan hao: an assumed name or alternative name taken at older age
- 谥号 shi hao: posthumous title, is given to honor one’s lifetime achievement by the reign emperor. i.e. 文庄公
Emperors had their reign and temple names. (Each emperor is known to history by a posthumous “temple” name and by a “reign” name; ucsd) For example the temple/reign of Gāo zōng 高宗/Qián lóng 乾隆, Wén zōng 文宗/Xián fēng 咸豐咸丰 and Dé zōng 德宗/Guāng xù 光緒.
Lets not get into nickname and pen name, etc. Chinese is very particular with titles 称呼. For each relative, we have a distinctive name for her/him. We even have specific name for brothers’ wives. Here are some designated names for the loved ones .. (each region would have a slight variations ..)
- 爷爷 奶奶 – Yeye and Nainai:- paternal grandfather/mother
- 公公 婆婆 (外公,外婆) – Gonggong and Popo (Waigong, Waipo): maternal grandfather/mother
Here are more
- 七世祖 Great-Great-Great-great grandfather
- 六世祖 Great-Great-great grandfather
- 高祖父 Great-great grandfather
- 曾祖父 Great-grandfather
- 祖父 Grandfather
- 父 Father
- 你 YOU
- 子 Son
- 孙 Grandson
- 曾孙 Great-Grandson
- 玄孙 Great-Great-Grandson
- 六代孙 Great-Great-Great-Grandson
- 七代孙 Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandson 谦称为7世孙
There were five generations that each man hoped to be able to venerate – his parents, his grand parents and the three generations preceding them. ..
- 舅舅 – Jiujiu: mother’s brother
- 小姨 (姨妈) – Xiaoyi (Yima): mother’s sister
- 伯父 – Bofu: father’s older brother
- 叔叔 – shu shu: father’s younger brother
- 姑姑 (姑妈) – Gugu (Guma): father’s sister
- 表哥 biaoge: older male cousin
- 表弟 biaodi: younger male cousin
- 表姐 biaojie: older female cousin
- 表妹 biaomei: younger female cousin
- 侄子 zhizi: brother’s son; nephew
- 侄女 zhinǚ brother’s daughter; niece.
- 外甥 waisheng: sister’s son; nephew.
- 外甥女 waishengnǚ: sister’s daughter; niece.
- 女婿 nǚxu: son-in-law, daughter’s husband
- 媳妇 xifu: son’s wife; daughter-in-law
- 妯娌 zhouli: wives of brothers ..
- 嗣子 sizi: heir; descendant (adapted son could be a sizi)
- 嫡子 dizi: of or by the wife (as distinguished from a concubine under the feudal-patriarchal system); of lineal descent; closely related.
- 庶子 shuzi: by the concubine (as distinguished from the legal wife)
Although Chinese doesn’t have a specific name (pre-defined) like Jane and Joe but there are few words that are indicative if used in a name: such as 伯, 仲, 叔, 季, 孟, etc. They’re the sequence of sibling. People often use these words in their courtesy name and pseudonym, instead of their birth name.
Am I missing anything? How about taking husband’s name? Hmmmmm … that’s the Western practice. Chinese women can actually shoulder half the sky, so they get to keep their own names. As for Jiujiu vs Uncle Joe and Xiaoyi vs Auntie Jane, the western way of calling isn’t too bad: trying to picture three cousins are talking about their uncle Joe. Joe is Jiujiu to me but Shushu 叔叔 to cousin Wen and Bobo 伯伯 to cousin Wei. So I have to be alter when referring Uncle Joe to different cousins. Under this kind of situation, I think the western way of simply Uncle Joe may just work better – makes it easy to identify. 各有千秋 each has its strong points. Idiosyncrasy of Chinese The lineage relationship is important in China, hence we spell out each of them with a specific term where English language does not have. .