10/29/2005

chinese name: what's in a name

john is john. it tells only about john. a chinese name embodies several thousand years of history, culture and a civilisation. it does not simply tell us about the person named, it tells us about his relationship with his siblings and peers, his family, the aspirations of his parents, and the history of a civilisation. it should thus not be taken lightly. tan ah kow is tan ah kow and not ah kow tan. but it is ok if it is rambu tan or coco tan or coco nut. the concept of putting the family name in front is carefully thought through to show a family tree, a lineage, a belonging, both for identity, and for social and biological functions. yes it is functional and can avoid a lot of sins and complications from in breeding. and it is also a very logical way of doing so. look at how the names are listed in the telephone directory, or how the computer sorts out names in alphabetical order. the westerners have no choice but to re write their names to accommodate the logical sequencing and thinking process of a computer system. michael johnson will become johnson michael. george bush will become bush george in the directory or in the computer system. so why would chinese singaporeans take a step backward by writing their names beng tan and not tan beng? or ah kow tan instead of tan ah kow? it is ok if one calls himself superfixia lee, botak tan, or chapceng lim. but ang ku kueh or tan ku ku must be written in that order and not ku kueh ang or ku ku tan. the more we try to mess out the right order of things, the more we confuse everyone, especially the westerners. mah bow tan is mr mah. everyone knows. but with all the twistings by the younger set, is he now mr tan? when we are doing the right thing and the right way all the time, lets stick to it and not the other way round. for whatever way you try, the telephone directory and computer system will still list it the correct way for you. ho see peh, ang ku kueh and ham chee peng. definitely not see peh ho, ku kueh ang and chee peng ham. hi mary crystal wong, are you reading? or hi ping ping teo?

2 comments:

redbean said...

another point which i missed to point out. the way the chinese name is structure reflects a philosophy, a way of life that emphasises the importance of the family. the self is subordinated to the group ie the clan and family.


on the contrary, the western names as it is, reflects the importance of the self. the i syndrome. i is more important than the family. society recognise an individual more than the family or clan.

redbean said...

the concept of having the family name first has far more consequences than one could imagine. mahathir also acknowledged that this simple idea is very useful in preventing in breeding within a family line. brothers and sisters do not get married. or first cousins from brothers do not get married as the probabilities of birth defects are that much higher. thus, people with the same surname, especially within the same family line are not supposed to get married.

in the malay society, the individual's name is followed by bin or son of so and so. eg ahmad bin ibrahim. then ahmad's son will become salleh bin ahmad, then manap bin salleh and so on and on. such a name system will quickly lose track of a family lineage within two or three generations. and it is very easy to inter marry as keeping track is that much more difficult.

the westerners also stick to a family name. a bush will be a bush. a kennedy, an eisenhower etc. not sure about the jews. their system is similar to the malays. moses ben hur or moses son of hur. presumably his children will be xx ben moses.