Paradox Of A Name: What’s In A Name Anyway?

Name Tag

A name is what you are known by, But on the same context, it is also formed and, to a certain extend, governed by geographic location, culture, history, and most importantly, your family practice. So what’s in a name anyway?

Categorisation Of A Person’s Name

For the sake of easy categorisation, and the ease of database recording, a person’s name, as practised in the western civilised world (and the World Wide Web) is normally broken down into:-

  • First-Name
  • Middle-Name
  • Last-Name

That’s a pretty easy concept to grasp, especially if your name is “John Paul Smith”. “John” would be your first-name, “Paul” your middle-name, and “Smith” your last-name. Pretty easy, right?… Except that not everybody lives in the western civilised world. And not everybody goes by the same naming categorisation as the western civilised world.

Square Name In A Round Naming Classification

While the naming concept mentioned above can be applied to the Japanese name, in which “Hiroshi Nakayama” can be classified as:-

  • First-Name – Hiroshi
  • Middle-Name – [None]
  • Last-Name – Nakayama

Unfortunately, other cultures with other naming convention cannot fit into the same naming concept. For example, a Chinese chap called “Chen Li Siang”, a Korean chap called “Park Jeon Kook”, an Indian chap called “Ramasamy son of Muniandy”, and an Malay chap called of “Mohammed Rashid bin Mohammed Abidin”

So how exactly do the citizens of non-western civilised world fill in the name columns of standardised forms, be it a computer form or a paper form?

Failure Of The Concept

Chinese and Korean naming convention is rather similar, in that the surname (family-name) is right up front, while the given name, follows the surname.

So in the case of the Korean chap, is his first-name “Park”?… Because if it is, then his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, so on and so forth, all share the same first-name, “Park”. And none of them share the same last name “Kook” with our Korean chap either. So are they even related?… Not according to the western civilised world naming convention. Plus, the last name “Kook” doesn’t stand alone either. He is called “Jeon Kook” by his friends, as that is his given-name.

And no, you can’t exactly classify his first-name as “Jeon Kook” and his last-name “Park” too. That will indicate that his name is arranged as “Jeon Kook Park”, which is completely against the Korean cultural naming convention. Korean surnames are always up front, as a person’s surname carries a heavier emphasis than his given-name, thus the surname is always up front, instead of right at the end, like in the western civilised world.

Same goes for the Chinese chap too – “Chen” is his surname, while “Li Siang” is his given-name.

The Indians and Malays (and perhaps other cultures too) have a completely different naming convention, in that they don’t even have surnames to indicate familial relationship at all. Their naming concept is one with their given-name up front, followed by the paternal-name. So our Indian chap’s given-name is “Ramasamy”, and he is the son of “Muniandy”, while our Malay chap’s given-name is “Mohammed Rashid”, and he is the son of “Mohammed Abidin”. Notice that they do not even have a surname at all.

Hello!… You Can Call Me Bob Chen!…

The Chinese are also adding in their own little confusion in the naming convention too. Many Chinese have adopted an English given-name to accompany their Chinese name, citing the ease for others to remember their name, and to prevent the often difficult and exaggerated pronunciation of a Chinese name by non Chinese-speaking people.

Let’s take the Chinese chap in the example above. He has adopted the English name “Robert” to his ethnic Chinese name “Chen Li Siang”. So his name is now “Robert Chen Li Siang”. Notice that the surname “Chen” is neither the first-name, nor the last-name… Are you confused yet?…

A Failed Concept?

The concept of compass direction fails when you are standing on the geographic North Pole, as there is no North, East or West directions where you are standing. And every direction that you turn to is facing the South. Perhaps it is much better to simply quote the Latitude and Longitude instead? In this case, at the geographic North Pole, the Latitude is 90ºN and, well, the Longitude is essentially undefinable.

So there are at least two locations on Earth that the concept of compass direction fails, the geographic North and geographic South. Likewise, there are numerous cultures that the generally accepted western civilised world’s naming convention fails too.

Hello, You Can Call Me…

I’m a Malaysian national of Chinese heritage. Therefore, I have an ethnic Chinese name. In addition to having my name written in traditional Chinese characters, it is also romanised as “Chow Wei Ming”. My surname is “Chow”, while my given-name is “Wei Ming” in its entirety. Please note that I do not have a middle-name of any sort.

Ever since the rapid expansion of the World Wide Web the whole world over, and having had to register numerous accounts of many types, I have always found that it is really difficult to key in my name in any of the accounts according to the western civilised world’s naming norm. Do I key in my first-name as “Chow”, as it comes up first in the original way it is written? Or do I key in “Wei Ming” as my first-name instead, as it is interpreted as a given-name?

I have people addressing me as “Mr. Ming”, which is completely wrong… You should address me as “Mr. Chow”, not “Mr. Ming”. And then I have my name recorded in my credit card account as “Ming/Chow Wei”… What on earth is that???… My surname isn’t “Wei”, so please don’t call me “Mr. Wei”.

Solving The Ignorant’s Problem While Maintaining My Original Naming Sequence

I have since come up with an ingenious solution (if I may say so myself) to solve the problem of subtly indicating which is my given-name and which is my surname, all the while maintaining the writing sequence of my name in its original form.

Hello, my name Is CHOW, Wei-Ming (holding my right hand out), and what’s your name?…

One Reply to “Paradox Of A Name: What’s In A Name Anyway?”

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