It got me thinking about how the names of the growing number of Chinese snooker players we are getting to see are used or mis-used.
And it also reminded me of a conversation I’d had a while back with another person who knew some Chinese. They’d pointed out that the westernised versions of the names of players were frustrating for them as they knew enough Chinese to have a go at pronouncing names correctly, but the lack of tone marks made it difficult.
So I thought I’d write a quick guide to help anyone who is interested in getting the basics right, but also throw in information about using tone marks (or tone numbers), plus some additional information for anyone who’s interested in knowing a bit more. Not that I’m an expert in Chinese, just a non-expert who’s looked it up or been told it by various people who should know. So ...
The ‘quick guide’ (four key points):
1. The family name (surname) comes first and the personal name comes second. So – Ding (family name) Junhui (personal name)
2. The vast majority of family names consist of one character (roughly equivalent to a syllable), personal names are fairly evenly split between those with one character and those with two. So Ding Junhui not Dingjun Hui. There are some two character family names, but these are generally less common names.
3. Chinese people refer to each other mainly by their full name not by just surname or by just their personal name (see 4, below). This applies even with friends and in casual conversation, not just in formal situations. It’s considered rude but not exceptionally rude to refer to someone by just their surname. Title plus surname is good, a title referring to their position in the community, workplace of whatever even better, especially if complimentary. An office manager might be Mr Li, or Manager Li, but never just ‘Li’. So – Ding Junhui (good), Ding (a bit rude), Mr Ding (polite), Cuemaster Ding (ok, I made that up, but good - I think!).
4. Chinese people do NOT use just the personal name on its own unless they are in an intimate personal relationship with someone (and even then maybe just in family situations, not in public situations). So Ding Junhui (good), Ding (a bit rude), ‘Junhui’ (rude).
Chinese Characters, Pinyin and Simplified Western Script
The only truly correct ways of writing Chinese words and names is to use Chinese characters, and even then many words (including some names) have a traditional and a simplified way of being written.
The Chinese authorities do however recommend three different ways of converting into the type of script used in English and many other western languages (often referred to as western script or roman script). One is to use simplified western script. This uses letters, which give a fair approximation of sound. Note that using simplified western script is NOT seen as being wrong.
Nonetheless, Chinese is a tonal language, so saying the same letter-sound combination in a different tone results in a different meaning (or a different name). So to pronounce Chinese correctly, you need to have an indication of tone. This can be done using tone marks or by using tone numbers, both forms being referred to as Hanyu Pinyin (more commonly just as Pinyin). Most modern computers come with software that accommodates Pinyin tone marks, but some don’t (or more often, users have opted not to load that part of the software) so when Pinyin is used you can get somewhat strange effects (So using the Pinyin for the word Pinyin can result in someone seeing ‘Pīnyīn’ on their screen).
A quick example for the name of one player (but noting this won’t be seen correctly by people without the correct software on their system) –
刘闯 (simplified Chinese characters)
劉闯 (traditional Chinese characters)
Liu Chuang (simplified western script)
Liú Chuǎng (Pinyin with tone marks)
Liu2 Chuang3 (Pinyin with tone numbers)
There are lots of converters on websites on the internet that gave the correct tone marks or tone numbers, all you need is to input the correct Chinese characters, and you get the correct Pinyin back. And some of the websites also have sound and can give the correct pronunciation too. EDIT e.g. http://www.purpleculture.net/chinese-pinyin-converter/
(I have a list of names in Chinese characters for the Chinese Pro players and a lot of the amateurs, I’ve picked them up mainly from my147.com which often posts results with the Chinese characters alongside the names in simplified western script, it helps if I’m searching for information about a player to be able to search for them by their name in Chinese characters).
1. The Chinese characters on which the names are based are written without spaces, and how these are converted depends on whether the person is from mainland China or from elsewhere. For mainland China, the convention is to place a space between the family name and personal name, but not between two parts of a personal name. So Ding Junhui not Ding Jun Hui. However, ex-colonies tend to still follow a convention based on the western ignorant assumption that each Chinese character must represent a separate word. So Lee Chun Wai not Lee Chunwai (aka Andy Lee). There is sometimes a compromise by using a hyphen (e.g. Fu Ka-chun - aka Marco Fu).
2. Although the Chinese languages share a common wrtten form, the names are not always spoken the same in each of the several languages that make up the Chinese language family. Most Chinese languages are further apart than say Danish and Swedish, often as far apart as English and German. Generally players in mainland China have their names appear in western script in the Mandarin form (Mandarin being the Chinese spoken by 80% or so of speakers worldwide), but a player from a region that isn’t Mandarin speaking is sometimes referred to using western script based on how their name would be spoken in the local Chinese language. With players from outside mainland China, the reverse is true – they’re commonly referred to using script based on how the name is pronounced in the local version of Chinese. Examples – Lin Tang Ho from Hong Kong, whose name would be Lian Tenghao (Pinyin Lián Ténghào) in a Mandarin-based script. The Chinese naming for Marco Fu is even more variable – local name in Hong Kong Fu Ka-chun, other forms of Cantonese Fu Ga Jeun, Mandarin Fu Jiajun (Pinyin Fù Jiājùn)
3. Western names are also used by some players from ex-colonies. Some were given the western name at around the time they were born by their families, others have adopted a name for use by western friends or media. The practice seems to be declining a little. There are two conventions on name order, either the western name is placed first so both western and Chinese names appear in the correct order – so Marco Fu Ka-chun, Zoe Ng On Yee or Alan Lin Tang Ho – or the western name appears last to ensure that in a database the name appears alongside other people with the same surname but no western name – so Fu Ka-chun Marco, Ng On Yee Zoe or Lin Tang Ho Alan. Whilst both are correct, note that journalists and spoken usage tend to favour the former, Government and other institutions the latter.
4. Note that some Chinese family names look, when written in western script, as if they consist of two syllables – such as the surname Liang (Liáng), which has only one Chinese character – and often these are pronounced in a way that sounds a bit like two syllables too, as they sort of slide between two sounds.
5. Most Chinese people are ethnically Han Chinese (generally what we think of as ‘Chinese’), but there are ethnic minorities, some of which put the personal name first and the family name second. Often (but not always) there’s a big clue in that their name is more than 3 syllables long. There are 2 leading amateur players that I believe are ethnically Uyghurs (or perhaps part Uyghur) – Rouzi Maimaiti and Maihe Muti, whose names can be treated like you would a western name.
6. As well as family and personal names, a lot of Chinese people used to have a generational name which would be shared between siblings and cousins of the same generation. Although the practice seems to have largely died out, it is still used by some people. As far as I can tell I’ve not seen a generational name used for any snooker player I’ve come across, but that could just be my lack of understanding.
7. It’s true that there are far fewer surnames in China than in most other parts of the world. However, that there are only 100 is a myth derived from popular Chinese culture, the term Baixing – literally ‘one hundred surnames’ – is used when referring to what we might term ‘the common people’. There is an ancient list of 100 surnames dating from the Song dynasty, but the list itself contains 504 surnames (60 of them double syllable names) as it groups various names together (No, I didn’t know how many – looked it up in that most accurate of souces (!), Wikipedia), and there have been many more recent variations.
The situation looks worse to westerners in that names that are different in Chinese characters are grouped together under the same Pinyin script, and then if simplified western script is used, even more are lumped together under one translation – so at least 11 different surnames end up in simplified western script as ‘Li’ (or using older conventions, ‘Lee’). Using Pinyin helps quite a bit, for instance the 4 most common names that convert to ‘Lu’ in simplified western script convert in Pinyin to Lù, Lǔ, Lú and Lù – so only one duplication. The standard way of converting Chinese script into simplified western script uses the u with 2 dots above it (an umlaut) derived from German as an additional letter. A common mistake is to also use ‘Lu’ when referring to the Chinese name that should be written Lü in simplified western script. The standard recommendation from the Chinese authorities is to use Lü unless the ‘u with umlaut’ is unavailable in the font, in which case Lyu should be used. In other places they recommend using ‘v’ when ‘u with umlaut’ is unavailable, so sometimes Lv is seen for this surname. In pinyin both an umlaut and a tone mark appear above the ‘u’ – so Lǚ. And to add to the potential confusion, the name Lü is ‘Lui’ in Cantonese.
Sorry so much info, hope it helps though!
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