Sunday, August 22, 2010

The name confusion

Some coworkers were working with some Chinese and some Indians and they were talking about how their names confused all of them. Here went the hilarious conversations:

A: You know it is very tough to work with the Chinese.
B: Why?
A: You don't know what their name actually are.
B: How's that?
A: There is this guy who's name is Zi Zhang, how am I supposed to know whether Zi is the first name or last name.
B: So what did you call him?
A: I called him Zhang and he replied, but later I found out Zhang is actually his last name.
B: Ops.
A: There is simply no way to guess which one is the first name.
B: You know same things happened to me when I was working with the Indians.
A: What happened?
B: We were in a conference call and I kept asking questions to this Indian guy but he never replied.
A: Why?
B: Each time I asked a question, I said "so Siddiqui could you please confirm this and that" and nobody answered, but I recognized his voice, he was there. Then I realized his first name was actually Apurv, since I was calling him with his last name with a French pronunciation, he didn't know I was talking to him.
A: Ops

I was sitting next to their office and their conversation made me smile. While it is confusing for the French to distinguish the first from the last name for the Chinese and Indians, it was confusing for me as well to identify the first name from the French's. Sometimes a common first name could be used as the family name, for example Thomas, Vivien. There are regional names that I had never heard of and some of them do not follow the usual French pronunciation. For example, most of the time you do not pronounce the S when it is situated at the end of a word, but there is always exception to the rule: for Mme Le Pous you need to pronounce the S because it is from the Brittany regional.

Well, life is a continuous learning experience.


  1. Well even for french native people it is often hard to guess the pronunciation of an unknown name.

    And being a Salaün out of Brittany isn't always fun.

    Anyway, just so that I know, what is the common order to say chines name ? "LAST first" like in Japan or "first LAST" like in most western cultures ?

  2. Most since French people insist on mispronouncing and misspelling our last name, I can understand how tough it is for a foreigner ...

  3. Jem,

    Normally for the Chinese we put the family name first then follow by the first name. This is in the case when the name is written in Chinese. In Malaysia, when I write in Malay or English, I will still put LastName First Name order (Tee Bee Ean). However, when I was in the USA, I realized it confused a lot of people so eventually I wrote Bee-Ean Tee. Anyway, there are only around 100 family names for the Chinese, if you deal a lot with them you will find out sooner or later whether it is a family name or first name. Example Chong, Zhang, Chan, Lee are all family names...

  4. Thanks for the info !