A basic guide to using Asian names

A basic guide to using Asian names




This has appeared many times on HN through the years, but worth referencing again:



The most important point:

> keep in mind that in all cases, the person’s preference is the most important thing to consider. If in doubt, just ask!

I'd be quite interested to read the converse article -- it's true that British names usually go "First Last", it's the exceptions that are hard to deal with. I know several people who go by a middle name, several more who are known by a diminutive that starts with a different letter of the alphabet to their formal name. Or who are known by their last name, because seemingly every other family in the South East of England called their early-80s son "Andrew".

But for an article like the one here, the interesting part would be to find out which aspects I think may be less interesting, but are actually surprising to people who haven't grown up with them.


I would also love to read, “cultural considerations in visiting Norman, Oklahoma” written for the South Asian audience. Or “how to manage your US born workers” for upper class Asians. “Getting along in the US suburbs for the shy Indian tech geek.”

To the extent these things exist, they are not easily accessible to English only US born people. Actually, I have just found my next series of Chat GPT questions.

That said, the original article was interesting and more details than I had picked up inductively over the years.


It’s not exactly the same thing, but you might be interested in Passport to the Pub. It’s a description of British pub culture written for visitors. As a Brit it’s quite amusing to read about something that has seemed normal forever, only to realise that it’s quite mad at times.



I'm also now imagining someone actually using this guide, walking into the sort of city centre gastropub popular with tourists, striding confidently past all the serving tables up to the bar, identifying a group of very drunk lads from out of town as "regulars" and trying to join in their banter, and then attempting to offer an even more confused Polish barman a drink...


Indeed. But beyond that, I first visited the UK in the late 1990s and found that a lot of the pub culture I had learned from 20th-century literature, film, or even supposedly contemporary episodes of Eastenders was already out of date. The merger of pubs into large chains, and the importance of serving food to ensure profitability, also came as big surprises. And by the first decade of the new millennium, it really did seem like every service staff I interacted with on brief forays to the UK was Polish, Lithuanian, or Latvian.


Cultural considerations in visiting Norman, Oklahoma:

- *Hospitality*: Oklahomian's will make a great fuss about their level of hospitality, and will often invite you to visit them in their home, using a phrase like "show up whenever! welcome to the neighborhood!" This is not a genuine invitation, and actually appearing in someone's home without a formal invite will be considered highly rude. This is an American phenomenon known as "chit-chat".

- *Dress:* Oklahomians have rigid norms around clothing and dress, specifically around sportswear. There are two kinds of sportswear and wearing one in place of the other is considered highly rude. Sports items like sneakers, shorts, t-shirts, and even sports jerseys are considered appropriate wear for almost all occasions ("casual"), but not for actual sporting, unless of a specific cut called "activewear" (lycra, spandex, etc). Wearing activewear in a social setting and casual wear in an active setting are both considered highly rude.

- *Children:* Oklahomians have very strict norms of childcare. Under no circumstances should you allow your children under the age of 12 to leave your home without supervision. This includes walking or riding a bicycle in your neighborhood. Young children under 10--even while under adult supervision--are not allowed in public places after 8pm. Expect to get comments or looks if you take your children to a park or shopping mall after dark. After 10pm expect police intervention.


> Expect to get comments or looks if you take your children to a park or shopping mall after dark. After 10pm expect police intervention.

Seriously? The police will intervene if you, with your children, are at the mall after 10pm?


Can I use "cultural considerations in visiting Norman, Oklahoma" in a play I'll probably never write?


GPT-4 said to study up on football, especially the Sooners, try the fried Okra, say please and thank you a lot, and get used to car dependence, vast empty spaces, extreme weather, confusing language styles of seeming friendly but not meaning it, and increased physical distance between even friends.


> study up on football

By "football", did you meant that hand-held oval-shaped thing?


> Or who are known by their last name

English males calling each other by their family name (or hereditary place name) is a long-standing public school (US: private school) tradition. Upper middle class and above.

Long ago, if brothers attended the school at the same time, the suffixes "major" or "minor" were appended if clarification was needed: Jones major, Jones minor. Three brothers, the third was minimus. Don't know if this still happens.


And let's not even start on more archaic / aristocratic or educational titles, like "master", "lord", "doctor" and "sir". Although it's great to be able to double down on those in some situations, like how women with doctorates are still often refered to as "miss" / "mrs" instead of "doctor".


It is funny on some websites (airline ones, for example) where you can include titles, not only relatively common ones like "Doctor" or "Reverend" but also things like "Excellency" or "Lord". I imagine more people pick these latter ones as a joke than people who are actually entitled to these honorifics.


If for some reason I were mentioned in a written communication from a surname-first country I would absolutely expect to have my surname first and I wouldn't care. I would also expect my name to be transliterated into other writing systems should that be required.

Is this really an important issue for people from surname-first countries?


This is just my gut feeling, but it smells like someone might be wanting to purge invalid Japanese names from an existing database of Asians, and it's not working out at all.


Russia is in Asia, Turkey is in Asia, Yemen is in Asia too among other countries, I think the article should be more specific than just limiting a whole continent in few countries.


Sometimes it's hard to know which Asian culture an Asian is from and under what system they are presenting their name.

A Vietnamese national working n the USA may say Thanh Nguyen (with Nguyen being their family name).

You basically have to memorize the top last names in every culture or just ask them what they want to be called.


This is a bit wrong for Thailand as it doesn't mention nicknames. Or rules for using the given name vs. nicknames. Unless in very formal context it's normal to use nicknames not given names. In day to day life nicknames are by far more commonly used than given names.

Family names are almost never used expect in legal documents or formal setting. It's common for people who have been friends for years to not know each other's family names as they are so rarely used in day to day life.

It's also common also for friends/coworkers to not know each other's given names -- though less so than family names. Especially as you would never call someone you're friends with by their given name as it would be a bit rude. Usually in offices (unless very old fashioned) or with friends and family you'd use nicknames exclusively.


Since you know more about this subject, I have a question on this topic that I've wondered for over two decades.

In 2001, I did a month long exchange program to Thailand. A group of eight Canadians stayed with eight Thais, and the year before they stayed with us. Incredible program.

All the Thais, as you mention, had nicknames. But many of the nicknames were English words that weren't really used as names in the West. I lived with a guy named 'Knight'. Another guy was 'Farm'.

Were these names Anglicized versions of Thai nicknames? Or were the actual nicknames just sometimes pulled at random from an English dictionary?


They're the actual nicknames. Back some thirty years ago, people were still named using Thai words like "Daeng" (Red), "Kai" (Chicken), "Noi" (Small), "Nam" (Water), while a Thai-Chinese family may have their elder member in the family name their children with a Chinese word. (e.g., mine was named by my great-grandmother, and if I were to spell my nickname properly in Chinese it would likely be "Shen", though I've never cared enough to confirm)

However, the influence of western media in recent years caused this to slowly shift into English words in the past twenty or so years. So nowadays it's not uncommon to find someone named "Night", "Nick", "Note", "Buddy", etc. There was also a brief period where people named their kids based on a Korean star they like (though not as popular as English-sounding names).

(And yes, getting referred to by first name on a website is always very weird to me :)


If Thailand is like China, they were English names chosen by kids in English class. Not their real nicknames, just the names they use when speaking and writing English, and chosen with all the tact and creativity of a middle schooler without much knowledge about standard English names in the west. Also, since Chinese names often have meaning, they often go for English names with meaning as well (although unrelated to their Chinese name).

A famous English name in expat in China circles is Rainy.


> A famous English name in expat in China circles is Rainy.

Funny that. A friend of mine since high school - who is white and has never been to Asia - has the first name Rainey. Not a nickname.

I've never met anyone else with the name!


let me just state the order of names is not standardized in Europe either, darn Hungarians.

(Nobody actually cares, but I do get constant confusion as a foreigner in Budapest because people sometime expect surname-first and sometimes given-first, trying to accomodate for me)


Something I've seen genealogists do, as well as some French-speaking Lebanese, and maybe others that I haven't noticed or encountered, is to put the surname in all caps to disambiguate e.g. 'Harrison Paul JEFFERSON'


It's common in France and ex French colonies to use "LAST NAME, First Name" on official documents, including resumes.


It's not unheard of in the UK either on official documents to put last name first, for example a lot of correspondance from banks etc would be "to mr lastname firstname"


In France both orders are used, depending on context.


In south Indian names:

> Initials are often used to shorten the name.

A fun complication to this is that the initial may be more than one letter in English, taking the first consonant as it is in the source language (which uses an alphasyllabary), which may correspond to more than one letter in the Latin script; for example, “Ch. Naveen”.


Initials also include Sh. which means Shriman or Shri for males and Smt. which mean Shrimati


They aren't initials and shouldn't be used as such.


That seems more like an abbreviation, like English titles such as “Mr.” and “Mrs.”?




“Ch.” could be short for “Choudhary,” a title.

Or for “Chiranjeevi,” usually used on wedding cards before the groom’s name.


In early 20th century Australia some common names were abbreviated rather than initialled, often seen on business names. For instance George was Geo. and Charles was Chas.


I've only ever heard of this in the context of some Roman Latin inscriptions on grave markers.

If I'm not mistaken, some of those can't be interpreted at all because they're ambiguous.


I know a couple of people in Hyderabad where it’s definitely family name. But yeah, the mixture of initials and abbreviations of titles and such can readily become difficult to penetrate.


It's always worth referencing the classic Falsehoods programmers believe abut names: https://www.kalzumeus.com/2010/06/17/falsehoods-programmers-...

(I think this is the original "Falsehoods programmers believe about ..."?)


Should we not simply be following the rules of the language spoken at the time? When speaking English, use the English convention. When speaking Japanese, use the Japanese convention etc.


The issue is that the convention in many languages is that the name order depends on the origin of the name in question. In Japanese for example, native Japanese names are always spoken in Family-Given order but English names are always spoken Given-Family. So then the problem is now everyone must become an expert in discerning the origin of names just so they can use the correct order.


As a Japanese native I'm torn on this. On one hand, respecting the local ordering & notation seems to be good manners. On the other hand, this creates an ambiguity where some people are writing Asian names in local notation and some others writing in western notation. (This is even true for Japanese people themselves, as mentioned in the other comments.)

At least things were consistent when everyone wrote them in western notation; now we can't be sure which part is the family name and which part is the given name, especially if it's from a country that you're not familiar with the order/notation rules. There's the "write the family name in all caps" rule to assist with it, but not everyone follows that rule either.


As a westerner, when Japanese names are written out, I like having the family name capitalized. That way, you can write YAMADA Koji or Koji YAMADA, and I'll know what to call you.


Fun fact: the Japanese government insists that foreigners use the name they have in their passport in official documents. That includes the middle name. My middle name has thus crept in all over the place. I've barely ever used it in my home country, but now have to use it everywhere (I live in Japan). Anyways, more relevant to OP, as a result, sometimes I'm called by my middle name, as if it were my last name (because the order is last first middle and they must assume that the literal last is the last name...)


I also live in Japan, and I have exactly the same problem.

I think the people with the biggest name problems in Japan may be ethnic Chinese. Many use the Japanese readings for their name characters in daily life, but some official purposes require the Chinese readings. Some Chinese also use yet another given name in English. I've had some friends who ran into serious problems proving they were who they were.

Addendum: Another problem that some people with Chinese names have in Japan is that the hanzi/kanji in their names do not display properly or at all in Japanese fonts, and even if the characters can be displayed they don’t have well-known Japanese readings, so people using phonetic input don’t know how to type the characters.


While we're here with fun facts. I've been living here for ten years, and haven't needed a registered seal until recently. To register my seal (using katakana) at the city hall, I needed to register my katakana name at the city hall too, which I never needed and had never done. How do you that? By presenting a somewhat official document with your katakana name, which none of the official IDs (resident card or driver's license) have. The document they would accept are a cash card or a passbook from a bank. How did the bank get my katakana name in the first place? I made it up. So what's the point? Who knows.


China also has this policy. Oddly enough, your middle name is often seen as part of your first name, so your first name is no longer “Sean”, it is “Sean Clarence”. Oh, and your last name is now two words because there is a space after the Mc in your passport to account for the non-standard capitalization.


That's funny, that would make it funny or awkward for me. While I don't have a middle name, I have 3 first names (as is customary in France: my first name, my godfather first name and my godmother first name). That means I have 2 male first name and a female one.

While some people use their second first name (it's rare but not unheard of), I don't know anyone who uses their third first name. In all but very official documents, you simply use one of your first name and your last name and that's it.

If I put my last name first and then my 3 first names, the female first name will come last. Let's just say no one has ever called me that, and I won't answer to it.


I have a Indonesian Chinese friend who has strange name. She said her parents made up her name preventing the massacre against Chinese.


Wow! That was a heavy burden for those parents. Imagine knowing that a misstep in the naming of your child would cause the death of many people.


Are you familiar with the Indonesian genocide? It was pretty awful but it seems like the world at large is unaware of what happened.


I think he's joking about the parent saying the name of that individual prevented the massacre.


Yes, somewhere around 1966, ethnic Chinese living in Indonesia where pressured/forced to adopt an Indonesian-sounding name: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_Indonesian_surname#196...


There were discussions on this topic here, just 19 days ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=37332126

The hivemind consensus among most popular recommendations was to have a nickname field, followed by a full name field only if must, and don't try to validate names, Asian or not. Which is btw exactly how most social medias are built right now.


A fun thing about Thailand is that if your name is David Jones you will often be addressed as Mr. David. (Aka Khun David.)

Takes a minute to realize this is not a mistake.

[edit:] Also if you use a nickname, say Bunny Colvin, you will be Mr. Bunny.


This is common in the American southeast too.


Brazil does this too


And this is why we need to really rethink the typical patterns on form inputs, which today usually presume a western style name pattern.

Just ask people for their full name, and what they would prefer to be called. (Unless you literally cannot provide your services' value without more detail).


I think most online forms I encounter these days have a single name field, though government forms are usually the exception. Separate first and last name fields was definitely very common 10-20 years ago but web devs seem to have learned since then.


The guidance on Japanese names is a bit simplistic. Yes, the Japanese government has announced a surname-first policy, but Japanese people are not bound by that policy. I have hundreds of name cards (meishi) that I have received from Japanese businesspeople, academics, and government officials over the years, and my rough estimate is that more than half who indicated their name in English on the card put their surname last.

For more nuanced guidelines, I recommend the Japan Style Sheet published by the Society of Writers, Editors, and Translators in Tokyo. It can be downloaded for free at [1]. An excerpt:

“Japanese write their names in their own language surname first, as do Chinese and Koreans. After contact with the West was reestablished in the mid-nineteenth century, many Japanese adopted the practice of giving their surname last in international contexts. Japanese learn in school to reverse their names when writing or speaking in English and their domestic English-language media follow this practice, as do almost all other media around the world. Especially in translations, either name order may be adopted. Writers and editors may also choose a hybrid approach.” (p. 37)

[1] https://japanstylesheet.com/download-jss/


Given names are only used in Japan in informal settings between people you know well, like friends and family. Work, school, and general life would use surname + honorific. The honorific is not optional.

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I think it's okay. Japanese names written in latin alphabet is just the trade name anyway, a transcription. "The real" name, subjectively, is always in Japanese.

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So when it's written in a English, write it English style? That's actually very reasonable, as long as Japanese publications write western names in the Japanese order.


I don't think this is surprising. Many Chinese do so as well because they are educated that westerners put the first name first, so they follow the Western convention for English names.

Edit: cellphone keypad


> The guidance on Japanese names is a bit simplistic

The title of the page is a "basic guide". Not a "comprehensive guide".

And they note that "the person’s preference is the most important thing to consider", which already covers your "but I have name cards in a different format" objection.


> The title of the page is a "basic guide". Not a "comprehensive guide".

Straw man. Thep post could give more useful advice with a few extra words without being "comprehensive".

> And they note that "the person’s preference is the most important thing to consider", which already covers your "but I have name cards in a different format" objection.

The post suggests putting Japanese family names first, with a generic, obvious disclaimer at the top about personal preference taking priority. There a lot more to what tkgally (who is a professor emeritus at University of Tokyo and former professional translator, by the way) said about that than "I have name cards in a different format". For one, he estimated 50% of the business cards he received had the family name last. He also linked the guidance from the Japan Style Sheet which provides many additional points in favor of not assuming the family name goes first.


Japanese people sometimes use the French-like convention of capitalizing the family name (e.g., "Hayao MIYAZAKI", not that he actually does this) so you can tell which is which without knowing a priori what order the named person prefers to write their name in English.


We should all really remove "first name" and "last name" from our vocabularies. They literally refer to written order, but when most (western) people use them, what they actually mean are given and family names.


And they make little sense when someone has two family names (father and mother), because then you have to call them "first last name" and "second last name".


They make no sense in the context of this article at all, because "last name first" is nonsensical. East asians don't put their "last names first". Their first names are their surnames. Anyone who says "last name first" has the right spirit, but they still are missing the entire point.

The beginning of everyone's name is their first name, because that's what "first" means.


There are two issues, and the guidance about what order to use given names or surnames is only one part. I don't intuitively know which name is which, and it's impossible to guess whether the order given to me represents either the correct order, which I should preserve, or the incorrect order, which I should reverse. There is nothing inherent in a name that tells me what what is what; that's entirely cultural knowledge learned, traditionally, by making mistakes and being corrected.

So, all else equal, it makes more sense to me to just repeat the name I've been given (by the news, for example) as it's at least conceivable they've already done the research and are using it correctly.

I've also only rarely met people who even get angry if you get their name wrong, and those people seem to be angry about other things too. I can see why a public official would want to set the record straight. I have never seen a real person in the world care about this issue, including myself when I am misnamed.


A bit like programming: url.hostname, or hostname url.


> A bit like programming: url.hostname, or hostname url.

What do you mean? A URL contains its hostname.




Maybe hostname.network or network.hostname? Like assume computers alpha and beta in network alphabet, then there's a choice between alpha/beta.alphabet or alphabet.alpha/beta.


Westernized Chinese names seem to be missing. For example, in Hong Kong it's common to have both Chinese and Western first names. This leads to a complex rule:

Using the Western name only: WESTERN-FIRST CHINESE-LAST

Using the Chinese name only: CHINESE-LAST CHINESE-FIRST


(CHINESE-FIRST can be one or two characters). I think I got that right?


I see the dual-first-name thing a lot with consultants, but within the West I think it's typically Western-first, Chinese-first, Chinese-last, isn't it? Which is extra confusing.


Right, here in Singapore you might see Andrea Tan Zixuan


It's unfortunate that you refer to them as "LAST" and "FIRST" when the whole point of the exercise is to decouple ordering from naming.

"Christian name" and "surname" is closer to what you want, but problematic for different reasons.

It should be "Western-given", "Chinese-given", "Chinese-family".


Is there some website or something where you can enter a Japanese name in unspecified order and receive a guess on which is family name and which is given name?


Japanese first/last names are largely separate, so it would be pretty safe to just find someone on wikipedia who shares either name and use them as a guide.

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This would seem easily avoidable if people reverted back to using only last names [1] and an honorific, as was once common in the Western world. Mr. Smith, Ms. Jones, etc.

1. I mean family names here


People never exclusively used family names in the western world, at least not the way you imagine.


I didn't mean "exclusively" as in they didn't have a first name, just that they were referred to by their last names in public settings. Even a few decades ago, it was still somewhat informal to refer to strangers by their first names.


Thought that was obvious from the context in the article, which is about political leaders.


By last name, you mean family name, right?

In Indonesia we always use an honorific followed by a person's preferred name. Very simple!


Yes, family name, my mistake.


Agree, I do that all the time, I also feel it is a little more respectful to call someone by their family name rather than just name. Additionally, it’s better in terms of privacy in the internet, less phishing and social engineering attacks.


That doesn’t work if the culture in question doesn’t use family names. For instance Malays use their given name followed by their father’s given name. Would you really refer to somebody as “Mr [their father’s given name]”?


That's actually how Western family names originally worked in part -- that's why things like Richardson and Johnson are common nanes (Richard's son and John's son). Of course other ones also came from professions like Smith, Baker, Cooper (maker of barrels), etc.


Hmm, well reading the Wikipedia indicates that bin is used, which is similar to Arabic. It doesn’t seem that odd to call someone Mr. bin Osman. However the article does say that it’s considered rude to call someone by their father’s name in Malay culture.



This is a little picky, but the explanation of Chinese names given is Han-centric: there’s definitely other kinds of Chinese names too, like Tibetan and Uyghur.


> there’s definitely other kinds of Chinese names too, like Tibetan and Uyghur.

Xi has a solution for those irregularities.


When I receive emails from @name I usually open my response with "Dear $name[0]" but I know better than to do that with Asian-sounding names.

However, I never knew exactly what to do instead, so I've always chickened out and went with the full "Dear @name" in the same order that I was given the names.

I hoped this would enlighten me as to the appropriate way to go, but I clearly overestimated the homogeneity of Asian name conventions!


It's often the case that people will sign off with a form of their name that they're happy to be addressed by.

- Andrew


That's a good point, thanks andrewaylett!


In my opinion you should tailor your speech to your audience. Your audience getting the correct meaning is more important than them hearing the correct words. You should say things in such a way that they'll be correctly interpreted. Not doing so for the sake of pedantry is like feigning shock when a group of young people look at you askance for calling someone "niggardly".


Strange that it mentions nicknames for Indonesia, but not for Thailand, where you'd almost exclusively use someone's nickname for addressing them by name.

Also, Balinese names[0] are a trip if you're not familiar with them, where people are named by birth order (up to 4 -- after that you stick "again" on the name).

0: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balinese_name


This seems like the perfect place to ask.

I was recently watching an international sporting event. I watched games from South Korea and Japan, and with both countries I couldn't figure out if the Latin script name on their backs was their family name or given name.

With South Korea I guessed it was their given name, someone had either Park or Moon as a name but a different name on their back. But with Japan I couldn't tell.

Anyone know how they commonly handle jerseys? Searching "Japanese jersey name" was unhelpful.


How I approached this question:

Googled pictures of the Japanese National baseball team, and then googled their wikipedia, noted that the english wikipedia article lists their names in western naming order (first first, family second). Matched some of the players names to the names on their jerseys in the photos.

They have names on their jerseys like "Nakano" (#7) and "Okamoto" (#25) and "Nakamura" (#27) - these are their family names.


For whatever reason, my first name is almost universally mispronounced in America. So early on, I made a decision to let it go and in fact introduce myself by how most English speakers said it. No regrets whatsoever, any time spent sorting phonetics out is time wasted not getting to substance of the matter we want to discuss. I also suspect that if I made a stink about it, many people would avoid me because I have a thing they need to deal with.

So I don't get the current trend where everyone is your majesty and god forbid someone mangles your name, your pronoun if you didn't make it obvious by your attire or didn't spell your country with a diacritical mark not found on their keyboard. You still know that it's you and that people are just relating to you in a way which is convinient to them right? Now get to what is it that you need to do together - write some Java code, or talk about your day or whatever.


My name is Fred. Oddly, despite being a not uncommon name in the English speaking world, English speakers never get it. They hear and call me Brett, Brad, Frank, Greg... anything but Fred. And it's not because I have a strong uncommon accent or anything, my accent is just a generic North American accent, most people think I'm Canadian.

Like you I've also kind of given up and usually just roll with it.

I do see where you're coming from re not getting offended but not sure I agree completely with that - I do think there's room for improvement or at least making an effort with unfamiliar names. (but demanding perfection is likewise rude)


I agree to some extent. There's definitely weirdos that purposefully use names and pronoun mangling to antagonize or ostracize someone, or put in literally no effort to respect someone. I've definitely heard/seen "your name's too hard, I'll just call you $some_arbitrary_name" like an adopted animal or something and that always struck me as a dick move.

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Yes, though the opposite also happens: people spend time struggling over your name when you don't want to be a language tutor.


Yes I also think that's weirdo behavior. I'm just pointing out there may very well be a reason why someone may be insisting on pronoun/name correctness-- if the other guy's being a dick about it.


It’s a little bit of a complicated issue. On the one hand, my great-grandfather gave up using a patronym to be an American. That’s a totally normal thing, and it’s weird to complain about it. In Japan, they were often confused about which of my names was personal and which was for my family, and they never quite figured out the deal with my middle name / initial. Cultures are different, and you can’t expect everyone in one country to know everything about another.

On the other hand, some people make a big show out of not knowing how to pronounce common Indian names, and that strikes me as silly/microaggressive. Hindi is spelled phonetically in English, so it’s not very hard.

On the third hand though, Chinese names are often spelled with a Romanization that wasn’t designed for use by English speakers, so of course they can’t do it. If you want them to not mangle your name, use the Yale Romanization.

I think people want there to be a simple answer like “everyone just change your name to John Smith” or “if they can’t pronounce Xi Jinping, they’re racists” but simple answers don’t really apply. We’re all just going to muddle through the best we can.


> Hindi is spelled phonetically in English, so it’s not very hard.

In my experience it's extremely hard to get right. At one of my jobs pronunciation of Indian words (mostly food and names) was a fairly common topic of conversation and it was impossible for the non-Indians to get correct. To my American ear it usually sounded exactly the same (even if it wasn't me saying it) but they would always say it wasn't quite right.


The reason for this is probably that Hindi has a few extra sounds that just don’t exist in English.

For many consonants Hindi has 2 versions (aspirated and non-aspirated). It also has several different kinds of “d” sounds instead of just 1


I agree on the "death by thousand cuts that people with foreign names experience in the US" It reminds me of the meme that reads:

"You speak English because is the only language you know. I speak English because is the only language you know. We are not the same".

Why Starubucks insist on asking for my name just to mangle it in the cup for posterity?


> my great-grandfather gave up using a patronym to be an American

I'd be interested to hear the story there. When it comes to surnames, AFAIK nearly every US state lets you put basically any arbitrary assembly of English characters as the last name for a child, with even fewer restrictions on the last names for adults.


I would assume the reason is not a legal one, but a cultural one, i.e. having a very obviously foreign name a few generations ago in the US might make you a target of discrimination. Changing something like "Alexei" to "Alex" would help you stand out less.


Ah but at immigration you may have been expected to spell your name and were sort of at the whim of the official (who was helping intake many people)

Lots of reasons you might not have your official name written or heard correctly

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> Hindi is spelled phonetically in English

This isn’t the case. I have a formal background in linguistics and have a vague familiarity with the Indic branch of the Indo-European languages in general, and I still occasionally screw up in pronouncing Hindi (or other Indian languages’) words that are written in informal Latin transliteration. Most notably, whether the sound written <a> denotes [ə] or [aː] is often ambiguous.


As someone with a name that is hard (impossible?) for native English speakers to pronounce, I take the same pragmatic approach as you do with one caveat. I do not mind people mispronouncing or misspelling my name as long as they at least try. I answer to any of the common mispronunciations or misspellings but would bristle if someone decided to ignore my name altogether and decide to make up a name for me.

My thinking is this is about respect and courtesy. I understand the linguistic limitations of living in a multicultural world but there is no similar limitation on our ability to try and meet other people at least some of the way.


Nothing wrong with providing an approximate pronunciation of your name with sounds available in the local language. It's reasonable and respectful for the person opposite you to make an effort along those lines. It's unreasonable for him to learn new sounds! My girlfriend has a name that I still can't pronounce like in her language but I and others approximate and that's good enough. No one expects her to adopt a local name, no one.

[deleted by user]

I admire your pragmatism. I think it's quite neat how your chosen name reflects that aspect of your self, too.


It's a "pick your battles" kinda thing, you're not gonna get someone at Starbucks write your name down properly if it isn't something they can easily hear over the murmur of a crowd.

That said, if I were in that situation I would double down on it in anything formal - documents, graduation ceremonies, weddings, lawsuits, etc.


I have a coworker named Domas. It's pronounceable enough, but he uses Thomas (which is actually just a variation of the same name in some cultures) as his Starbucks name for...reasons.


I don’t see any problem with what you choose to do.

Neither do I see a problem with someone who would want their name to be pronounced correctly.


> So I don't get the current trend where everyone is your majesty and god forbid someone mangles your name, your pronoun if you didn't make it obvious by your attire or didn't spell your country with a diacritical mark not found on their keyboard

Do you genuinely not get why other people feel disrespected when their identifying characteristics aren't respected? I find that hard to believe.


> So I don't get the current trend where everyone is your majesty and god forbid someone mangles your name

The advice that people react well if you pronounce their name correctly has been widespread since, at the very least, Dale Carnegie's 1936 "How to Win Friends and Influence People" so not really a recent trend.

And of course in some situations other people's treatment of your name can have a major impact on your career - for example, if academics reference papers as "FamilyName et. al. (year)" it might benefit your career a great deal if they identify your family name correctly.

I agree that widespread chosen pronouns are a recent trend, though.


> The advice that people react well if you pronounce their name correctly

Yes, but it doesn't mean you have to keep forcing the person to try to pronounce your name perfectly when it includes sounds that their native language doesn't have.


I have a common western given name, but pronunciation varies wildly across Europe (where the name's common) based on the language's phonetics. It's perfectly fine.


I have a european name that is difficult to pronounce for americans (even me!), and I adopted the same approach. It's mildly annoying, because my name as pronounced by americans has a lot of connotations I don't necessarily love, but I know who folks mean

coffee shops are impossible though. I have a coffee shop name, because they are even more wildly out of pocket with what they hear my name is than the median conversation


As a Brazilian living in Canada, a coffee shop name is a must have. I tried using my name, but then Ill have to spell it. And then they are going to mispronounce it when reading it, so I'm not gonna know it's me they are calling.


> your pronoun if you didn't make it obvious by your attire

This is still a minefield, especially among teenagers and very young adults who latch on to any opportunity to assert their individuality. I have met more than one man who wears female clothing and cosmetics and adopts female mannerisms, yet still insists that he is non-binary or a “non-binary male” and so his pronouns will be “he” or “they”, and you might get chewed out for using the wrong pronoun.


Having dealt with this many times, it’s usually just easier to apologize and use their preferred pronouns/name. I tend to store that information in my contacts list.

On the other side, I’ve had to deal with changing my assumed name and some people just insist on using my previous assumed name. (Most people know me as Kayodé, not my legal name.) A few people forget from time to time. I can only imagine what it’s like for people who change their legal name instead keeping it for convenience.

Identity is a pain in the ass and it’s just not worth the argument.


My friend, in America, is named Alok. When he started school the teacher said “That’s not a name, in my class your name is Alex.”

You know that not everyone is relating to you with good intentions, right? And that their convenience isn’t the most important thing in the world?

How far does your magnanimity extend? Can people just say “hey you, shithead” and you think that shouldn’t affect the interaction?


It was horrible of that teacher if it was not just an icebreaker sort of light-hearted remark. Though I might find it inappropriate nonetheless.

Did Alok protest?


Out of curiosity, in Asian countries do they write westerners’ names family first?


In some of these countries, nationality is a weak proxy for what actually matters for name order; ethnicity. Take for example Malaysia. Yes, ~70% of the population are Malay Muslims who (mostly) follow the convention mentioned here. But you also have 20%+ Chinese, ~7% Indians (with considerable ethnic diversity!), and an assortment of native peoples, all who follow their own conventions.


I'm from Europe but lived in Singapore for 10 years and worked with people from all over.

There were a lot of names that surprised me, like the occasional man with a female name. One was named Wendy, the other one I forgot. I think he was from the Philippines, or maybe Malaysia. Many Asian languages don't have male/female names, so when the parents want to pick a western name for their newborn they don't always consider the gender (maybe that has changed nowadays).

Another thing I had not come across before is fake western names. The parents want to give the kid a name that sounds western but don't want to limit themselves to the standard catalogue of names, so instead they pick two names and combine them, or one name and rearrange the letters. So you get folks named Danold, Stevid and so on.


Guessing these weren't native Singaporeans (where English is an official language and British influence is still obvious)?

There are also names like Leslie and Ashley that are more associated with women in the US, but have historically been gender-neutral.


> Guessing these weren't native Singaporeans (where English is an official language and British influence is still obvious)?

Most of them were probably from other countries, but I know of at least one Singaporean lady with a fake western name. In her case the parents had arranged the syllables of her Chinese name into a European-sounding combination (quite clever IMHO and more authentic than a name from the "catalogue").


Someething similar to your “fake western names” has been a feature of Brazilian culture going at least back to the early 20th-century. A segment of Brazilians will give a child a name ending in “-son”,[0] even if it is invented out of whole cloth, just because an English sounding name sounds prestigious. A quick online search shows people disparaging this as a practice of the lower classes, but over the decades as some families have grown wealthier, this is widely found among the middle class, too.

[0] https://portuguese.stackexchange.com/questions/8634/what-is-...