By Prof. Priyadarsi Mukherji
As the two Asian giants, both India and China have a shared heritage as well as many things in common. They may not see eye to eye over some issues, but, that is no excuse for ignorance, apathy or even antipathy. Many people among the so-called educated and political classes to people prefer to live in ivory towers puffed up with a “big know-all” arrogance! How many of us know that there are places in south and north-eastern parts of India where surnames precede people’s names?
There are only 537 monosyllabic and 63 disyllabic surnames in vogue among the Chinese. It is not very difficult for Indians to pronounce Chinese sounds
The Chinese place their surnames before their names. For example, in Mao Zedong, Mao is the surname, Ze is the indicator of his generation, and Dong is his personal name. Mao Anying and Mao Anqing his two sons are indicators of their generation, while Ying and Qing were their personal names. In modern times, such minute distinctions have practically disappeared.
In the name Xi Jinping, Xi is the surname, and Jinping is the name. Therefore, while writing his name with the honorific title, one should write President Xi or Mr. Xi (his surname) and not Mr. Jinping. Take special care while writing Chinese names with honorific titles. While calling Li Keqiang, one should address him by saying Premier Li, and not Premier Keqiang.
The Chinese order of positioning surnames before names is opposite to that of the West. Even Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese order is identical to the Chinese.
It seems the mainstream media in India hasn’t bothered to keep itself abreast about foreign names. It becomes very embarrassing when television anchors fumble and mispronouncing Chinese names leaders. It doesn’t take much effort to correctly pronounce and spell Chinese names.
In China, while meeting for the first time, people would ask, “May I know your precious surname?” Or, “How should I address you?” In India, we generally ask, “Aapka shubhnaam?” (Literally, “Your auspicious name?”). So, what are the characteristics of Chinese names and surnames? In Chinese surname is composed of “woman + born”, thus reflecting the fact that human societies in ancient times were matriarchal. The mother’s surname was passed down to the progeny. Later, as men constituted the major labor force in the society, things began to change in the patriarchal social system.
There has been an ancient book named “Baijiaxing” (A Hundred Surnames). It not only contained a hundred surnames, but in fact had more than 3700 surnames. As a matter if fact some 537 monosyllabic and 63 disyllabic surnames which are in vogue among the Chinese. Among the monosyllabic ones, Zhang, Wang, Li, Zhao, Liu are the most common surnames. Whereas Zhuge, Ouyang, Duanmu, Gongsun, Sima is the most widely used disyllabic surnames.
The Chinese surnames always are placed before their names. One is not supposed to call a Chinese by his name, in a formal address, which is considered humiliating.
Most, Chinese console themselves by thinking that Indians cannot pronounce Chinese sounds. But is it so difficult for multilingual Indians to pronounce Chinese sounds? No, it isn’t. The Sanskrit-based languages in India contain the largest number of sounds in the world. Indians are the best language-learners in the world. Only the keenest to know the Chinese sounds can imbibe better understanding of Chinese names.
Chinese names always carry profound meaning and aspirations. For example, expressions denoting abundance, high position, wealth, fortune and emoluments-are associated with the hope of getting rich. Words denoting peace, happiness, health, and pine tree-raise hopes for longevity. Such phrases meaning ridgepole, pillar, outstanding, handsome, ability or endowment-mirror some people’s aspirations to become talented figures contributing towards social welfare.
The name, Xi Jinping denotes-peace in the vicinity. In the name Li Keqiang, Li is the surname, and Keqiang indicates the sense of overcoming difficulties with might, or the power to overcome. At times the geographical realities around one’s birthplace is also indicated in names, like in Mao Zedong, Mao is the surname, but Zedong means-to the east of the marsh. Sometimes, parents desire to see good qualities, in their children.
Similarly in the name Zhou Enlai, Zhou is the surname, while Enlai stands for a person of grace, affection and love. The mention of a marsh in Mao’s name reflects that he had been from a peasant family. Whereas the refinement reflected in words of grace and love is a typical suggestion that Zhou hailed from an intellectual family. The name Jiabao in Wen Jiabao-actually means that the person who is darling of the family.
In many instances we find that doubling of one sound like Weiwei, Miaomiao, Baobao, Junjun-are intimate terms of endearment, or nicknames given by parents to their children when they are small. However, those names later on exist permanently with the persons concerned. Sometimes, the prefix a- is used in front of the monosyllabic personal name by which profound affection and love are conveyed by parents. Like the parents of one Shao Lidong used to call him as Adong. In such cases, prefix a- conveys a sense of endearment. It is a highly informal term not suited in the mouth other than parents or at the most bosom friends.
The names of Chinese men and women vary from each other. The dictions reflecting might, power, toughness and physical strength are generally used to name boys. For example, peaks, nation-building, flame, pillars, beam, valor, soldier, cutting edge, iron, diamond, etc. On the other hand, words depicting beauty become names of girls. For example, flowers, fragrance, lotus, orchid, tinkling of jade stones, elegance, rosy clouds, swallows, stringed musical instruments, etc.
In order to attain perfection and accuracy in pronouncing the Chinese names, Indians must remember that the Chinese Romanization system, found on roadside signboards or shop-signs, does not conform to the international phonetic transcription. And thus, it is impossible for foreigners to correctly pronounce the Chinese sounds without proper guidance or training. To help people in India to correctly read and write Chinese names and correctly transcribe Chinese sounds, I have written a book — “Chinese Sounds and Syllables: A Handbook for Indians.” Many students of Chinese language, some directors of private academic institutes have shown special interest to learn the sounds correctly. The book contains Chinese sounds and syllables in seven different Indian languages. Readers capable of reading the seven different Indian scripts can not only learn Chinese sounds and the correct way of spelling and writing Chinese names. The book also has many for tourists and any other useful information on China.
Anyone wanting to do business or wanting to get along well with Chinese may go through the handbook. The Gujarat Bhavan in Delhi has acquired copies of this book-of course, in their quest for enhancing business with China. The Indians cannot afford to remain ignorant and sound foolish in front of the Chinese guests. It is always better to equip oneself with accuracy and precision. Doesn’t efficiency emerge from perfection?