China plans to impose limits on the Chinese characters that may be used in personal names, according to Bao Suixian, deputy director of the Public Security Management Bureau under the PRC Ministry of Public Security. I regard this as a step in the right direction.
[Bao] said the aim is to standardize names of Chinese citizens, and especially “reduce the incidence of rarely-used characters.”
But how big the database will be or when the draft will be completed was not disclosed. (China Daily)
A June 2005 article in a Taiwan magazine reports, “In [the] future, names in mainland China will be restricted to a choice of 12,000 characters.” If that’s at all reliable, I suspect the number would be derived from China’s now-outdated GB 2312-1980 character set (7,445 characters, 6,763 of which are Hanzi) plus the 4,600 “supplemental characters” being added. A project at Peking University compiled the latter list of obscure characters from names throughout the country.
Bào Suìxiàn biǎoshì, jìn 3 niánlái, Běi-Dà fāngzhèng zìkù yǐ cóng quánguó gèdì sōují dào 4,600 ge lěngpì zì, mùqián, quánguó gè zhì zhèng zhōngxīn zhèng ānzhuāng lěngpì zì ruǎnjiàn, ruǎnjiàn kāigōng hòu, yuánlái yīn lěngpì zì méiyǒu lǐngdào shēnfen zhèngjiàn de gōngmín, duǎnqī nèi kěyǐ lǐngdào xīn zhèng. (Beijing News)
But even with 4,600 more characters — a list more than two-thirds the size of the original — the list isn’t big enough. Beijing officials have already run up against 231 characters that still aren’t covered by the new system. There are sure to be even more.
I should probably note that learning 12,000 characters would require someone to have a phenomenal memory — not to mention a lot of spare time and extraordinary dedication. Almost no one in all of China knows that many characters. The percentage of those who know even half that amount would be in the low single digits. Literacy, for the majority of the population, is defined as knowing as few as 1,500 characters; but the figures for those who know even that relatively low number are greatly exaggerated.
Chinese parents usually choose the second and/or third characters for their babies, but “strong,” “smart,” and “wise” for boys; and “pretty,” “quiet,” and “lovely” for girls are popular, so overlapping names are common.
I’ll let those with feminist blogs handle that one.
Figures from nationwide household registration departments show that about 100,000 Chinese share the name “Wang Tao.”
The popularity of assigning single-syllable given names is a real problem.
To avoid such situations, some parents choose names from the gigantic Kang Hsi Dictionary that lists 50,000 characters while the largest standard computer database contains only 27,000.
Such names, which are unrecognizable by computers, have caused inconvenience to about 60 million Chinese in their daily lives, especially when they travel, register in hotels or open bank accounts, the ministry said.
Names with rarely-used characters also hinder a nationwide programme to replace the first-generation identity cards with intelligent, computer-read cards, Bao said.
At least 40,000 Beijing residents whose names cannot be recognized by computers have not got new ID cards since the replacement exercise started in 2004, according to the city’s public security bureau.
The updated ID cards, with advanced anti-forgery and printing features, include an electronic chip to store personal information from computers. “So we cannot handwrite rarely-used characters on the cards like we did before,” Bao said.
Below is an anecdote from Taiwan. It refers to a man who changed his name to one having particularly obscure characters. This was to improve his luck and his parents’ health.
Having a name that can’t be entered into a computer because the characters are not in the standard character set has also caused him considerable headaches. His most vivid memory is of getting sick in the middle of the night and going to an emergency ward, where unfortunately the nurse on duty had never seen the two strange characters before and was unable to enter his name into the computer as he rolled on the floor in pain. In the end he had to plead with her to give him an injection for the pain and then discuss the name problem later.
Lucky name. Heh.
- Name for baby? Check out national database, China Daily, March 17, 2006
- Bān xīnjiā qiān hùkǒu bùyòng gēnghuàn shēnfenzhèng, Beijing News, March 17, 2006
- What’s in a Name, Sinorama (now Taiwan Panorama), June 2005