Laozi or Lao Zi?

My previous post mentioned a Confucius Avenue (and a Christ Avenue) on a university campus in Taipei. That post was mainly about the photo. But here I’d like to get back to the field of Pinyin orthography.

For names such as that of Confucius, when writing in Pinyin are you supposed to use a solid form (i.e., Kǒngzǐ), a separated form (Kǒng Zǐ), or a hyphenated form (Kǒng-zǐ)?

I tend to respond to those sorts of questions by asking What would Yin Binyong do?

Interestingly, this is an area in which he changed his mind. His first book on Pinyin orthography, Chinese Romanization: Pronunciation and Orthography, says to write such names separately (see pp. 163-165). Yet Yin also notes that Kǒngzǐ and Mèngzǐ are “conventionally written as single units.”

But his second book, Xinhua Pinxie Cidian, Yin just writes all the -zǐ names solid. That’s also what the example in the official short version of the rules for Pinyin gives. So I recommend going with the solid form.

Thus, use Laozi, Kongzi, Mengzi, Mozi, and Zhuangzi, not Lao Zi (or Lao-zi), Kong Zi (or Kong-zi), Mo Zi (or Mo-zi), and Zhuang Zi (or Zhuang-zi).

Lǎozǐ Lǎo Zǐ

The world’s not going to end if you don’t follow this particular convention, though. I see, for example, that I have used “Sun Zi” in the past. But consistency makes things easier in the long run, so I’ll try to stick with the solid form from this point on.

Of course, where Lao is used before a surname, it’s separate: Lao Wang, Lao Chen, etc. Interestingly, “Lao cannot be used with two-syllable surnames such as Ōuyáng 欧阳 [歐陽].” That last part, however, isn’t an orthographic matter. Does anyone know more about such nickname words (e.g., Lao, Xiao, Da) and disyllabic family names?

2 thoughts on “Laozi or Lao Zi?

  1. Interesting. What’s the rationale for making only things with -zi add on to the other word?

    Myself, personally, if I’m writing Pinyin for whatever reason, I tend to group the Pinyin based on forming a whole word.

    For instance, lets say you come across a sentence that contains “cong ming tian.”

    If I were trying to say “from yesterday” I’d group it cong mingtian. But, if for whatever reason it was supposed to be smart and day, I’d group it congming tian.

    This situation actually happened to me once and was causing confusion, I forget the context of it all, but it made sense to me to do that from now on. I’m not sure how official it is, but I’ve had some teachers in the past do that as well.

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