T-shirts with romanized Taiwanese

If you’re in Taiwan, make a trip to your local 50% Fifty Percent Píngjià Shíshàng (50% FIFTY PERCENT 平价时尚) (50 percent bargain-price fashion) and pick up one of their shirts of various Taiwanese foods, each of which is labeled in romanized Taiwanese. (Place name hashtags (e.g., #Yilan) are not included on the shirts.)

The only problem is that you may want to carry a magnifying glass with you, because the images and letters are tiny. (C’mon, people! When you want people to read something, size matters.)

This is the one I picked for myself: tshang-iû-piánn (in Mandarin: cōngyóubǐng / 蔥油餅 / 葱油饼). Those scallion pancakes are wonderful.

Advertising image of the graphic for a T-shirt that has a drawing of Taiwanese scallion pancake (congyoubing in Mandarin) and the text 'tshang-iu-piann' (partially obscured by a superimposed image of a T-shirt.

More images on the 50% Fifty Percent Facebook page.

OEC is D-licious

Recently, on my way to Wulai (just south of Taipei), I spotted an interesting sign. Normally, the combination of “interesting sign” and “Wulai” means something in a language of one of Taiwan’s Indigenous Peoples. But for today I have something different: Japanese, Taiwanese, and Mandarin. Plus another bonus sign in Japanese (I think) — but more on that later.

I wasn’t able to get a good photo of my own, so here’s one from Google Street View.

Sign labeled 'OEC', plus another store's sign reading '一豆'

The “OEC” on the sign on the left is meant to represent Japanese “oishī” (美味しい / おいしい), which means “delicious.” Knowledge of some Japanese words is very common in Taiwan, much as knowing a few words in Spanish is common in parts of the USA.

The whole top line is “OEC 手工麵線” (OEC shǒugōng miànxiàn) = “delicious handmade noodles.” The letters on the sign work like the hyphenated combinations in William Steig’s charming C D B.

The line below the sign’s headline is also linguistically interesting.

大腸, 蚵仔, 肉羹
(intestines, oysters, meat soup)

The second word, 蚵仔, would be pronounced kezi in Mandarin. But in Taiwan it’s standard for that to be read in Taiwanese as “ô-á.” Also notable is the use of handwriting — rather rare these days — instead of a computerized font.

The brunch shop next door also has what I strongly suspect is an interesting sign: 一豆, which in Mandarin is yi dou (lit. “one bean”). Someone who knows Japanese help me out with this one.

Prevalence of single-syllable Taiwanese given names

How common are single-syllable given names in Taiwan? (I suppose most people would phrase the question differently as “How common are one-character given names in Taiwan?”)

The answer: not common at all.

In 2018 (the most recent year for which I could find such figures), just 1.67 percent (394,220) of Taiwan’s approximately 23.6 million people had a single-syllable given name (dānmíng/單名/单名) — in other words, a given name that takes only one Chinese character to write).

These figures come from the Ministry of the Interior’s Department of Household Registration and should thus be considered authoritative.

In China, however, single-syllable given names are several times more common than in Taiwan.

In Taiwan, single-syllable names are more common among women than among men, with females holding 232,853 such names, compared with just 161,367 males (59% and 41%, respectively).

Here are the top ten single-Chinese-character names, in declining order of popularity, for each sex. I am including the spelling in Wade-Giles, even though I don’t recommend using that system, because that is what is commonly seen in Taiwan — albeit without apostrophes or umlauts.

Most popular single-syllable names for boys

  Chinese Character Wade-Giles Pinyin (w Tone Mark) Pinyin (w/o Tone Mark)
1 Chieh Jié Jie
2 Chieh Jié Jie
3 I Yi
4 Ming Míng Ming
5 Hsiang Xiáng Xiang
6 P’ing Píng Ping
7 Wei Wěi Wei
8 Ching Jìng Jing
9 Wei Wēi Wei
10 Hao Hào Hao

Note that the first and second most popular single-syllable boys names are the same, not just in sound but in meaning; they differ only in the character used to write them, with the “simplified” form taking second place. Do not be confused by this into thinking that Taiwanese use the PRC’s so-called simplified Chinese characters; they don’t. Rather, what’s going on is that Taiwanese are using forms that have been around for a very long while and which were later adopted by China’s script reformers as official. (For example, both 臺 and 台 — two ways of writing tai — are commonly seen in Taiwan.)

Most popular single-syllable names for girls

  Chinese Character Wade-Giles Pinyin (w Tone Mark) Pinyin (w/o Tone Mark)
1 Min Mǐn Min
2 Mei Méi Mei
3 Hsüeh Xuě Xue
4 滿 Man Mǎn Man
5 Yu
6 Mei Měi Mei
7 Ching Jìng Jing
8 Wei Wēi Wei
9 T’ing Tíng Ting
10 Hsiu Xiù Xiu

None of the girls’ names share meanings or are homophonous (note differences in tone).

I feel I should stress that these names in isolation are rare (less than 2 percent!). Thus, they would probably make poor choices if you want to name a character in a novel with one of these. Instead, you should look to my posts on the most common family names in Taiwan and the most common given names in Taiwan.

In this post, “Taiwanese” refers to the people of Taiwan, not the language. Here, I give only Mandarin forms, out of familiarity, not preference.

Source: Quánguó xìngmíng tǒngjì fēnxi (全國姓名統計分析). Department of Household Registration, Ministry of the Interior, Taiwan, 2018, pp. 60-63.

Popularity of single-syllable names (male and female given separately) in different locations throughout Taiwan

(Alas, the people compiling the statistics didn’t show the numbers as a percentage of the population of the areas in question. And I’m not feeling motivated to run the numbers myself; but it appears that such names are more popular per capita in the north than the south.)
table of the popularity of single-syllable names (male and female given separately) in different locations throughout Taiwan

Prevalence of single-syllable Chinese given names

How common are single-syllable Chinese given names — names that take just one Chinese character to write?

Much less common than they were in the 1980s and 1990s. The downward trend is not likely to change, because China wants to avoid being a place filled with the equivalent of John no-middle-name Smiths.

The proportion of two-character names (i.e., a single-syllable family name plus a single-syllable given name) in China increased from 7.6% in the 1960s to peak at 27.6% in the 1990s. But the figure has now fallen to just 6.3%.

Although some of the three-character names will be those of people with two-character family names and single-syllable given names (as opposed to single-syllable family names and two-syllable given names), the figure is statistically insignificant, as only 0.11% of people in China have two-character family names and only about 6.3% of them will have single-syllable given names (or only about one person in fifteen thousand).

Although in the chart below the number of people with names totaling four or more characters/syllables is small (and largely within minority groups), such names have been on the increase, growing from from just 0.3% and 0.4%, respectively, in the 1950s to 1.6% and 1.7%, respectively, at present.

My translation of a graph from the PRC government, showing the popularity of two-syllable given names in China being high in the 1980s and 1990s and lower before and since then.

Source: Ministry of Public Security Household Administration Research Center System. Translation of labels by Pinyin.info.

In Taiwan, single-syllable given names are much less common than in China. Also, in Taiwan the majority of those with single-syllable given names are female; I don’t know if that tendency exists in China as well, but I suspect that it does.

Source: 《2020 nián quánguó xìngmíng bàogào》 fābù (《二〇二〇年全国姓名报告》发布), Gōng’ānbù wǎngzhàn (公安部网站), February 2, 2021

Further reading: 85 percent of Han in China have two-syllable given names: report, Pinyin News, August 10, 2008

Thanks to Qin-Hong Anderson for her input.

Reagan candy

photo of jelly beans, just for the sake of color

From watching a brief documentary piece on TV about how jelly beans are made, I learned a new Taiwan-specific Mandarin term: Léigēn táng (雷根糖).

Leigen is a Mandarinization of the name of Ronald Reagan, who famously loved jelly beans. And táng is the word for sugar/candy. So Léigēn táng / “Reagan candy” is a term (but not the only one) in Taiwan for jelly beans. Cool name. I’m going to remember that.

Oddly, Google Translate didn’t know the term yet — or apparently even that Léigēn is how one says “Reagan” in Taiwan, given how Google Translate produced “Regan [sic] Candy”. But at least Google Translate didn’t produce “thunder root sugar,” which would be a literal translation of each morpheme, taken individually.

screenshot of Google Translate turning '???' into 'Regan Candy' and giving 'Léi gēn táng' as the Pinyin

I sent feedback, so let’s see if it gets corrected.

In China, “Reagan” is usually written instead as 里根 (Lǐgēn). But it doesn’t look like either 里根糖 (Lǐgēn táng) or 雷根糖 (Léigēn táng) is a thing in the PRC. Instead, in China jelly beans are called “果冻豆” (guǒdòng dòu; lit. “jelly beans”) or “软心豆” (ruǎn xīn dòu; lit. “soft-heart beans”).

One wonders what jelly beans were called in Taiwan prior to Reagan administration. Maybe they just weren’t popular here yet.

It’s quite common for proper nouns to differ in Taiwan and China, especially for people. For example, see my old post on Obama, Bush, vitamin drinks, and puns.

The most common given names in Taiwan, by decade

Some names have waxed and waned in popularity in Taiwan over the past century or so. This post gives tables of the top-three names for each decade (as calculated by the ROC calendar).

In this post, I give only Mandarin forms of names — out of familiarity, not preference. An exacting writer seeking character names might do well to investigate how such names might be pronounced in Taiwanese, Hakka, or even yet another Sinitic language other than Mandarin, depending on the who, when, and where.

Note: Although the normal style for names in Hanyu Pinyin is to write given names solid, without a space or hyphen, I have used hyphens in this post to preserve the style of writing names that has been standard in Taiwan for many decades. I am including the spelling in Wade-Giles, even though I don’t recommend using that system, because that is what is commonly seen in Taiwan — albeit without apostrophes or umlauts.

Most popular Taiwan boys names, by ROC decade of birth

Birth Year Chinese
Pinyin Wade-Giles
1912–1920 明、金水、健 Míng, Jīn-shuǐ,
Ming, Chin-shui,
1921–1930 金龍、金水、金生 Jīn-lóng,
Jīn-shuǐ, Jīn-shēng
Chin-lung, Chin-shui,
1931–1940 正雄、文雄、武雄 Zhèng-xióng, Wén-xióng,
Wen-hsiung, Wu-hsiung
1941–1950 正雄、武雄、文雄 Zhèng-xióng, Wǔ-xióng,
Wu-hsiung, Wen-hsiung
1951–1960 金龍、進財、榮華 Jīn-lóng,
Jìn-cái, Róng-huá
Chin-lung, Chin-ts’ai,
1961–1970 志明、志成、文雄 Zhì-míng, Zhì-chéng,
Chih-ming, Chih-ch’eng,
1971–1980 志偉、志明、建宏 Zhì-wěi,
Zhì-míng, Jiàn-hóng
Chih-wei, Chih-ming,
1981–1990 家豪、志豪、志偉 Jiā-háo,
Zhì-háo, Zhì-wěi
Chia-hao, Chih-hao,
1991–2000 家豪、冠宇、冠廷 Jiā-háo,
Guàn-yǔ, Guàn-tíng
Chia-hao, Kuan-yü,
2001–2010 承恩、承翰、冠廷 Chéng-ēn,
Chéng-hàn, Guàn-tíng
Ch’eng-en, Ch’eng-han,
2011–2018* 承恩、宥廷、品睿 Chéng-ēn,
Yòu-tíng, Pǐn-ruì
Ch’eng-en, Yu-t’ing,

Most popular Taiwan girls names, by ROC decade of birth

Birth Year Chinese
Pinyin Wade-Giles
1912–1920 秀英、英、玉 Xiù-yīng,
Yīng, Yù
Hsiu-ying, Ying,
1921–1930 秀英、玉蘭、玉英 Xiù-yīng,
Yù-lán, Yù-yīng
Hsiu-ying, Yü-lan,
1931–1940 秀英、玉蘭、玉英 Xiù-yīng,
Yù-lán, Yù-yīng
Hsiu-ying, Yü-lan,
1941–1950 秀英、秀琴、美玉 Xiù-yīng,
Xiù-qín, Měi-yù
Hsiu-ying, Hsiu-ch’in,
1951–1960 麗華、秀琴、秀美 Lì-huá, Xiù-qín,
Li-hua, Hsiu-ch’in,
1961–1970 淑芬、美玲、淑惠 Shū-fēn,
Měi-líng, Shū-huì
Shu-fen, Mei-ling,
1971–1980 淑芬、雅惠、淑娟 Shū-fēn,
Yǎ-huì, Shū-juān
Shu-fen, Ya-hui,
1981–1990 雅婷、怡君、雅雯 Yǎ-tíng,
Yí-jūn, Yǎ-wén
Ya-t’ing, I-chün,
1991–2000 雅婷、怡君、怡婷 Yǎ-tíng,
Yí-jūn, Yí-tíng
Ya-t’ing, I-chün,
2001–2010 宜蓁、欣妤、詩涵 Yí-zhēn,
Xīn-yú, Shī-hán
I-chen, Hsin-yü,
2011–2018* 詠晴、子晴、品妍 Yǒng-qíng,
Zǐ-qíng, Pǐn-yán
Yung-ch’ing, Tzu-ch’ing,

*: The counting of names continued until June 2018. I’ll give newer figures once I have them.

Source: Quánguó xìngmíng tǒngjì fēnxi (全國姓名統計分析). Department of Household Registration, Ministry of the Interior, Taiwan, 2018, p. 59.

Gwoyeu Romatzyh on Taiwan buses

Although in posts mentioning Gwoyeu Romatzyh I often note that romanization system can be seen in the wild in Taiwan most often on the sides of coach buses, I haven’t put online many examples of this. So here’s an image-heavy post with some examples of photos I’ve taken of the Gwoyeu Romatzyh romanization system on buses in Taiwan.

The captions give the Gwoyeu Romatzyh, along with the Hanyu Pinyin (with and without tone marks) in parentheses.

Herng Chuen (Héngchūn/Hengchun)

Wuu Feng (Wǔfēng/Wufeng)

Diing Dong (Dǐngdōng/Dingdong)

Shin Shinn (Xīnxìn/Xinxin)

Jin Shii (Jīnxǐ/Jinxi)

Jiann Fa (Jiànfā/Jianfa)

Shuenn Yih (Shùnyì/Shunyi)

Two-syllable Taiwanese family names

As of June 30, 2018, Taiwan had just 22,332 people with a disyllabic surname (i.e., one that takes two Chinese characters to write). They cover just 0.09% of the population — just less than one in a thousand. This is slightly less than the 0.11 percent of the population of China that has such a family name. Also, in China, by far the most common two-syllable surname is Ouyang; but in Taiwan “Zhangjian” is more seen.

Name Name total
張簡 Zhangjian 9,059
歐陽 Ouyang 7,860
范姜 Fanjiang 4,300
周黃 Zhouhuang 590
江謝 Jiangxie 523

Further reading:


  • Quánguó xìngmíng tǒngjì fēnxi (全國姓名統計分析). Department of Household Registration, Ministry of the Interior, Taiwan, 2018, p. 28.