Chinese characters no longer required for Taiwan Aborigine names

Last week Taiwan’s legislature passed an amendment stating that members of Taiwan’s tribes will no longer be forced to adopt names written in Chinese characters. Instead, their names can be presented solely in romanization if so desired. Thus, at least in this specialized category, Chinese characters have been stripped of their primacy and romanization is officially allowed to stand on its own (not appear only in conjunction with Chinese characters).

Source: Lìyuàn tōngguò: yuánzhùmín shēnfen zhèngjiàn — kě zhǐ xiě pīnyīn zúmíng (立院通過:原住民身分證件 可只寫拼音族名), United Daily News, May 15, 2024

Further reading:

San Francisco politicians and what constitutes a Chinese name

'羅瑞德' and '
丹尼爾·露里' written in Chinese characters, with the first name crossed out and the second one, which approximates the sound of the Western name but does not represent a Chinese-style name.

San Francisco will begin its own enforcement of a 2019 bill that places restrictions on the use of self-submitted Chinese names (i.e., names as written in Chinese characters), requiring that candidates prove they’ve had the names since birth or that the name has been used publicly for at least two years.

All other candidates on the ballot will be assigned transliterated names (i.e., names that use Chinese characters according to rough their having at least rough equivalents in sound in Mandarin, Cantonese, or another Sinitic language).

Since 1999, San Francisco — whose [ethnic] Chinese population is about 21.4 percent of its population as a whole — has required ballots to include the candidates’ English names and their translated or transliterated names in Chinese characters….

[C]andidate for mayor Daniel Lurie, “will likely be assigned a name, 丹尼爾·露里,” which “doesn’t have any meaning. It’s just an approximate pronunciation of his name in English: ‘DAN-knee-er LOO-lee.’”

Lurie had already given himself the name 羅瑞德, which means “auspicious” (瑞) and “virtue” (德), according to the [San Francisco] Standard. The Standard said this name is “widely publicized in the Chinese-speaking world,” but since he is a first-time candidate, if he can’t prove he has used the name for at least two years, it likely will not appear on the ballot in 2024.

Many established local public figures will be grandfathered in, since many will meet the two-year threshold already.

But then there’s this: San Francisco Supervisor Connie Chan, who led the push for the change, said, “Cultural appropriation does not make someone Asian…. There is no alternative definition to whether someone is Asian or not. It should be based solely on a person’s ethnicity and heritage. That’s what this law is about.”

That’s very different than a birth-name or two-year stipulation.

As real as cultural appropriation may be in some situations, wanting to base this “solely on a person’s ethnicity and heritage” seems to me problematic. I doubt Chan would argue that immigrants like herself who gain U.S. citizenship are not real Americans entitled to use Western names like “Connie.”

Then there’s the case of plenty of people whose ethnicity and heritage are not Chinese who live in Asia and have Chinese names, in many cases because they were required by government regulations. I’m one of those people. Although I’m unlikely to ever run for office in San Francisco and I’ve had my “Chinese name” a lot longer than two years, Chan doesn’t seem interested in granting any ground on this issue — at least not from what’s given in the brief quote.

San Francisco targets non-Chinese candidates using Chinese names on ballots, The Hill, December 7, 2023

further reading:
SF politicians and Chinese names, Pinyin News, May 12, 2023

‘My Bunun name is …’

A candidate for the Indigenous constituency in Taiwan’s Legislature has, in protest over government policies mandating the use of Chinese characters, changed her name to “李我要單列族名我的布農族名字是Savungaz Valincinan,” which translates as “Li I want to list my tribal name separately; my Bunun name is Savungaz Valincinan.”

photo of the Taiwan national ID card of Savungaz Valincinan, showing her long official name, as detailed in this post.
(photo by Savungaz Valincinan)

Here’s a ChatGPT translation of a story in the Liberty Times about this:

The registration of candidates for the 2024 legislative election concluded on the 24th. According to data from the Central Election Commission (CEC), there are a total of 10 candidates running for mountain indigenous legislator positions. One candidate stands out with a name that spans 34 characters, and it reads, “李我要單列族名我的布農族名字是Savungaz Valincinan,” making it the longest name among this year’s legislative candidates.

Following the successful administrative lawsuit regarding the “Administrative Appeal for Single Listing of Tribal Names on Indigenous Identification Cards” in early November, the New Taipei City Government Civil Affairs Bureau issued the first identification card with a single-listed tribal name. However, as this was a local “case remedy,” other indigenous individuals wishing to list only their tribal names are still unable to complete the process.

Savungaz Valincinan expressed that for this election, she chose not to use the transliteration of her Bunun tribal name in Chinese characters. Two days before registration, she officially changed her name at the household registration office to “李我要單列族名我的布農族名字是Savungaz Valincinan.”

Emphasizing that the name change is not a mere joke but a sincere and poignant appeal, Savungaz Valincinan questioned, “Why should such a small matter like adjusting administrative procedures make us shout so hard and still be unattainable?”

Other indigenous individuals have also inquired with local governments about listing only Romanized Pinyin for their names. However, according to the responses received, currently, there are only three options: traditional name transliterated into Chinese characters, traditional name transliterated into Chinese characters with Romanized Pinyin, and Chinese name alongside traditional name with Romanized Pinyin.

She urged that if the government continues to overlook the demands of indigenous people, and if she is fortunate enough to become a legislator in the future, every government official addressing her must recite the “demand for single-listing tribal names” every time until they genuinely amend the administrative procedures.

In the 2024 legislative election, aside from the 315 regional legislative candidates, there are 10 candidates for plain indigenous legislator positions and 10 candidates for mountain indigenous legislator positions who have completed their registrations.

For more about this general topic, please see Some Indigenous people in Taiwan want to drop their Chinese names: ‘That history has nothing to do with mine’, an excellent article by Stephanie Yang and David Shen (Los Angeles Times, May 2, 2023).

source: 34 zì! Míngnián dàxuǎn míngzi zuìcháng Lìwěi cānxuǎn rén — pàn zhèngfǔ zhòngshì dān liè zúmíng sùqiú (34字!明年大選名字最長立委參選人 盼政府重視單列族名訴求), Liberty Times, November 26, 2023.

further reading: Savungaz Valincinan 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.

Mi casa es su kasha

I occasionally snap photos of instances of Chinese characters being used to write English (e.g., dog, butterfly, crunchy, oh my god). Here’s something that at least in Taiwan is far more rare: Chinese characters used to write Spanish.

store sign that reads 'Mi Casa' in large letters and 米卡莎 in Chinese characters


米卡莎 is pronounced “Mǐ kǎshā”. In isolation, those characters are used in writing words associated with rice , card , sha sound, respectively — so nothing to do with “my house.”

Although Mandarin does have a “sa” syllable, which is associated with various Chinese characters (e.g., 撒, 仨, 挲, 灑, 撒, 靸, 卅, 颯, 摋, or 脎), making a closer phonetic match with mi casa possible, sa was not used. As the ABC Chinese–English Dictionary notes, 莎/sha is often “used in transcriptions, personal and place names,” whereas sa is not as much.

This store, near the border between Taiwan’s aesthetic Banqiao and Zhonghe, is now closed.

Most common baby names in China, 2020

What were the most common names for newborn babies in China in 2020?

Please note that some names appear more than once (Yichen three times in the top 10 for boys, and Yinuo and Yutong twice in the top 10 for girls). The only differences are in some of the characters used.

Most common names for newborn boys in China, 2020

Rank Chinese characters Pinyin (with
tone marks)
(without tone marks)
1 奕辰 Yìchén Yichen
2 宇轩 Yǔxuān Yuxuan
3 浩宇 Hàoyǔ Haoyu
4 亦辰 Yìchén Yichen
5 宇辰 Yǔchén Yuchen
6 子墨 Zǐmò Zimo
7 宇航 Yǔháng Yuhang
8 浩然 Hàorán Haoran
9 梓豪 Zǐháo Zihao
10 亦宸 Yìchén Yichen

Most common names for newborn girls in China, 2020

Rank Chinese characters Pinyin (with
tone marks)
(without tone marks)
1 一诺 Yīnuò Yinuo
2 依诺 Yīnuò Yinuo
3 欣怡 Xīnyí Xinyi
4 梓涵 Zǐhán Zihan
5 语桐 Yǔtóng Yutong
6 欣妍 Xīnyán Xinyan
7 可欣 Kěxīn Kexin
8 语汐 Yǔxī Yuxi
9 雨桐 Yǔtóng Yutong
10 梦瑶 Mèngyáo Mengyao

I tried using ChatGPT again to clean up the HTML in the tables above. But it kept hallucinating and changing characters, and it never gave me the entire tables but cut off at least one row each time. So I cleaned up the code myself in a text editor.

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

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.