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.

Two-syllable Chinese family names

By far the most common two-syllable Chinese family name in China is Ouyang (NB: this should not be written Ou-yang, Ou-Yang, or Ou Yang), with it representing more than twelve times as many people as the next most common name on the list: Shangguan.

Surname Fùxìng (複姓/复姓) Number of people in China with this surname
Ouyang 欧阳 1,112,000
Shangguan 上官 88,000
Huangfu 皇甫 64,000
Linghu 令狐 55,000
Zhuge 诸葛 48,000
Situ 司徒 47,000
Sima 司马 23,000
Shentu 申屠 19,000
Xiahou 夏侯 11,000
Helan 贺兰 10,000
Wanyan 完颜 6,000

Those figures for the most common two-syllable Chinese family names (commonly called “two-character” family names) total 1.495 million, or about 1.5 million, which is not an inconsiderable number but still just a drop in the bucket compared with China’s population of some 1.41 billion. Only about one tenth of 1 percent (0.11%) of people in China have such names.

The percentage is a bit less in Taiwan. The most common doubled surname in Taiwan, however, is Zhangjian (張簡/张简), which doesn’t appear at all on the list of the most common disyllabic family names in China. In Taiwan, Ouyang is second.

Further reading:

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

SF politicians and Chinese names

Wednesday’s San Francisco Standard has a good (and nicely referenced and illustrated) piece by Han Li on politicians in SF/Jiujinshan choosing Chinese names as a way to appeal to the significant slice of those in the community who can read them. Such names are now receiving a lot more attention from politicians than before.

The article notes the important distinction between Western names that have simply been transcribed approximately into Chinese characters, which tend to sound a bit weird and run on too long, and “authentic” names (quote marks in the original), which sound like something an actual Chinese person might have (e.g., three characters, with the “family” name coming first).

Li credits now vice president Kamala Harris with starting the trend of local politicians seeking authentic- and favorable-sounding names when she first ran for San Francisco district attorney in 2003.

Harris ditched the transliteration-based name 哈里斯 (“ha lay si”) and chose 賀錦麗 (“ho gum lai”) instead. To Cantonese speakers’ ears, the new appellation had a more celebratory and positive ring (the surname Ho, 賀, means “celebrate”), while Gum-Lai has a feminine quality (錦麗 means “beautiful”).

One of the things I especially like about the piece is how it gives primacy to Cantonese for most names, reflecting the situation on the ground.

Some rules govern the selection of names.

  • Candidates who do not already have a Chinese name can have the Department of Elections provide one.
  • The submitted names have to be in traditional Chinese characters.
  • The names cannot be the same as those of historic figures or celebrities, and they cannot lead to ambiguity or become too promotional. (So I guess 高富帥/Gāo Fùshuài wouldn’t pass muster.)

And additional rules may be coming into place.

In 2019, Assemblymember Evan Low authored legislation to regulate Chinese translations on California’s statewide ballots. The law mandates that candidates use transliteration-based names unless they can prove that they were born with a character-based name or have been using such an “authentic” style Chinese name for at least two years.

San Francisco’s Department of Elections has rules that slightly differ from Low’s legislation and has insisted his law doesn’t apply to local races, which means candidates do not need to prove that two-year usage. The City Attorney’s Office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Supervisor Connie Chan, an immigrant from Hong Kong, said she’s considering actions on the board to implement Low’s bill at the local level.

Han Li. “To Court SF Voters, Politicians Give Themselves Flowery Chinese Names.” San Francisco Standard, May 10, 2023.

cover of a book about Kamala Harris, giving her Chinese name (as discussed in the post)

Why is the ROC govt trying to make Taiwanese look like Singaporeans?

Names of people in Taiwan have had a default format for many decades. For example:

  • Lee Teng-hui
  • Chen Shui-bian
  • Ma Ying-jeou
  • Tsai Ing-wen

The similarity, however, is not in use of a single romanization system. None of those names share the exact same romanization system or combination of systems:

  • Lee (common phonetic spelling) Teng-hui (Wade-Giles)
  • Chen Shui-bian (Hanyu Pinyin!)
  • Ma Ying (Wade-Giles, probably) jeou (Gwoyeu Romatzyh)
  • Tsai (bastardized Wade-Giles) Ing (ad hoc spelling) wen (Wade-Giles, probably)

But, different as those people are and different as the romanization systems used are, all of those names share an obvious pattern that marks them as belonging to someone in Taiwan: the hyphen joining the two parts of the given name, and the use of a lowercase letter for the second part of the given name.

Around twenty years ago, during Taiwan’s romanization wars (when President Chen wanted to impose Tongyong Pinyin upon Taiwan and a great many foreigners and others reacted with dismay and disgust), a popular claim of the Tongyong supporters was, “If Taiwanese use Hanyu Pinyin for their names, no one will be able to tell Taiwanese from Chinese anymore.”

This, however, was, like most claims of Tongyong supporters, not true. (It was also pretty funny, given that the most powerful supporter of Tongyong Pinyin was Chen Shui-bian, whose name is unambiguously Hanyu Pinyin but whom no even remotely knowledgeable person would ever mistake for someone from the PRC). The style used for names in China is “Familyname Givenname” (no hyphen). All Taiwanese have to do to keep their names distinct is to preserve the hyphen (assuming they even desire to use Hanyu Pinyin, which is not now nor has ever been required here for personal names).

This is easy:

  • PRC vs. TAIWAN
  • Li Denghui vs. Li Deng-hui
  • Chen Shuibian vs. Chen Shui-bian
  • Ma Yingjiu vs. Ma Ying-jiu
  • Cai Yingwen vs. Cai Ying-wen

But a few years back the government of Taiwan announced that it would be issuing a new style of the national ID card. Based on the mock-ups the government supplied, these cards would include romanization (yea!), but romanization in a very un-Taiwanese style (argh!).

mock-up of two possible styles for Taiwan's new national ID card

What’s especially odd, though, is that the romanization clearly follows the style of names in Singapore, not Taiwan.

Here, for example, are the names of some prominent Singaporeans:

  • Lee Kuan Yew
  • Goh Chok Tong
  • Lee Hsien Loong

Again, the standard pattern for Singaporean names is easy to discern … and clearly distinct from the standard pattern of names in Taiwan.

Why is the government doing this? Switching from Taiwan style to Singapore style makes no sense — not historically, not practically (separating given names makes it harder to tell what’s the family name and what’s the given name), and not politically.

And why on earth is “林” being romanized on the card as “LING” rather than as “LIN”, and “森” as “SHENG” rather than as “SEN”? Typos in not one but both of the only two personal names given do not inspire confidence.

Her name should be given, in descending order of preference, as
CHEN Xiao-lin
Chen Xiao-lin

I had been hopeful that the cards and their new style had simply been killed off and so the problem had been effectively eliminated years ago. But according to a recent Taiwan News story, the “eID scheme is halted but not scrapped.” So this nonsense might still happen.

The only good thing I have to say about the Pinyin on the mock-ups (other than its existence) is that it is at least not prohibitively tiny, which is a common problem.

By the way, hyphens can appear in some names in Hanyu Pinyin — but not in the way many people may first guess. Two-syllable family names are written solid, not hyphenated (e.g., Ouyang and Sima, not Ou-yang and Si-ma). Rather, hyphens exist in standard names in China in Hanyu Pinyin in cases where someone decides to adopt her spouse’s name but also preserve her maiden name. So, if a Ms. Wang marries a Mr. Li but wants to have both names, she becomes Ms. Wang-Li (or Ms. Li-Wang).

Here’s what Taiwan’s national ID cards look like presently:

Taiwan national ID card -- front

Taiwan national ID card -- back

Further reading:
Contractor seeks NT$526 million in compensation for Taiwan’s halted digital ID plan. Taiwan News, May 8, 2023.

Malaysian state moves to boost Hokkien

Penang, Malaysia, is reportedly moving to adopt the Penang dialect of the Hokkien language as a thing of “nonmaterial cultural heritage” (fēi wùzhì wénhuà yíchǎn / 非物质文化遗产).

In Taiwan, Hokkien is also known as “Taiwanese” and “Hoklo.”

The chairman of the Penang Tourism and Creative Economy Affairs Committee said that to preserve Hokkien in Penang, the government there would support a “Speak Hokkien” campaign and allocate funds to NGOs and other groups for activities promoting Hokkien. He also hopes organizations will host competitions not only in Pinyin(!) but also in speaking topolects.

Topolects are an important part of the legacy of Chinese culture, he said.



Other Sinitic topolects (fangyan) could also be considered for nonmaterial cultural heritage status, he said.

Whether this really happens, and whether it will be enough to make a difference, remains to be seen. But at least it looks like someone influential in Penang is working hard to move things in the right direction.