Ambrose Li

Both W3C and Chicago are wrong about “Chinese” names

(updated )

In 2011, the World Wide Web Consortium released an article about personal names around the world. In the article, the section about Chinese names says

Although not everyone has a generational name these days, especially in Mainland China, those who do have one expect it to be used together with their given name. Thus, if you are on familiar terms with someone called 毛泽东,‍[Note 1] you would normally refer to them using 泽东 (Ze Dong), not just (Dong).‍[Note 2]

This is actually not entirely true. First, you can omit the generational name, but you have to replace it with a filler, such as (“Ah” a dimunitive prefix of sorts). Also, whether you can do this depends on where the generational name is located within the given name you can omit it (but replace it with a filler) if it’s the first part, but if it’s the second part you cannot normally omit it.‍[Note 3]

There is also the curious case of Hong Kong names that the article hasn’t mentioned.

Before July 1, 1997, Hong Kong was pretty much part of the United Kingdom, so many people actually have English names on their birth certificates. However, there are also many who don’t. So the order of names in Hong Kong are a mix of what you’d expect for Chinese and English names:

  1. If the person has no English given name, their name follows Chinese order: family name–given name.
  2. If the person has no transliterated Chinese given name,‍[Note 4] their name follows English order: given name–family name.
  3. Then the curious case that no one talks about: If the person has both Chinese and English given names and they use their Chinese family name in English, their name follows both Chinese and English order: English given name–family name–Chinese given name.[Note 5]

The third case last name in the middle might look unusual, but this is very common in Hong Kong. Judging from some of what I read last year in mainstream media, many in the West do not seem to know this.

This might not be too surprising: even Chicago does not seem to be aware this is possible.‍[Note 6]


  1. Let’s not comment on the W3C’s poor choice for an example name.
  2. Richard Ishida, “Personal names around the world” (2011), last modified August 17, 2011, https://​www​.w3​.org/​International/​questions/​qa​-personal​-names​.en.
  3. The filler is a prefix that is always attached to the second part of the given name. If a generational name is that second part, putting the given name into the diminutive would result in every one of the family’s siblings (of the same gender, maybe) being called the same name (the generational name). This can work if you only know one sibling in the family, but if you know more than one it won’t.
  4. For example, a Pakistani Hongkonger or an Indian Hongkonger might have a Chinese name, but they wouldn’t use it when writing in English. Some ethnic Chinese might also not have a transliterated Chinese name, for example because their Chinese name is just their English name in Chinese characters.
  5. A married women who adopts a married name would have a name in the form English given name–married family name–original family name–Chinese given name.
  6. Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. (University of Chicago Press, 2017), 951.


  • #Hong Kong
  • #internationalization
  • #web design