What's in a Name, Hong Kong Style
Considering the many variations of Chinese names, it's not surprising that there can be
so much confusion. This is due to the nature of the Chinese language itself, and the
methods used to convert it into English. Here are some observations on that subject
coming from an American viewpoint, which should also help to clarify the naming
choices I've made for Hong Kong Movie World.
The most obvious difference in naming conventions from Western / European
standards is the order of 'first' name (sometimes informally referred to as a 'Christian
name') and family name. Chinese names, as well as Japanese, are characterized by having
the family name precede the individual's given name. Represented by written characters,
they represent the same thing when written, but are pronounced differently depending on
the regional dialect (i.e Cantonese or Mandarin).
Therefore, Simon Yam is referred to as Yam Tat-Wah in Cantonese and Ren Da-Hua
in Mandarin, even though the written characters are the same.
Though both versions are acceptable, one is often more popular than the other. This
can depend on the individual. A Manchurian native may recognize the name Ren Da-Hua,
but won't know what you're talking about if you throw the name "Simon Yam" at her.
It's safe to say that Chinese people know about Bruce Lee's English name, yet they more
commonly refer to him as Lee Siu-Lung. Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia is a household name
in Asia, but the Taiwanese native is still best known by her Mandarin name rather than
the Cantonese version Lam Ching Ha. Even Jackie Chan is rarely referred to by that
name in Hong Kong- the media call him by his old stage name, "Sing Lung".
Chow Yun Fat is almost equally well known in Hong Kong by his childhood nickname
"Sai Gau" (Little Dog).
It is, of course very widespread for people to adopt anglicized surnames. This is the
easiest way for non-Chinese speakers to remember someone; that is why the world
their recognizes the names Jackie Chan and not Chan Kong Sang, Bruce Lee and
not Lee Siu Lung, Jet Li and not Li Lian Jie, etc.
While anglicized names are easier for Westerners to deal with, Chinese names are
are also tricky simply because they haven't been heard enough. Mao Tze Tung and
Chiang Kai Shek are not well known names because they're catchy, it's just that
they've been repeated enough to become familiar.
Since Chinese names have to be converted to a completely different set of characters,
(the alphabet), spelling variations are inevitable since there is no true "correct" spelling
for a Chinese name in English. The most commonly accepted spellings derive from a
word's phonetic pronounciation based on it's actual tones, a system known as Pinyin.
It is common, and sometimes necessary, to identify an individual by their full English
name, eg., Simon Yam Tat-Wah. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Tony Leung Kar-Fai,
for example, would be easily confused if referred to only as 'Tony Leung'.
While this is somewhat redundant, it is a normal practice.
HK actors may also be known for names that they did not even choose for themselves.
When films are exported to foreign markets, distributors have been known to not only
retitle a picture but rename the cast to less 'threatening', de-ethnicized names.
When martial arts movies were hitting U.S. screens in the 1970's, some cast credits
were even altered to completely disguise their Asian identities. American posters for the
Shaw Brothers horror flick Black Magic named "Ty Young" (Ti Lung) and "Lilly Leigh"
(Li-Li-Li aka Lily Lee) as the stars. And with a poster design depicting generic gothic
skull imagery, a moviegoer would have had no visual cues to go by.
Kung fu star Wong Jang Lee has actually been 'Latinized' as "Juan Jan Lee" in
If a performer's name isn't being confused because of its Mandarin/Cantonese version, or
its spelling, or being renamed by promoters, then there's also the fact that some people
can't seem to make up their mind about what they want to be called. Shu Qi famously
changed her name from Shu Kei so as to prevent confusing her with the well known director
and film critic. Ekin Cheng, as most fans can tell you, has been credited as Dior Cheng
and Noodle Cheng in his career.
Ekin is one of many actors who have flirted with various English names at one point or another.
Chow Yun Fat has been credited as Aman Chow and Donald Chow. David Chiang has
alternated between David and John Chiang. Brigitte Lin has been credited in some
markets as "Venus Lin", while action star Yukari Oshima is known in the Phillipines
as "Cynthia Luster". Sometimes even well established actors will suddenly, and
unnecessarily, choose an English name- Lau Ching Wan is "Sean Lau", Leung Kar Yan
is "Bryan Leung".. Actress Paulyn Sun changed her name to "Alien Sun". Nadia Chan
changed the spelling of her English name to "Nnadia". The list goes on, but one thing's
for certain- whatever name they go by, umm.. I can't think of a way to finish that sentence.
© Copyright Hong Kong Movie World
All rights reserved