Eastern Name Order
In our very first post, we mentioned that we were quite ignorant about some things regarding each other’s cultures. However, one thing I (Christine) did learn before meeting Junwen was that many Asian cultures give their name as “Family Name + Given Name”, instead of what I am used to (in the West), “Given Name + Family Name”. For example, “Lin Junwen” instead of “Junwen Lin”. If you ever watched Disney’s Mulan, you may have noticed that the Matchmaker calls her “Fa Mulan” instead of “Mulan Fa”.
To be honest, when I originally watched Mulan I did not think much of it, because even here in America we typically alphabetize people by their surnames. It wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles for grad school and got to know some of my Chinese classmates that I learned the name order is swapped. (Actually, I might have first learned about it by watching and reading Fruits Basket: The Complete Series (Classic) and Fruits Basket, Vol. 1, my first and only dabble in manga–such an awesome series! But I guess the knowledge was cemented after I met my Chinese friends.)
My classmates further taught me that if a person’s first name was only one character/syllable, you would almost always call them by their family name + first name, even in colloquial settings. (E.g., if your family name is Lin and your given name is Wei, you would frequently be called “Lin Wei” even by your friends.) Calling someone by their family name + first name is also expected to show respect and formality, and I have noticed that amongst themselves the younger students would address the senior students in this fashion.
Western Name Order
In America (and most if not all of the West), we introduce ourselves and write our names as “Given Name + Family Name”, and because we present the names in that order, many forms and documents call the Given Name your “First Name”, and the Family Name your “Last Name”. Having grown up with that order, we don’t think twice about it. However, you can see that for people coming from a culture in which the Family Name is listed FIRST and the Given Name is listed LAST, when asked to provide your “first” and “last” name for documentation purposes, confusion may ensue…
Name Order Confusion
This was the case for me (Junwen). When I fill up forms issued by institutions from the West, I would instinctively put “Lin” as my first name, and “Junwen” as my last, simply because my name in Singapore appears in that order. As such, in America, I am officially known as “Lin” instead of “Junwen” (since my documentation appears as “Lin Junwen”). To be candid, introducing myself as “Lin” (rather than “Junwen”) is a little bit more convenient. First, “Lin” is easier to remember than “Junwen”, especially in an “Anglicized” culture such as America. Second, on more than a few occasions, when I introduce myself to an American as “Junwen”, they would call me “Jun” (thinking that “Wen” is my Family Name, since in America the typical name order is Given Name followed by Family Name as mentioned above). In such situations, I would rather be known as “Lin” rather than “Jun”, especially since I was known as “Lin” when I was doing my military service back in Singapore. It’s also interesting to note that in Singapore, the documentation is adaptive. This means that if one has a Chinese name, such as mine, then the name on the ID would show: Family Name followed by Given Name, e.g. “Lin Junwen.” However, if you have a Western name, the ID would show: Given Name followed by Family Name, e.g. “Adam Smith” (instead of “Smith Adam”).
Since I (Christine) had learned this about Asian culture, I felt mighty proud when Junwen introduced himself to me as “Lin Junwen” that I already knew the “name order thing”. Since he was telling everyone to call him “Lin”, though, for the first 7-8 months that he was in the States, that’s what we all called him. I can still recall the first time another mutual friend called him “Junwen”, and I was like, “Hey! So it ISN’T standard to call you ‘Lin’?! That’s NOT what your friends in Singapore call you?? I want to be in the ‘inner circle’ of friends that call you ‘Junwen’, too!” So that was the point that I started calling him “Junwen”, and I think the rest of our circle of friends followed suit shortly thereafter. Now, it is funny to hear his former classmates (a different circle of friends) and some of his past coworkers call him “Lin”, the more formal name he provides which also sets a certain level of professional distance in the relationship. It has resulted in some confusing situations, however, in which people weren’t sure what to call him exactly. When car rental places ask if we’re married (so that they don’t charge us an extra fee to have Junwen as an additional driver), we’ve had to explain why “Lin” is MY surname while Junwen’s I.D. lists “Lin” as his given name. (Remember, in the U.S., the name order is such that the first name listed on the I.D. is considered the given name. So on his license, “Junwen” is actually his last/family name!)
So! It’s not just me (Christine) who has had a bumpy ride with regards to my name and getting it right on paper (see previous post on my name change). In that sense, I’m thankful that the state of California allows a person to take his/her spouse’s “last” OR “first” name as a surname when getting married, because otherwise I could not have taken “Lin” as my surname! Hopefully, if anyone reading this plans to study abroad in the U.S., he or she is now notified of what “First” and “Last” name means in documentation. If you are already in the U.S. studying or working, and you came from a country in which your “First” name is your family name and your “Last” name is your given name, how did you know what to put on your documents? Or was it confusing for you, too? Regardless of where you’re from, has Junwen’s story taught you anything new? Feel free to share below in the comments!