A Name is a name is a name? Not in China.

_c14050pictpowhndsofmass50.jpgNames are funny things, they reveal a lot about a person, but China is finding that their citizens are testing the limits of personal nomenclature.

The New York Times, Reuters, Xinhua and BBC reported this week that 85% of China’s 1.3 billion residents share around 100 surnames and as a result, the Public Security Ministry is considering rules that would combine both parents’ names to generate 1.28 million new surnames in China. (source)

This isn’t the first problem China has faced with names, as the English-language China Daily revealed a few months ago:

Now people resort to retired characters with strong meanings to avoid giving a common name.

Naming a child is turning out to be a challenge for parents and grandparents. They want a name that has a significant meaning and melodic ring and, most important of all, is different from others.

But the taste for obscure names is testing the limits of the information age since “rarely used Chinese characters are illegible to those people who do not carry the characters on their computers or mobile phones.”

Turns out banks, hotels and the police don’t always have easy access to people who have names made of rare characters. The Ministry of Public Security is thinking about setting up a pool of characters and guidelines for changing names, but…

The rarely used characters have made it impossible for at least 40,000 Beijingers to get their new ID cards.

So China seems to confused…restrict names or expand them? Even the newspaper can’t understand why China is coming up with such a byzantine system:

We are living in an age of technology, which has offered us an onslaught of solutions to our problems…Why can’t the Ministry of Public Security collect a pool of brains to update a means to input all Chinese characters? (original article)

Good question! All this controversy follows China backing down from an earlier decree that all bloggers must use their real names:

Instead, the government would promote a ‘self-discipline code’ that would encourage, but not mandate, bloggers to register under their own names, the report said, citing draft guidelines published by the Internet Society of China.

Ah, the adaptation of governments to contemporary realities…never a smooth ride it seems.

I know from experience, as the only Hrag Vartanian on the internet (according to Google), having a unique name is a blessing in the digital age (though a curse if you’re being stalked). My neighbors Jae Kim and Amy Shaw, probably can’t say the same (sorry guys!).

While there are countries that restrict which names you can use, thankfully in all the cultural traditions I belong to, West Asian, Armenia, Canadian and now American, that’s NOT the case…vive la difference!

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