We've Got Hollywood Covered

What’s in a Chinese Director’s Name? Plenty!

Word order matters — especially with Chinese and Taiwanese names when written or pronounced in English in the US or Europe

Hollywood is full of immigrants from Europe and Asia, not to mention Africa and South America — but when it comes to the name game, what is the proper order for family names in English?

Should we refer to Taiwanese director as Lee Ang (Mr. Lee is his formal name, being the descendant of a long line of Lees in China and Taiwan) or should we bow to convention and call him Ang Lee?

What do the credits on his early movies say? When he got an Oscar for "Brokeback Mountain," what did the inscription say: Ang Lee or Lee Ang?

And what about the actress Bai Ling: Should we write her name as Ling Bai? And is it Li Gong or Gong Li? Or Zhang Yiyi or Yiyi Zhang? 

What do the Hollywood trades have to say about proper name calling on the printed page and in movie credits?

Let me tell you something: ''Word order'' matters — especially with Chinese and Taiwanese names when written or pronounced in English in the US or Europe. While Washington Nationals pitcher Wang Chien-ming is a famous name among US baseball fans, both the Washington Post and the New York Times now spell his name “Chien-ming Wang.” US radio and TV sports announcers also get his name order wrong. How can they get away with this affront to Taiwanese culture?

Newspaper editors in the US usually follow the naming style of a person’s country. So former president Lee Teng-hui is always referred to as “Lee Teng-hui” in the Times and the Post, and President Ma Ying-jeou  is also shown respect by the US media, which writes and
pronounces his name “Ma Ying-jeou,” and never “Ying-jeou Ma.” Have you ever seen Lee’s name written as “Teng-hui Lee” in the newspapers?


Former ROC president Chen Shui-bian was always referred to as “Chen Shui-bian,” and never as “Shui-bian Chen.” Newspapers in Washington or New York never called former ROC leader Chiang Kai-shek “Kai-shek Chiang,” did they? So why the relaxation of the rules with Wang Chien-ming? A name is a name, no matter what a person's profession.

I asked some prominent sports writers why Wang Chien-ming’s name has been reversed, starting with the Post sports writer Kilgore Adam — also known as Adam Kilgore. I am still waiting for an answer.

I also asked Amanda Comak at the Washington Times, who covers Wang’s career with the Nationals, and I am waiting for her answer as well.

When I asked an Associated Press (AP) reporter Christopher Duncan how the AP writes the name of former NBA player Yao Ming (姚明) — “Yao Ming” or “Ming Yao”? — he said by e-mail: “Yao Ming, and Yao on second reference, [and never Ming Yao].”

Just two years ago, the name-concious New York Times published a news story by Taiwan-based stringer Jonathan Adams about a Taiwan baseball scandal, printing Wang’s name in the correct order: “Baseball will remain Taiwan’s national pastime, Lin said, because Taiwanese baseball heroes, like the New York Yankees pitcher Wang Chien-ming, continue to inspire younger generations.”

Today, however, the sports section of the Times puts Wang’s name in reverse order, calling him, despite all AP’s style rules to the contrary, “Chien-ming Wang.” I wonder if the publisher of the Times, Sulzberger Punch, would in a pinch like to see his revered family name reversed? How about Bradlee Ben (er, Robards Jason) of "All the President's Men" movie fame? Would he stand for that?

So Keller Bill and Kilgore Adam and Duncan Christopher and Comak Amanda in the US, what’s it going to be? Obama Barack might take an interest in this sporting brouhaha, too. Palin Sarah and McCain John, too.

Most importantly, just why is Yao Ming’s name treated differently to Wang Chien-ming’s?

A longtime Taiwanese resident of Washington, who is associated with the Formosan Association of Public Affairs, a Taiwan lobbying group, told me the other day: “American newspapers need to stick to a certain standard… for all people from Taiwan and China. The best way to call Wang Chien-ming is Wang Chien-ming … not the other way around.

"Although this naming order may be a little odd for American sports writers and baseball fans, this is also a good educational opportunity for people in the US to learn that other nationals may have different systems for writing their names in English. If Yao Ming is called Yao Ming by American sports writers, then Wang Chien-ming should be shown the same respect. It’s only fair — and natural.”

So, yes, let this be a teachable moment for all Americans and especially for US sports writers and Hollywood scribes as well.

Take me out to the ballgame, yes, and I love Hollywood, too, but let's get the names correct. America is a globalized place now. Let's reflect that in the way we write ''our'' names.

By the way, I am not really "Dan Bloom." My name is a fiction, like many of  "our" names. I am actually ''Dan Zembalist Ben Abraham de Kievivikus della Cracowblum'' — but nobody wants to call me that anymore, except my mother!


Dan Bloom is a freelance writer based in Asia since 1991. During a five-year stint in Tokyo, he covered the triumphs (and occasional failures) of Hollywood movies in Japan and interviewed American actors passing through Tokyo on film promotion tours, including Billy Crystal, Robin Williams and Kevin Costner.