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  • Only Hanyu Pinyin have been used for Chinese names and these are shown in Italic

    All maps obtained from Google

     

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    Dialects (土語)

     

    The spoken Chinese language is not homogeneous throughout China, but has sub-groups where the pronunciations can be quite different, and this is often referred to as dialects while some may refer to them as languages. However, the written Chinese script is identical throughout China, which means people can always communicate by writing, albeit a slower process.

    These dialects include Mandarin (Putonghua) the largest group, followed by  Cantonese, Wu, Min, Hakka, etc. How different are the pronunciations? Take for example a surname like (陳), which is pronounced Chen in Mandarin, Chan or Chun in Cantonese, Chin(n) in Siyi, Tan in Min, Ding in Fuzhou and Chin in Hakka. The Southern Min dialect is also called Hokkien which is the dialect’s pronunciation for Fujian (福建). The presence of dialects can complicate a roots search but at the same time it can also lend a clue to the place of origin of a surname based on its Romanization.



    Hall of Supreme Harmony 太和殿


    What is "Ah"?

    There is a common practice, especially in southern China, where names and surnames are often prefixed by the sound Ah.

    This meaningless word (阿) has many explanations, ranging from terms of familiarity, affection to contempt.

    In practice, someone called Zhu De (朱德) would normally be called Ah De (阿德) instead of just De (德) which is just a single syllable, making it rather awkward to use when addressing the person. So, in a sense the addition of Ah makes it easier to utter a two-syllable sound, Ah De, and this is probably a more plausible explanation for its common usage in daily life. To Westerners this is akin to saying Jimbo or Jimmy instead of James; Danno or Danny instead of Daniel.



    Hall of Supreme Harmony 太和殿


    What is “Xiao”?

    There is another common practice of adding the word Xiao (小), which means “little”, to a person’s surname. This is especially true when applied to some young person. An adolescent or young man with surname Wang (王) would often be called Xiao Wang (小王) by his older associates.

    This is also in some way akin to the Western practice of adding the suffix “my” to a lad’s name, e.g. James would be called Jimmy when he is a young lad.


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