Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mu Guiying and Chinese names


I've been reading in the New York Times (article here) how the Chinese government is trying to push through a name reform. Chinese families have of late been choosing more and more names which utilize unusual and uncommon Chinese characters. This has resulted in problems when issuing ID cards. Computers can not recognize these unusual characters and thus the government wants to issue a list of characters that future parents will be allowed to use when giving their child a name. This might sound strange to Western ears but in China the family surname, xìng性 comes first followed by one or two given names, míng . Surnames in China are quite limited as compared to say the United States where 70,000 surnames cover 90 percent of Americans. In China 85 percent of the population share only around 100 family names. Thus the importance put on the given name, which is created by the parents and has virtually endless possibilities. The government wants to limit the number of characters parents are allowed to use to around 8,500. Parents are just not having it though so nothing definite has happened yet.

My Chinese name is  Guìyīng 穆桂英. Whenever I tell this name to a native Chinese they burst out laughing and ask me if I know who Mu Guiying was. After all these years I do know of course, she was a famous female warrior and general and heroine of the Yang Saga, a popular fiction from the Northern Song, depicting the heroic Yang family  of warriors. Mu Guiying is often depicted in Chinese opera and she is as famous as Hua Mulan which is more well known in the West because of the Disney movies loosely depicting her  life. Brave and clever Mu Guiying is described like this by poet Du Fu in "Viewing a Student of Madame Kung Sun": “Her swinging sword flashes like nine falling suns shot by Yet the legendary bowman; she moves with the force of a team of Dragons driven by the gods through the sky; her strokes and attacks are like those of terrible thunder; and when she stops all is still as water reflecting the clear moonlight.”
Why do I have this name? It was given to me in 1991 by Chinese friends here in Chengdu. They thought that it both sounded like my real name (Ingrid/Guiying (or Yinggui in reverse) and  Morejohn/Mu) and that it of course reflected my personality. Can't argue with either and it's a name that has been very easy to use all these years. Once heard no one ever forgets me or my name!

You can read more here about the popular opera Mu Guiying Takes Command.


  1. She's not a fictional character dude. She's a historical figure.

  2. I stand corrected, you are entirely right! The Yang Saga is historical biography with a bit of license.

    Thank-you for reading my blog, but then you would also have known that I am a dudette, not a dude.

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