Michael Ho gave an overview of Chinese naming conventions and practices that family history researchers may encounter in their research of Chinese ancestors. Topics included surnames, differences in pronunciations, name order, married women's names, and alternate names. He also gave a demonstration of conducting searches using Chinese names, along with strategies on how to obtain better results
CHINESE NAME GAME Q&A
Questions posed from participants of “The Chinese Name Game”
The group of volunteers answering your questions have found there is more than one way to conduct your family research, and there may be more than one answer to your question. We strive to, at minimum, stoke your curiosity and inspire you to pursue further research.
From Monterey Park, CA: My parents used to address most men as “Ah Sook”. I don’t believe that was his name as it was a very common address. Any explanation?
You are correct, most likely it wasn’t his first name. It was and is common to use “Ah” when addressing someone. There is a likely explanation for the use of “Ah Sook” by your parents. In Chinese kinship terms, there are two different terms to refer to an uncle, which are specific to whether that person is older or younger than your parent. In Cantonese and similar dialects, the terms for uncle are “Bok” and “Sook.” To properly address one’s uncle, he would be addressed by a given name followed by “Bok” or “Sook.” The terms “Ah Bok” or “Ah Sook” are polite ways to address men, who may not be related to you. It’s like saying someone is your “uncle,” even though he may not be blood-related.
From Irvine, CA: Do you recommend adding the Chinese characters when creating your family tree or adding them to databases, like FamilySearch or Ancestry?
When creating your family tree, we definitely recommend documenting your family member’s Chinese name. As your research continues, this definitely helps because family trees found in China consist of only Chinese characters. As far as adding them to free/paid databases, this becomes a personal choice. Are you willing to share the information in a public forum?
From Huntington Beach, CA: Do women also have “poem” names?
In history, the “poem” names documented the male lineage, which retained the clan surname. The women, when they married, became part of her spouse’s family, even though she retained her surname. There is one exception, and that is for the Naxi minority in mainly Yunnan province, where it is a matriarchal society.
From Huntington Beach, CA: My grandmother has “Shee” as the third character of her name. Based on what you’ve said, that is not really part of her given name, right?
You are correct if the character has been translated correctly. Often a Chinese character has more than one interpretation. We are answering this as if it has been done correctly. Shee is not a given name but indicates that the woman is married. The woman upon marriage retains her surname. One of the other two characters should be your grandmother’s surname.
From Los Angeles, CA: What exactly is a milk name?
A “milk name” is one that is given by the parents to a child until a formal name is decided on, after 100 days after birth.
Links shared during the Presentation:
AncestryLibrary (Some Links)
Los Angeles Public Library https://www.lapl.org//collections-resources/research-and-homework
Orange County Public Libraries http://www.ocpl.org/page/ancestry-library-edition
San Francisco Public Library https://sfpl.org/locations/main-library/general-collections/genealogy-resources-library
Oakland Public Library https://oaklandlibrary.org/research-resources/family-history-genealogy-resources
Sonoma County Library https://sonomalibrary.org/library-collection/ancestry-library
New York Public Library https://www.nypl.org/collections/articles-databases/ancestry-library-edition