Name Changing at Marriage and Simplified Characters that are Confusing
Chinese women are sometimes referred to by both names; for example, Angelina Jolie would legally still have that name, but she could also go by Mrs. Pitt. Men who marry into wealthy families in Japan change their own last names in order to pass on the greater name; on the other hand, some Chinese women do not even have first names because their families didn’t want to pay to go through the traditional naming process, which involves seeing a fortune teller, checking how the stars and weather were on that day, balancing the strokes in the characters, and so on. (In East Asia, you can’t just name your child after someone in the family: that seems to be taboo, actually.)
When the men were the ones out in society doing work, it made sense for everyone in the family to have his last name so they could be easily identified with each other. Today, the father and mother could both have professional identities. In the case of a marriage between equals, perhaps it’s better for the woman to change her name because her parents and friends would be expecting that anyway, while the man would shock his parents by making that same decision.
One last thing: you can’t choose what family you’re born into, but you can choose what family you marry into, so is name changing really an act of subordination? Plenty of people are dissatisfied with the names their parents picked for them, right? And eventually, you spend more time with your new name than you did with the old one.
Simplifications that Cause Confusion
The PRC’s switch from traditional to simplified writing wasn’t natural; it was mandated by the Communist government. Because the simplified system is more phonetic, it’s helpful for adults who can speak but aren’t yet literate; because radicals that express meaning are diluted, it’s more difficult for foreigners and young students who remember words by the concepts they express. People have always used simplified characters as shorthand when jotting down notes, and Taiwanese still do, but now that most writing is digitized rather than handwritten, it makes even more sense for traditional to be the official written language: typing a complicated character doesn’t take any more time than writing a simplified one.
Here are examples of two different words that are crunched into the same character in the PRC’s simplified writing:
干 (dry), 幹 (tree trunk) -> 干
沖 (offshore), 衝 (conflict) -> 沖
複 (compound), 復 (duplicate) -> 复
借 (borrow), 藉 (humiliate) -> 借
…据 (fixed), 據 (basis) -> 据
面 (face), 麵 (noodles) -> 面
These can cause problems without sufficient context. For example, my friend Eugene had a Chinese student transfer to his school in rural Japan. He wrote that is favorite food was 面, but the Japanese use 麵 for noodles, so the students who read his self-introduction thought that his favorite food was “face.” Hopefully that didn’t reinforce any stereotypes about the mainland diet.