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Chinese names

October 1, 2012

The week before last I reviewed Richard Weihe’s novel Sea of Ink, about the Chinese painter Bada Shanren, for the Independent on Sunday. Now, I’d always understood that in Chinese (as in Japanese) what we would call the surname comes first, and the given name last. ‘Bada Shanren’ was actually a pseudonym, but I assumed that it would follow this same pattern; so in the review, after introducing the painter by his full name, I thereafter referred to him as ‘Bada’. When the review came out, I saw that a sub-editor had changed this to ‘Shanren’. Was this just an ignorant piece of hyper-correction, equivalent to changing ‘Shakespeare’ to ‘William’? Or did that sub know something I don’t? I don’t know whether I should feel cross or grateful. 

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