Proper Grammar: Asian names and commas.

If a Korean’s name is Park Jin Hyuk, is it really proper to put a comma between Park and Jin? I see this all the time, but mainly due to limited flexibility in computer programs and databases.

If person cannot escape the comma, should the name really be listed as “Park, Jin Hyuk”? Doesn’t the comma imply that the one part should actually come before the other part? Like in a book title: Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The? It seems like the only reason to use the comma at all is to alphabatize western names. But because of databases and stuff, we end up with unnecessary commas between the family and given names of east Asians.

Is it even technically incorrect to write the person’s name as Jin Hyuk Park? If so, isn’t it also incorrect to put a comma when writing Park, Jin Hyuk?

If the bank listed two people on an account as:
Smith, John J or JinHyuk, Park

Would you say that it is incorrect because you would assume the latter is “Mr JinHyuk”? Or would you say it is correct because the comma means the name is not in the original order (like a book title)?

I’d say the bank is wrong. Am I right?

What would Kelsey say?


When written in isolation or in narrative, the proper form for “Asian” (Chinese and Japanese) names is Lastname Firstname: Park Jin-hyuk, to give the OP’s example, or Tokugawa Iesasu. I believe this is also true for Korean and Vietnamese names as well; I’m unsure how far it extends. (As a minor factoid, it’s also the completely-proper-and-precise usage for Magyar as well, though ordinarily in English narrative they will be reversed to the more normal Western Firstname Lastname: Nagy Imre for the late Premier Nagy, whose friends called him Imre.)

My thinking is that when alphabetized-by-surname lists of the sort “Smith, John J. / Smith, Joseph W. / Smith, Kenneth R. / Smithers, Hugo S.” are produced, the proper usage would be to place Asian names in the same format: “Park, Jin-hyuk” since the key, leading element for the list is surname. The comma does not designate “this is a reversal” per se, but “this is a lastname preceding firstname list.”

An interesting related question would be full Hispanic names, which are of the format “Dolores Maria Sanchez Garcia” where “Sanchez” is the normal patrilineal surname and “Garcia” the second, matrilineal surname. Listwise, I’d be inclined to render this “Sanchez Garcia, Dolores Maria” – is this S.O.P in such cases?

I would use the terms surname and personal name rather than last and first name, to avoid confusion in multi-cultural situations.

For Korean names, the comma is not necessary and looks odd, unless in a list as described by Poly. If a Korean is introducing himself in English, he might give his personal name first, if he knows the convention and wants to avoid confusion. Anyone who knows that Korean surnames are traditionally given first will usually recognize the difference between a surname (there’s only a hundred or so) and a personal name anyway.

Another convention I’ve seen used in international settings is the all-caps surname. So, “PARK Jin Hyuk” or “John James SMITH” makes it clear what the surname is. This what you’ll see on business cards or name tags. You’ll then know to address the person using the all-caps name, until you’re at a more personal basis.

I prefer “family name” and “given name.”

And I think the comma does indicate that the normal word order has been reversed, and is a cue to the reader to change them around in order to find the usual order.

Asian? The Middle East is in Asia, too. We seem to be dealing specifically with Korean names here.

But in Thailand, surnames are only about 100 years old. There’s a real mix of how they’re listed. Sometimes first and last, sometimes “last, first.”

Chinese names will be written different ways, depending on where you’re talking about. In most of mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore, the Chinese use two names; for example, Deng Xiaoping. But some Chinese in Singapore write three discrete names, such as Lee Kuan Yew. In southern China, Hong Kong, Taiwan – and Korea – names generally use hyphens, at least that I’ve seen over here: Kim Jong-il, with no comma after the surname, which comes at the beginning.

For the OP’s example, in the US and other Western countries, the system is set up where if the surname is listed first, then there’s a comma afterward. I’ve seen many journal articles written by Koreans whose names appear two different ways depending on the journal – say, Jin-hyuk Park and Park, Jin-hyuk. I think it would be fair for the OP’s bank in his example to use the comma, because once you start mixing systems, it gets too confusing. It would not be “incorrect” for that place.

Side note: To further confuse the issue, in Thailand the surname is NEVER used after Mr., Dr. etc., but rather the given name. For instance, Dr. John Smith would always be Dr. John and NEVER Dr. Smith. I myself am always Mr. (first name), never Mr. (last name).

In the version of English spoken in the United States, Asian is generally understood to mean East Asian, or the countries of China, Taiwan, North Korea, South Korea, and Japan. All of whom use the “surname given name” format. It’s entirely clear what the OP was talking about.

Chinese from Singapore here.

My chinese name is GREEN build strong, GREEN being my surname (not really). I actually have an english name, “Smith”, as well, written on my identity card as “GREEN build strong Smith”.

This caused endless problems at the LSE, where I studied. I would rather be addressed as “Mr. Smith GREEN”, or just “Mr. GREEN”, but the school insisted on calling me “Mr. build”. That’s like calling Obama “Mr. Hussein”, or worse, actually, because my given name is “build strong”, and not just “build”.

An acceptable alternative would be GREEN, build strong. Because GREEN is my surname. I understand that that would lead to me being called Mr. build strong GREEN, but I don’t mind as much.

I’m sorry, I know this is an awfully picky little complaint, but it’s “Grammar.” There is no E in that word. Of all the words you shouldn’t misspell, that’s right up there.

Sorry, carry on.

Damnit! And I KNOW that too. :smack:

No, I’m having none of that. Asia is a big place. Using Asia when only East or Southeast Asia is meant is a big bugbear of mine.

And Japan does not list surname first.

Which is why I said …we end up with unnecessary commas between the family and given names of east Asians. in my OP. I’ve lived in East Asia and the Middle East for over a year each. I can use a good spelling correction every now and then, but I’m pretty informed with my geography.

Get over it. I was quite clear in my message and I even said “EAST ASIA” in the fucking OP.
Sorry my Title was not specific enough for you. I could just have easily had a title mention South America and specify Columbia in my OP for clarification and I would have been easily understood.
To act like you had no idea what part of Asia I was talking about is nonsense.

You know what you remind me of? The pretentious little asshole in a Physics class who acts like no question could possibly be correctly answered unless you preceed each one with shit like “Assuming a massless string, a frictionless surface, no wind resistance, a perfect vacuum, an ideal gas, and uniformly homogenous mass…”
It’s ridiculous. Some shit is just ‘understood’ in normal conversation. Get off your high horse.

Japanese people interacting with other Japanese people in Japan customarily put their family names first and their given names last.

Wikipedia article on “Japanese name”:

Could I please get a mod to change the title to:

Proper Western Grammar in a Global Business Climate: Traditional Korean, Chinese, and other similarly formatted Southeast Asian names and commas.

Sorry, I have to do this–
It is grammar, NOT grammer!

Aha. I stand corrected. I always thought the Japanese practice was similar to the West’s and even Thailand’s, I guess because I’m used to hearing names like Shinzo Abe instead of Abe Shinzo or current Prime Minister Taro Aso and not Aso Taro. You NEVER hear Zedong Mao.

I still can’t go along with Asia = East/Southeast Asia exclusively.

FWIW, after two emails, the bank finally realized what I was talking about and have subsequently changed the name in their system.
It was listed as Eunhye, Lee. It is now Lee, Eunhye. If the comma merely means “names are reversed”, then the bank would have been right the first time. But if the comma means “family name is first regardless of how a person normally writes or says his/her name” then I was right in asking for it to be changed.
Hence, the OP. Before I went ahead and sent a second email, I wanted to make sure I was right and also to see if either way could be perceived as correct.

Did you really? Even though it was already done?

Was just sayin’. Apologies if I offended you.