Word order matters, especially with Taiwanese names when written or pronounced in English in the US or Europe. While Washington Nationals pitcher Wang Chien-ming (王建民) is a famous name among US baseball fans, both the Washington Post and the New York Times now spell his name “Chien-ming Wang.” US radio and TV sports announcers also get his name order wrong. How can they get away with this affront to Taiwanese culture?
Newspaper editors in the US usually follow the naming style of a person’s country. So former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) is always referred to as “Lee Teng-hui” in the Times and the Post, and President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is also shown respect by the US media, which writes and pronounces his name “Ma Ying-jeou,” and never “Ying-jeou Ma.” Have you ever seen Lee’s name written as “Teng-hui Lee” in the newspapers? Never.
Former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was always referred to as “Chen Shui-bian,” and never as “Shui-bian Chen.” Newspapers in Washington or New York never called former dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) “Kai-shek Chiang,” did they? So why the relaxation of the rules with Wang Chien-ming? A name is a name, no matter what profession a person works in.
So I asked some prominent sports writers why Wang Chien-ming’s name has been reversed. I asked the Post sports writer Kilgore Adam — also known as Adam Kilgore — and I am still waiting for an answer. I also asked Amanda Comak at the Post, who covers Wang’s career with the Nationals, and I am waiting for her answer as well.
When I asked the Associated Press (AP) reporter Christopher Duncan how the AP writes the name of former NBA player Yao Ming (姚明) — “Yao Ming” or “Ming Yao”? — he said by e-mail: “Yao Ming, and Yao on second reference, and never Ming Yao.”
Just two years ago, the Times published a news story by Taiwan-based stringer Jonathan Adams about a Taiwan baseball scandal, printing Wang’s name in the correct order: “Baseball will remain Taiwan’s national pastime, Lin said, because Taiwanese baseball heroes, like the New York Yankees pitcher Wang Chien-ming, continue to inspire younger generations.”
Today, however, the sports section of the Times puts Wang’s name in reverse order, calling him, despite all AP’s style rules to the contrary, “Chien-ming Wang.” I wonder if the publisher of the Times, Sulzberger Arthur, would like to see his family name reversed? How about Bradlee Ben of the Post? Would he stand for that?
So Keller Bill and Anthony Ted and Kilgore Adam and Duncan Christopher and Comak Amanda in the US, what’s it going to be? Obama Barack might take an interest in this sporting brouhaha, too. Palin Sarah and McCain John, too.
Most importantly, just why is Yao Ming’s name treated differently to Wang Chien-ming’s?
As a longtime Taiwanese resident of Washington, who works for the Formosan Association of Public Affairs, said to me: “American newspapers need to stick to a certain standard ... for all people from Taiwan and China. The best way to call Wang Chien-ming is Wang Chien-ming ... not the other way around. Although this naming order may be a little odd for American sports writers and baseball fans, this is also a good educational opportunity for people in the US to learn that other nationals may have different systems for writing their names in English. If Yao Ming is called Yao Ming by American sports writers, then Wang Chien-ming should be shown the same respect. It’s only fair — and natural.”