Mainlanders @ wit's end in the search for unique names

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 August, 2007, 12:00am

One of the most recognised characters of the internet age, @ - which sounds like 'love him' in Putonghua - has made its way into a baby's name as mainlanders try to expand the limited pool of names.

Quoting a Ministry of Education report released yesterday on the transformation of the Chinese language, China News Service reported that names containing English letters, like Zhao Yi A , also popped up last year in the quest for unique combinations.

Data from the Ministry of Public Security's National Citizen Identity Information Centre shows that 16,000 mainlanders share the same Chinese name as Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau Tak-wah, known as Liu Dehua in the Putonghua-speaking world.

On the mainland, pin-up athlete Liu Xiang shares his name with 18,462 of his countrymen while 5,599 people, including the country's most prominent basketballer, respond to Yao Ming . Zhang Wei, one of the most popular Chinese names, is shared by a whopping 300,000 mainlanders, the Ministry of Education said in the report.

The report said there were 23,000 surnames available to mainland Chinese, but 129 of them accounted for 87 per cent of the population.

A large population is largely to blame for repetition of names, and the problem has proved to be a headache for household registration authorities, banks and schools.

As a result, many have turned to some rarely used Chinese characters to avoid repetition. But these characters have created another problem as computers at most government departments can recognise only 30,000 of the 85,000 Chinese characters.