About My Name


Hi, my name is 张昌凯. Yes, this is how my name looks like in Chinese. 张, pronounced as zhāng, is my family name. 昌凯, pronounced as chāng kǎi, is my given name. In Chinese (as well as many languages in east and southeast Asia like Korean and Japanese), we put our family name first, followed by our given name. This is why all my names on this website are written as Zhang Chang-kai. Such convention is adopted by almost 1/3 of the people in this globe, so it is well worth knowing.

As you can see, my name consists of three Chinese characters, and there is a reason for that. The first character labels my family; the second character labels the generation; the third character labels the person. However, there are only a small fraction of people in China still follow this tradition.

In the western world, many given names are quite common, e.g. Peter, David, etc., and the family name is relatively unique. So in the academic community, we usually use the family name if we want to name some theorem after somebody. However, this rule is not very much friendly to scientists in the Chinese cultural sphere, as the situation is exactly the opposite, i.e. family names can be quite common while given names are relatively unique. To give you an impression, my family name 张 has the third-largest population in China with a total number of over 80 million. Therefore, if you label something using Zhang, it means one of those 80 million people. So I always advocate that we label scientists in the Chinese cultural sphere by their given names.