My Chinese Ancestry

From my father’s side the lineage is well known and published. As a matter of fact, in the family we have a book of our ancestry, republished in the 30’s, tracing back all the sons of our branch of Chan since the ancestor elected resident in Meixian. We have a record which tracks 24 generations of sons. We estimate that we have 600 to 650 years of history.

In China, at least in our family, the customs demanded that the ancestor head of the family established a rule to track his descendants. As you probably know all Chinese names are made up of the combination of 3 elements. The first element is the clan’s name: in our case, it is Chan. The second and third elements are either the generation’s name or the person designated and chosen name. In our family by convention, perhaps to create complexity and to make it difficult for foreign parties to decipher, we swap the ranking of the second and third element on each generation. Then a series of names pre-determined by the ancestor, cast in a poem for memorisation purpose, is set and used as an algorithm for the generation elements.

For example my father’s name is composed as 1. The Clan’s name: CHAN, 2. Generation’s name: LIN. 3. Personal chosen name: PAK. By convention for the generation of my father, the generation’ name is placed in third position. Thus the complete name of my father was CHAN PAK LIN.

Any person of the same Clan of the same ancestry would thus be able to situate himself against his peers in relation to the generation’s name. CHAN SOW CHEN is my Chinese name. In my generation, the generation’s name is placed on the second position. All his brothers and cousins will carry SOW placed in second position in their name.

Is not it clever the determination of names from the Chinese tradition? Furthermore one would find balance between imposed rule and the flexibility of individual choice. The generation’s name obeys to set rules, whilst freedom of choice is left to the parents to select a personal element of the name. Harmony is thus achieved by the reconciliation of the immutable rule and personal choice. The YIN YANG balance!