Ancient China Simplified
by Edward Harper Parker
Public Domain Books
Chapter XXXIII - Names
One of the difficulties of Chinese ancient history is the unravelling of proper names; but, as with other difficulties, this one is owing rather to the novelty and strangeness of the subject, to the unfamiliarity of scene and of atmosphere, than to any inherent want of clearness in the matter itself. In reading Scottish history, no one is much disconcerted to find a man called upon the same page (as an imaginary instance), Old John, John McQuhirt, the Master of Weel, the McQuhirt, the Laird o’ Airton, the Laird of the Isle, and the Earl of Airton and Weel; there are many such instances to be found in Boswell’s account of the Johnsonian trip to the Hebrides; but the puzzled Englishman has at least his own language and a fairly familiar ground to deal with. When, however, we come to unpronounceable Chinese names of strange individuals, moving about amid hitherto unheard-of surroundings 2500 years ago, with a suspicion of uncertainty added about the genuineness and good faith of the whole story, things are apt to seem hopelessly involved, even where the best of good-will to understand is present. Thus Confucius may be called K’ung-tsz, K’ung Fu-tsz, or Chung-ni, besides other personal applications under the influence of tabu rules, Tsz-ch’an may be spoken of as Kung-sun K’iao, or (if he himself speaks) simply as K’iao. And so on with nearly all prominent individuals. In those times the family names, or “surnames” as we say in English, were not used with the regularity that prevails in China now, when every one of standing has a fixed family name, such as Li or Yiian, followed by an official personal name, like Hung-chang or Shi- k’ai. In old times the clan or tribe counted first; for instance the imperial clan of Ki included princes of several vassal states. But, after five generations, it was expected that any given family unit should detach itself. Thus, in 710 B.C., Confucius’ ancestor, son of the composer of odes mentioned on page 175, took, or was given by the ruler of his native state, Sung, the detached family name of K’ung-fu (Father K’ung), “Father" being the social application, and K’ung the surname, which thence became the family name of a new branch. The old original clan- names were little used by any one in a current sense, just as the English family name of Guelph is kept in the dim background so far as current use goes. Nor were the personal names, even of Chinese emperors and kings, so grave and decorous in style as they have always been in later times. For instance, “Black Buttocks,” “Black Arm,” “Double Ears";–such names (decidedly Turkish in style) are not only used of Tsin princes with an admixture of Tartar blood nearly always coursing more or less in their veins, but also in such states as the orthodox Lu. The name “Black Arm,” for instance, is used both by Lu and by Ts’u princes; also by a Ts’u private individual; whilst an orthodox Duke of Sung bears the purely Turkish name of T’ouman, which (and exactly the same pictograph characters, too) was also the name of the first historical Hiung-nu (later Turkish) Khan several centuries later. The name Luh-fu or “Emoluments Father,” belonging to the son of the last Emperor of the Shang dynasty in 1123 B.C., was also the personal name of one of the rulers of Ts’i many centuries later. In the same way we find identical personal names in CH’EN and Lu, and also in Ts’u and Lu princes. Eunuchs were not considered to possess family names, or even official personal names. If there had been then, as now, a celibate priestly caste, no doubt then, as now, priests would also have been relieved of their family name rights.
It seems quite clear that many if not most family names began in China with the name of places, somewhat after the Scotch style: even in Lancashire the title of the old lord of the manor is often the family surname of many of the village folk around. Take the Chinese imperial domain for instance; in the year 558 one Liu Hia goes to meet his master the new Emperor. His name (Hia) and surname (Liu) would serve just as well for current use to-day, as for example with the late viceroy Liu K’un-yih; but we are told Liu Hia was so “named” by the historian in full because his rank was not that of first-class statesman, and it is explained that Liu was the name of his tenancy in the imperial appanage. At a Lu funeral in 626 B.C. the Emperor’s representative to the vassal state is spoken of complimentarily by his social appellation in view of his possessing first-class ministerial rank: he cannot be spoken of by his detached clan-name, or family name, “because he has not yet received a town in fee.” A few years later, another imperial messenger is spoken of as King-shuh (Glory Uncle), “Glory” being the name of his manor or fee, and “Uncle” his social appellation. In 436 B.C. the Emperor sent a present of sacrificial meat to Lu by X. As X is thus “named,” he must be of “scholar" rank, as an imperial “minister” (it is explained) could not be thus named. The ruler alone has the right to “affront a man” at all times with his personal name, but even a son in speaking of his own father to the Emperor may “affront” his father, because both his father and himself are on equal subject footing before the Emperor. To “name” a man in history is not always like “naming” a member in the House of Commons. For instance, the King of Ts’u, as mentioned in Chapter XXVII., was named for killing a Chinese in 531, but not for killing a barbarian prince in 526 B.C. It was partly by these delicate shades of naming or not naming, titling or not titling, that Confucius hinted at his opinions in his history: in the Ts’u case, it seems to have been an honour to “name” a barbarian. Wei Yang, Kung-sun Yang, or Shang Kiin, or Shang Yang, the important personage who carried a new civilization to Ts’in, and practically “created” that power about 350 B.C., was, personally, simply named Yang, or “Bellyband.” As he came originally from the orthodox state or principality of Wei, he might be called Wei Yang, just as we might say Alexander of Fife. As he received from Ts’in, as a reward for his services, the petty principality of Shang (taken in war by Ts’in from Ts’u), he might be called the prince or laird (kuen) of Shang (of. Lochiel), or Shang Kuen. As he was the grandson (sun) of a deceased earl (called kung, or “duke,” as a posthumous compliment), he was entitled to take the family name of Kung-sun, just as we say “Fitzgeorge” or “Fitzwilliam.” Finally, he was Yang (= John) of Shang (= Lochiel). In speaking of this man to an educated Chinese, it does not in the least matter which of the four names be used. In the same way, Tsz-ch’an (being a duke’s grandson) was Kung-sun K’iao. The word tsz, or “son,” after a family name, as for instance in K’ung-tsz (Confucius), is defined as having the effect of “gracefully alluding to a male.” It seems really to be the same in effect as the Latin us, as in Celsius, Brutus, Thompsonius, etc. When it precedes, not the family name or the tabu’d personal name, but the current or acquaintance name, then it seems to have the effect of Don or Dom, used with the most attenuated honorificity; or the effect of “Mr.” Fu-tsz means “The Master.”
As to tabus, the following are curious specific instances. King, or “Jungle,” was the earliest name for Ts’u, or “Brushwood," the uncleared region south of the River Han, along the banks of the Yang-tsz; and it afterwards became a powerful state. But one of the most powerful kings of Ts’in (249-244) was called Tsz-ts’u, or “Don Brushwood,” so his successor the First August Emperor (who was really a bastard, and not of genuine Ts’in blood at all) tabu’d the word Ts’u, and ordered historians to use the old name King instead. In the same way the philosopher Chwang Chou, or Chwang-tsz, was spoken of by the Han historians as Yen Chou, because chwang was an imperial personal name. Both words mean “severe”: it is as though private Romans and public scribes had been commanded to call themselves and to write Austerus, instead of Severus, out of respect for the Emperor Septimius Severus. The business-like First August Emperor, himself, evidently had no hand in the pedantic King and Ts’u tabu business, for one of his first general orders when he became Supreme Emperor in 221 B.C., was to proclaim that “in ancient times there were no posthumous names, and they are hereby suppressed. I am Emperor the First. My successor will simply be Emperor the Second, and so on for ever.” There is no clear record of posthumous names and titles anterior to the Chou dynasty; the first certain instance is the father of the founder, whose personal name was Ch’ang, and who had been generally known as the “Earl of the West.” His son, the founder, made him W&n Wang, or the “Civilian King,” posthumously. In the same way the Duke of Chou, a son of the Civilian King, made his brother the founder, personally called Fah, Wu Wang, or the “Warrior King.” The same Duke of Chou (the first ruler of Lu, and Confucius’ model in all things) was the virtual founder of the Chou administrative system in general, and also of the posthumous name rules which were “intended to punish the bad and encourage the good"; but counsellors have naturally always been very gingerly and roundabout in wounding royal family feeling by selecting too harsh a “punishing” name.
Not only royal and princely personages had posthumous names. In 817 and 796 B.C., each, we find a counsellor of the Emperor spoken of both by the real and the posthumous name. In 542 B.C. a concubine of one of the Lu rulers is spoken of by her clan-name and her posthumous name. In 560 B.C. the dying King of Ts’u modestly alludes to the choice of an inferior posthumous name befitting him and his poor talents, for use at the times of biennial sacrifice to his manes, and adds: “I am now going to take my place a la suite, in company with my ancestors in the temple.”
Persons of the same clan-name could not properly intermarry. Thus the Emperor Muh, who is supposed to have travelled to Turkestan in the tenth century B.C., had a mysterious liaison during his expedition with a beauteous Miss Ki (i.e. a girl of his own clan), who died on the way. The only way tolerant posterity can make a shift to defend this “incest,” is by supposing that in those times the names of relatives were “arranged differently.” However, the mere fact that the funeral ceremonies were carried out with full imperial Chou ritual, and that incest is mentioned at all, seems to militate against the view (noticed in Chapter XIII.) that it was Duke Muh of Ts’in who (400 years later) undertook this journey, for he did not belong to the Ki family at all. Curiously enough, it fell to the lot of the son and successor of the Emperor Muh to have to punish and destroy a petty vassal state whose ruler had committed the incestuous act of marrying three sisters of his own clan-name. In 483 B.C. the ruler of Lu also committed an indiscretion by marrying a Ki girl. As her clan-name must, according to rule, be mentioned at her burial, she was not formally buried at all, but the whole affair was hushed up, and she was called by the fancy name of Meng-tsz (exactly the same characters as “Mencius”),
Another instance serves to illustrate the above-mentioned imperial journey west, and the fief questions jointly. When the Emperor Muh went west, he was served as charioteer by one of the ancestors of the future Ts’in principality, who for his services was enfeoffed at Chao (north of Shan Si province). Chao was one of the three states into which Tsin broke up in 403 B.C., and was very Tartar in its sympathies. Thus, as both Ts’in and Chao bore the same original clan-name of Ying, granted to the Ts’in family as possessions of the Ts’in fief (Eastern Kan Suh province) by the early Chou emperors in 870 B.C., Ts’in is often spoken of as having the sub-clan-name of Chao. These facts, again, all militate against the theory that it was Duke Muh of Ts’in who made the voyage of discovery usually attributed to the Chou Emperor Muh; for Duke Muh’s lineal ancestor, ancestor also of the original Ts’in Ying, himself acted as guide in Tartary to the Emperor Muh. The First August Emperor, who was, as already stated, really a bastard, was borne by the concubine of a Chao merchant, who made over the concubine whilst enceinte to his (the Emperor’s) father, when that father was a royal Ts’in hostage dwelling in the state of Chao; hence the Emperor is often called Chao CHENG (CHENG being his personal name). He had thus a double claim to the family name of Chao, first because–granting his legitimacy–his Ts’in ancestor (also the ancestor of all the Chao family) was, during the ninth century B.C., enfeoffed in Chao; and secondly because, when Chao became an independent kingdom, he was, during the third century B.C., himself born in Chao to a Chao man of a Chao woman.
A great deal more might of course be said upon the subject of names, and of their effect in sometimes obscuring, sometimes elucidating, historical facts; but these few remarks will perhaps suffice, at least, to suggest the importance of scrutinizing closely the possible bearing of each name upon the political events connected with it.