China Clamps Down on Options for Children's Names

      April 22, 2009 11:28

      The desire of Chinese parents to give their children unique names is clashing with their government's ambition to modernize the database of its people.

      The Chinese government recently announced a plan to replace the current, handwritten identity card with a computer-readable one. Embedded with microchips, the new identity card is harder to forge but can be easily scanned at airport security check points. But of 55,000 Chinese characters, the computers can read only 32,252. As a result, about 60 million citizens whose names cannot be recognized by government computers might need to change their names, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

      In China, the 100 most common surnames cover 85 percent of the population. According to an estimate, Wangs leads with more than 92 million, followed by 91 million Lis and 86 million Zhangs. There are so many people with the same surnames that Chinese parents tend to give their children distinctive names as a way to confer individuality on them.

      Beijing will release the list of Chinese characters that can be used in names at the end of the year. But that list includes only 8,000 of the 32,252 readable characters, "more than enough to convey any concept in any field," according Chinese government official.

      Wang Daliang, professor of political science at China Youth University, supports the government measure. "Picking rare characters for given names only compounds the problem and inconveniences everyone." But, Professor Zhou Youyong, dean of Southeast University's law school, says, "The right to name children is a basic right of citizens."

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