All for One

The names of Ruby H. Wang

[3 MIN READ]

Ruby H. Wang was the name so many people identified with her. It was the name on her social security card, her driver’s license, and her other legal documents. It was the name she most consistently used to sign her paintings because she lived in the US with her husband Irving among primary-language English speakers for 49 years. It was the way so many Chinese-American friends also knew her.

Through her years in the US, though, even as she never could and never would stop acknowledging her Chinese heritage, she was also Hua Zhining. Following the conventions of formal Chinese, she used her surname first and then her given name, but in English-language writing, it was occasionally possible to see her name written as Zhining Hua, following the western convention.

The style of romanization in these cases is Pinyin, the official style of the People’s Republic of China. (Romanization is the use of the Roman characters of English writing in place of native characters.) The wide-spread adoption of Pinyin resulted in the spelling conversion of China’s capital from Peking to Beijing and Chungking to Chongqing.

On her paintings, occasionally, one can also find the older Yale romanization of her Chinese name, Hwa Chih-Ning that was more typical for Chinese living in Taiwan (like herself in her late childhood and adolescent years).

For pronunciation purposes, the Yale spelling of the family surname is slightly easier for native English speakers to figure out. The Pinyin might otherwise generate a harsh, drawn-out pronunciation like the exclamation associated with the Marines: Hoo-ah. Her given name will be challenging to figure out via either spelling means. “Zhi” should sound like someone saying “jer” if the speaker pulled the tip of their tongue halfway back on the hard palate, the roof of one’s mouth. There are no surprises for English speakers for the pronunciation of “ning.” While the use of hyphens or capital letters are simply conventions, they have no effect on pronunciation.

It’s worth noting that Pinyin also renders what would otherwise be pronounced “Wäng” (think want or wanna) as Wang. If all that seems incredibly confusing, the reader might engage in the thought exercise of determining what Roman letters they would use to render sounds both common and uncommon to English.

Aside from “Ruby H. Wang,” what is most common to the way Ruby wrote her name is the use of Chinese characters. (And even this isn’t without variation.) “华之宁” is the way she wrote it in her later years. “華之寜” is pronounced the same way but favors the traditional characters common to Taiwan over the simplified characters China adopted.

Rather like Ruby’s own painting, the way she signed and wrote her name could be the simple product of how she felt during any given period of time.

Finally, if the adoption of naming choices seems arbitrary, consider the name her sons always used to address her, one that never made it onto any of her paintings: Ma.

Ruby H. Wang

 


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