“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.” So says Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
Actually, in many parts of the world, people’s names are used and written in a way that probably could surprise Shakespeare. Allow me to explain from my own Chinese perspective:)
In China, Japan, Korea, and probably Vietnam, the terms last name and first name can be confusing, as they are not synonymous with given name and surname used in the West. In these countries, people use surname first, followed by his/her given name. So when somebody in China calls me, s/he would call me Ji Haidong, not Haidong Ji, because Ji is my surname and Haidong is my given name.
Chinese names usually are composed of 3 Chinese characters. Surname, in most cases, is just one character, whereas given name usually has 1 or 2 characters, with 2-character given name probably more common. Given name almost never has more than 2 characters. In my case, my given name is 海东.
Sometimes the first character of the given name indicates the generation of the person. This is more true in older times and is rarely practiced nowadays, probably only in rural or remote areas. If I were named that way, the first character of my given name would have been Guang 广, not Hai 海.
In translating names to English, different countries have different conventions, although they are not strictly enforced. Most Chinese names are translated into English following the English convention, given name first, followed by surname. My name is translated that way. However, sometimes famous people get different treatment;) Yao Ming is a good example. Yao is his surname. Ming is his given name. Mao Zedong is another example.
Mainland China translates names into English using the Pinyin system. (I think Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and other Chinese speaking regions are probably doing the same now. They used a different system or systems before.) If a given name has more than one Chinese character, the translation of the characters will be combined to form one word. In my case, Haidong is actually the combination of Hai 海 and Dong 东.
Chinese women don’t change their last names to their husbands’ after marriage. Children usually use their father’s surname.
I believe Korean names generally follow the same rule. But it appears that when translating into English, the surname is still placed in the front, unlike Chinese name translations. For example, my personal favorite dictator is called Kim Jong Il. It is only fitting since he is such a sick person;) And South Korean president is named Roh Moo-Hyun in English publications. I could be wrong on this, because once again, famous people may get a different treatment.
Japanese names are usually written in kanji (Chinese characters). Like Chinese and Korean names, surname comes first. Based on my experience, the length, in terms of how many Chinese character it has, can vary quite a bit, usually from 3 to 5 characters.
I am not sure how a Japanese name gets translated into English. But I suspect the given name is placed first.
My name certainly sounds strange in the west. My last name is also kind of strange in China. It is not a common surname. That will give you an idea how special I am;)