Today’s post is about the twin sons of Z. S. Bien and his wife Guojin Li: George Sung-Nian Bien (卞松年, pinyin Biàn Sōngnián) and Paul Bai-Nian Bien (卞柏年, pinyin Biǎn Bǎinián). Before I get into that, however, this seems like a good time to get into traditional naming conventions in Chinese and the way I write the students’ names in this blog.
Since I am writing (mostly) in English and discussing students in an American context, in this blog I write out the students’ names in Western fashion: given names (first and middle) first, and family name second. You may have noticed that I often refer to students by their first initials and family names, which was the media style of the time used in newspapers and primary sources. Around the turn of the 20th century it was common practice in these sources to refer to men by the initials of their given names, followed by their family name. Unmarried women were referred to as “Miss”, followed by their full given names and family names, or “Mrs.”, followed by the full given names or initials of their husbands and then their husbands’ family names.
Chinese names are, of course, written “backwards” from the Western perspective, with the family name coming first and the given names second. However, because most Chinese given names are two characters long, this means that their names are easily adaptable to the early 20th century Western media style of naming. Z. S. Bien is a great example of this: his given name was “Zue Sun” (currently romanized to Shou Sun), and in Chinese his name was written 卞夀孫, or Biàn Shòusūn. However, since the given name was two characters, it stood in quite well for the American first name-middle name system of given names, making 卞夀孫’s name in America “Z. S. Bien”.
You may have also noticed that the three of Z. S. Bien’s children that I have mentioned so far have the name “Nian” (年 in Chinese) as the second character of their given names: Richard Peng-Nian Bien (卞彭年), George Sung-Nian Bien (卞松年), and Paul Bai-Nian Bien (卞柏年). As a matter of fact, Z. S. Bien also shares a bit of his name with his brother, F. S. or Fu Sun (福孫) Bien, the second character of their given names being 孫. This shared character is what is known as a generational name, which is shared by all the members of a current generation in a family, siblings and cousins alike. Since 年 is the generational name of Richard, Paul, and George’s generation, all of Z. S. Bien’s children have it as the second character of their given names, as do F. S. Bien’s daughters, although I have only been able to find documentation of one of them using it: his oldest daughter, whose Chinese given name was Li-Nian.