The "Eastern order" of last names (i.e. Surname Forename) is used in many countries and cultures. When writing the name of someone whose name would be in Eastern order in their culture, what is the rule? Should I "convert" the name to "Western order" (i.e. Forename Surname) or leave it as is?

I ask because I am very, very confused by common practice. For example, the leader of China appears to be universally referred to as Xi (Surname) Jinping (Forename), but the leader of Japan is almost universally referred to as Shinzo (Forename) Abe (Surname). Similarly, I see the press refer to the leader of South Korea as Moon (Surname) Jae-in (Forename), but the leader of Hungary as Viktor (Forename) Orbán (Surname).

Are there different rules for different countries? If so, what are the specific rules for each of the many countries and cultures that use Eastern name order? What is the best practice in writing?

  • 2
    On this issue, if you do as the New York Times or the Economist does, you will be right. Just make a list -- you have a good start on the list already. You need to add North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and ... I am sure a few others. India and Pakistan follow "Western" order. I hope someone knows the logic behind who does which.
    – ab2
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 23:02
  • 1
    As a kid, I was expected to write "Surname Firstname" on e.g. school tests. However, I also noticed that there was always a comma in US tv shows (e.g. a file that was labeled "Simpson, Homer"). In my opinion, you adhere to the cultural standard of the language you are conversing in. While I still use "Surname Firstname" in my own language (and communication intended for my region), I add the comma when writing in English (and communicating internationally).
    – Flater
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 9:03

1 Answer 1


Excellent question!

Most Comprehensive Guide to Asian naming conventions

The most comprehensive guide, which is very well-written and includes interesting historical details, is:

Name Order Confusion (TVtropes.org)

New York Times Manual of Style and Usage

As @ab2 suggested, and particularly if you write for U.S. media (newspapers, magazines, news/commentary sites, TV, etc.), you would probably want to consult this guide:

Siegal, Allan M., and William G. Connolly. The New York times manual of style and usage. 5th ed. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2015.

It's available in print (paperback) or eBook, although a couple of reviews on Amazon.com report the Kindle version is problematic. I took a quick look at a sample of the eBook on Google Play, and it did not have the same problems as the Kindle version (reportedly) has.

ACU National Naming Conventions for Asian Names

A kind soul at Australian Catholic University (ACU) put together a brief guide - it's a Word doc, I don't know the direct URL, but if you search for "ACU National Naming Conventions for Asian Names" on Google it's the first result. I suspect that guide would be particularly helpful for folks in Australia and New Zealand because it mentions some details specific to that region.

The ACU document references this book, which is still in print, but I could not find any information regarding its quality:

Price, Fiona Swee-Lin. Success with Asian names: a practical guide for business and everyday life. Crows Nest, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin, 2007.


Wikipedia has three related articles that seem to offer fairly comprehensive coverage on the topic:

Personal name, Given name, and Maiden and married names.

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