Not So Frequently Asked Questions about my last name:

1.  How is "Jhou" pronounced?

Short answer: Like “Joe”.

Long answer: The "Jh" is a retroflex consonant with no exact English counterpart. But "J" comes closest. Don't worry, I can't say it right either.


2.  Your publications up to 2003 give your name as “Chou” ... why?

Short answer: that's what was on my birth certificate. But even then it was still prounounced "Joe", so I legally changed the spelling in 2003 to "Jhou"  to reflect the pronunciation. Of course, this means that publications from graduate school (about a dozen papers) have the old spelling, and everything afterward has the new spelling. Either way, the underlying name is this Chinese character:

(This is my family's name. It has various spellings: Zhou, Chou, and Jhou)

3. If this name is pronounced “Joe”, why was it ever spelled “Chou” in the first place?

The earlier spelling is due to the British diplomats (some might say imperialists) Thomas Wade and Herbert Giles who set the standard spelling for Chinese names in the 1800's. Yes, it seems strange to use the letters “Ch” to represent a sound like “J”, but there was a perfectly logical reason: "Ch" and "J" are both affricate palato-alveolar consonants. The two of you with linguistics degrees know what that means. The rest of us found this system difficult to use, and so it was replaced after World War II by the so-called pinyin standard. Families who left China earlier (like my dad's) kept the old spelling.

4.  Why have I never seen the name “Jhou” before?

This spelling variation was used from 2000-2008 in Taiwan, a small island of 20 million people. On the much larger Chinese mainland, “Chou” was instead replaced with “Zhou”. So you're much more likely to have seen the latter variant.