For the millionth freakin’ time: Yao is his last name.

Or, to be more specific, “Yao” is his surname.

It’s a little confusing when we—in English—use the term “last name” because typically, well, the “last name” comes last. But what we’re referring to here is the person’s surname or the name that he or she shares in common with other members of his or her family. With Chinese names, the surname comes first.

You would think that with globalization and the free flow of information on the internet that most people would have figured it out by now. And the fact that Yao is an international icon.

And the fact that he’s been in the NBA for eight seasons now.

Oh, and then there’s the telltale sign on the back of his jersey where it reads “Yao.”

And Yao obviously isn’t the first nor only Chinese player in the NBA. There’s Wang Zhi-Zhi, the first Chinese player in the NBA. There’s Yi Jian-Lian of the Washington Wizards.

So why is it that the statisticians can’t keep it straight? And it’s not just Yahoo sports. Or ESPN. Or even freaking NBA.com itself. It’s all of them.

Look at this box score from a contest earlier this year between Houston and Washington.

On nba.com.

On yahoo.

ESPN gets a pass on the box score since they use the players’ entire names, but they’re not entirely clear on all charges. Witness the “Game Leaders” box on the right side of the screen from this game between the Wizards and the Suns and you’ll see that they clearly are labeling players by their surnames, such as “A. Blatche” or “S. Nash.” Except for–

“Y. Jianlian.”


“Yi” is his surname.

Come on, guys, if you can go to the lengths of adding the little apostrophe to Amar’e’s name in everything you write (I’m sure that jacks up code occasionally, too, doesn’t it? Can a techie confirm that for me?), the least you could do is get Yao and Yi’s surnames correct.


  1. Western DUMBASSES.

    The federal, state, & local gov’ts (and corporations) can’t even decide on whether or not to include a [HYPHEN] in a name. My wife’s Chinese name is mangled all the time. Sometimes it has a hyphen. Sometimes not. And then sometimes “they” think she has a “middle name”…..when the second half of her given name gets thrown into the “middle name” data field. Frackin’ MORONS.

    And then my surname only has THREE frackin’ letters in it, which I make a point to SPELL OUT to whomever is asking…..in their own langauge even….and they STILL get it wrong half of the time. IDIOTS.

  2. but what about Ichiro?

  3. @benn – re: Ichiro, “Suzuki” is his surname. I might possibly post another essay on easily identifying (most times) different Asian surnames.

  4. I’ve read before that they went with calling Ichiro “Ichiro” because they had too many Suzukis to deal with at some point. But I’m not a big baseball fan, so I don’t recall if this was supposed to have been a problem when he hit the U.S. (seems unlikely?) or back in the Japanese leagues.

    That feels less weird to me than the confusion around the NBA players, though, since it does happen every so often, even for players or stars of ethnically “Western” origin, that someone becomes known almost exclusively by their given name.

  5. in regards to ichiro, my understanding of it was that he was a “one name” celebrity in japan (like “prince” or “madonna”) and when he came to the majors it was he who wanted his first name on the back of his jersey rather than his last.