I'm reading Lowe's 2009 revision of J. H. Jackson's 1937 translation of the classic Chinese novel The Water Margin. The revisions make a point of removing some of the anglicisations from Jackson's original translation.

One of the main characters is Wu Song. About thirty chapters in we meet Wu Song's brothers, Song Jiang and Song Qing. It seems that Song Jiang and Song Qing are named in the normal Chinese fashion with the family name first, and this is true of all the other characters in the book, as far as I can tell. This makes Wu Song's name an anomaly.

It cannot be simply an error by the translator or reviser, since Wu Song's exploits take up much of the book and he is named in the text frequently. Is there a significance to this reversal? Was it in the original?

1 Answer 1


Wu Song‘s name is not an anomaly. His family name is “Wu”, from the word 武 —wǔ (pronunciation with low tone)— which refers to fighting, martial arts and bravery.

For further confirmation, Wu Song has an older brother called Wu Dalang. The reason why Song Jiang and Song Qing have a different family name is that they are either half-brothers or not actually biological brothers to the former two.

We are also misled by the English transcription, as the “Song” is not the same in both cases.

  • In Wu Song‘s name it is the word 松—sōng. Pronounced with a high tone, it means ‘pine tree’, and is also a (relatively rare) name.
  • In the other two names it is the word 宋—sòng. Pronounced with a falling tone, it principally refers to the Song dynasty, but is also one of the most common Chinese surnames.
  • I would add the tone marks for both characters: Sòng for 宋 and Sōng for 松. Even though people who have never learnt any Chinese are unlikely to understand them, they are at least a visible difference. (And do you know which character is "Wu"? 伍 Wǔ, 邬 Wū or 兀 Wù?)
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Feb 23 at 13:42
  • @Tsundoku: It is 武 . See for instance here.
    – Brian Tung
    Commented Feb 24 at 7:27

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