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The naming of “New North City”

On 25 December this year Taipei County will be upgraded to a special municipality. The Chinese-language name of the new municipality will be Xīnběi Shì (新北市). About a month ago I sent an e-mail to Taipei County Commissioner Chou Hsi-wei enquiring about the official English name of the new municipality but received no reply. A story in today’s Taipei Times provides some answers though.

According to the article Yang Yi-te (楊義德), the Commissioner of Taipei County’s Department of Civil Affairs , said the County Government chose “Xinbei City” as the official name because “New Taipei City” would be too similar to Taipei City.

The Taipei Times also reported on a group of Tongyong Pinyin advocates protesting against the use of the Hanyu Pinyin “Xinbei”. Chang Shu-feng (張淑芬), director of Taiwan Pinyin League, said the government should use “Sinbei City” or “New Taipei City” as the English name. The article also says a final decision on the English name of the city will be made by the Taipei County Council in September.

An article (中文) in the United Daily News (聯合報) says that both the KMT and DPP candidates for mayor of the new municipality favor “New Taipei City”. KMT candidate Eric Chu (朱立倫) says that this is the original public consensus. DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen says that it’s most important for foreigners to know what the city is called. Foreigners won’t know that “Xinbei” is just the transliteration of some Chinese characters, but “New Taipei City” makes it very clear that this is a newly developed metropolitan area.

The United Daily News article also quotes Deputy Commissioner of Taipei County, Lee Shu-chuan (李四川), saying that the Ministry of Interior determined last year that place names should be transliterated using Hanyu Pinyin. Therefore “Xinbei City” met the standard. This decision was sent to the Ministry of Interior and Taipei County Council in April this year and won’t be changed.

A survey of Taiwan’s major English-language media organisations shows a variety of usages. The China Post, Taiwan News and Focus Taiwan (published by CNA) use Xinbei City. The Taipei Times, which supports Tongyong Pinyin, uses Sinbei City. While Taiwan Today (published by the GIO) uses New Taipei City.

In an e-mail Kaihsu Tai suggested the name Běixīn Shì (北新市) which could be written in English as “Basin City”. This is a reference to the Taipei Basin, a key geographical feature of the Taipei area.

There is a thread at discussing the issue. Screaming Jesus suggests that they should go back to “Taihoku”, the Japanese name for Taipei. ludahai writes, “If India can handle Delhi and New Delhi, I think Taiwan can handle Taipei and New Taipei.”

Other uses I have seen around the web include “New North City” and “Sin City”. The latter should really be used for Taichung though!

My opinion is that the regardless of whether it is written as Xinbei City, Sinbei City or New Taipei City the name for the upgraded municipality simply lacks originality. While I have no specific suggestion for a new name I think it should be something that better reflects local history and culture. It is also important that there is public consultation on the issue and a range of alternatives be considered. Taiwan still has a long way to go in addressing issues of name rectification. The renaming of Taipei County is a good place for a fresh start.

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Comment from Craig Ferguson (@cfimages)
Time 25 June 2010 at 3:30 am

It’s an interesting one, isn’t it? IMHO, New Taipei City doesn’t really work as an English name (actually anything with city in it) as the idea we have in our minds of city. If it just included Yonghe, Jhonge, Banciao etc, it might work, but when it also has Bali, Pingxi etc, it seems strange to use city in English.

Xinbei works for me, and as foreigners everywhere are used to direct romanizations for non-English place names, it works internationally. Sinbei is just stupid and the sooner Tongyong is abolished the better. It makes no sense for an international audience and the advocates of it need to realize that it’s the international audience that a romanization is for. Stick with the internationally standard Hanyu.

The Delhi/New Delhi example doesn’t really work either, as there are historical reasons for that in India which don’t apply in this case.

If they have to give it an English name and not simply a romanized name, something like Greater Taipei might work. English speakers globally can understand it and it’s more accurate than xxxx city.

Comment from Michael Turton
Time 25 June 2010 at 4:25 am

“New North City” is just my ugly light-hearted translation of the Chinese. I don’t seriously offer it.

I think your objection that the names are too prosaic is actually not a good one. Aside from the colonial street name, names in Chinese are often really prosaic. I kinda like that attribute sometimes. I mean, think about Taipei Two. So simple, and with a good sci-fi ring to it.

Basin City is good. Perhaps Shuangho — Twin Rivers 雙河 — a double reference to the Keelung and Danshui Rivers that cut through it, and to Chungho and Yungho (in English since Chinese is different). In English it is a common formation, Twin + descriptor.


Comment from David Reid
Time 25 June 2010 at 9:07 am

Craig, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Michael, I like your suggestion although I would spell it Shuanghe. (You seem to love the old school romanisation.) I think that Taiwanese would also appreciate the double reference to 雙河 vs 雙和.

Comment from Mark S.
Time 26 June 2010 at 7:44 am

I hope the report that the name won’t be changed from “Xinbei” is correct. But when both the KMT and DPP candidates actually agree on something, that could lead to something….

“Basin City” sure wouldn’t work for me. Also, given that it’s the city of Taipei that comprises most of the basin, the name would go to the wrong place.

I gave up sending anything to Zhou Xiwei ages ago, having never received responses, not even to letters sent through the postal system. Have you had better luck with him on other topics, David?

Comment from David Reid
Time 26 June 2010 at 10:25 am


Thanks for your comment. I guessed you would be a staunch supporter of Hanyu Pinyin.

I usually write letters to the government as they are usually guaranteed to get a response. I find e-mails can easily get ignored. I haven’t written any letters to Taipei County for quite a long time though. In the past I have got replies, but not directly from Chou Hsi-wei.

Comment from Richard
Time 28 June 2010 at 4:55 am

I think Taiwan could use both Hanyu and Tongyong. As far as cities go, if they do Hanyu than I would want everything in Hanyu – and yes that means seeing Taichung become Taizhong and Kaohsiung become Gaoxiong (although they start to look like cities in China). But as of now, these large cities still remain Tongyong, and so I also wouldn’t mind Sinbei, although Xinbei in this case seems a lot “nicer” to look at.

Leading onto my next point… I think keeping Tongyong pinyin for Taiwanese names is fantastic. It’s really helpful in *usually* instantly identifying whether a person is from China or Taiwan, depending on their name. Example’s of Chinese and Taiwanese versions of same name (respectively): John Guo — John Kuo, Annie Zhang — Annie Chang, Richard Xu — Richard Hsu, etc.

Taiwan has used both for quite sometime, and these concerns of befuddling foreigners and causing confusion, while in some cases may be absolutely confusing, for the most part I think if they can read Hanyu pinyin, they also have the capability of reasonably figuring out what the Tongyong is as well. The absolutely confusing part is when there’s 3 different variations used (Jhongli, Chungli, Zhongli). I can deal with seeing Jhongli and Zhongli, but when there’s the 3rd Chungli… that’s just crazy at that point. :)

Comment from David Reid
Time 28 June 2010 at 12:54 pm

Richard, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think you make a mistake of labelling all forms of romanisation in Taiwan that aren’t Hanyu Pinyin as Tongyong. Tongyong has only been around for about ten years. Taiwan has used several other systems previously, particularly modified Wade-Giles and MPS2. This only adds to the layers of confusion.

I understand that even though the current government has adopted Hanyu Pinyin as the standard the spellings of all the main cities and counties remain. So we still have Kaohsiung, Taichung and Hsinchu. I think this is sensible.

And for people’s names I respect their right to write them as they choose. Although I do think that perhaps some thought should be given to choosing spellings that are easy to read and not too confusing.

Comment from Seng-hian
Time 4 July 2010 at 6:12 am

To phrase as the sentence of David: ‘Tongyong has only been around for about ten years.’ I would like to point out that Mandarin has only been around for 60 years. It is the aboriginal languages, Holo (Taiwanese) and Hakka that have been the languages in Taiwan for thousands or hundreds of years.

Before the KMT came, Taiwanese people called and spelled the name of places in their own languages. And the Taiwanese spelling of place names can be easily found in the books or texts published before 1949.

So, as Taiwanese, I don’t really care what kind of spelling system is adopted for Mandarin here. The point is that to name and spell the place names in Mandarin for me is just colonial. Well…but even so, this kind of opinion would be cared the least…I know.

Comment from David Reid
Time 4 July 2010 at 3:06 pm

Seng-hian, you’ve raised a very important point here. While government policies are unlikely to change, people in Taiwan can take the initiative to popularise these indigenous names in various ways. For example, here are some photos of examples of place names in Seediq and Atayal being used on a church and school respectively.