I was a little surprised to see an article this morning about Lyu Xinhua.
At 62, veteran diplomat Lyu Xinhua was given a new job: the spokesman of China’s top political advisory body.
Lyu is not a typo. The Xinhua Agency seems to use this spelling of his family name consistently. Here’s the man himself.
吕新华 in Hanyu Pinyin would be Lǚ Xīnhuá, but this obviously causes some difficulty, so Lǚ has been replaced by Lyu.
This is not just plucked from thin air; the Lyu spelling is used in both the Yale and Tongyong Pinyin systems, as can be seen from the redoubtable Pinyin Info’s handy comparison chart. And Wikipedia informs us:
[ǚ] also presents a problem in transcribing names for use on passports, affecting people with names that consist of the sound lü or nü, particularly people with the surname 吕 (Lǚ), a fairly common surname, particularly compared to the surname 陆 (Lù), 鲁 (Lǔ), 卢 (Lú) and 路 (Lù). Previously, the practice varied among different passport issuing offices, with some transcribing as “LV” and “NV” while others used “LU” and “NU”. On 10 July 2012, the Ministry of Public Security standardized the practice to use “LYU” and “NYU” in passports.
So, it’s standard for the PSB, and it seems that Xinhua is adopting it for news reports. But I wonder how Pinyin purists feel about it.
I suppose it’s of some help to distinguish 吕 from 陆，鲁，卢，路, but the four LUs will remain as one where tone marks are omitted. And I don’t imagine it’s going to help much with pronunciation, for English speakers unfamiliar with the /y/ vowel at least. Might it now add confusion with 刘 (Liú)? How does it play with speakers of other languages?
And how does it compare with this?
A final thought. I heard today about a distinguished Chinese professor, close to retirement, who is deeply dissatisfied with Hanyu Pinyin and would love to create a better system for the Romanization of Chinese. It seems that such dreams are no longer the preserve of aging Sinologists. Let’s all cross our fingers and hope that nature takes its course.