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Shiing-shen Chern, 陈省身 (1911--2004), is a famous geometer. When taking about him with Chinese people who do not study math and have not heard of him, how can I best describe which characters 陈, 省, and 身 these are?

Yellowbridge has many two-word phrases with 省 and I guess 反省 would be relevant. But I am not confident whether it would be a good way to explain it.

I guess 身体的身 would work well for 身.

Would 普通的陈 work to say it is the most common name Chen? Would it sound polite?

I do not think I could draw any of these on my hand well enough for anyone to understand!

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    Another suggestion: If the people to whom you talked do not know 陳省身, then you might try to mention the name "華羅庚 (Hua Luogeng)", who was a great analytic number theorist. Prof. Hua was a classmate and a colleague of Prof. Chern and is possibly way more renowned than Prof. Chern in China. – Megadeth Jan 15 '15 at 15:42
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I suggest just explaining the origin:

曾子曰:「吾日三省吾身:為人謀而不忠乎?與朋友交而不信乎?傳不習乎?」——《論語·學而》

The philosopher Zeng said, "I daily examine myself on three points: whether, in transacting business for others, I may have been not faithful; whether, in intercourse with friends, I may have been not sincere; whether I may have not mastered and practiced the instructions of my teacher."

——"Xue Er" in The Analects (Confucianism). Translated in English by James Legge.

So, you can say something like

陈是耳东陈,省身是「(吾日)三省吾身」的「省身」。

I think Chinese should at least know the idiom 三省吾身(sān xǐng wú shēn), if not, it's an opportunity to teach them :)

PS for pedants: yes, yes, I know 陈 is not composed of 耳 and 东: 耳 should be 阜/𨸏. However in common saying, people just say so and everyone can understand!

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  • Oh my. Very nice! – Colin McLarty Jan 14 '15 at 21:04
  • is there any other chen2 that can be a surname? I thought you only had to break down surnames when there was a possibility of confusion... – Master Sparkles Jan 15 '15 at 0:26
  • @MasterSparkles There is no other chen2 nearly as common as this, but there are 谌 and 軙 and who knows how many more rare. – Colin McLarty Jan 15 '15 at 0:32
  • @S.Rhee just left the PS in case of any challenge on that issue :) I've once encountered that. Anyway in my opinion, pedants' doubt on the standard makes some sense, "if 耳东陈 is acceptable, why is 木易杨 so controversial?" (similarly the doubt is also on 口天吴, 草头黄, etc.) – Stan Jan 15 '15 at 2:05
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    @ColinMcLarty 谌 is common, but 軙 as an old variant of 陳 is very probably (if not completely) obsolete now. – Stan Jan 15 '15 at 2:10
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耳东陈 (er3 dong1 chen2)

反省的省 (fan3 xing3 de5 xing3) or 省察的省 (xing3 cha2 de5 xing3)

身体的身 (shen1 ti3 de5 shen1) or perhaps more adequate 捨身的身 (she3 shen1 de5 shen1)


For some common surnames, watch this video.

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