My name is Kai Syng Tan (she/her/they). Three one-syllabi words, staccato, short, (bitter)sweet (and sour), like its wearer. My full name with title is Dr Kai Syng Tan PFHEA or Kai Syng Tan PhD PFHEA . Allow me to break down this exotic name for you. It’s good important to get this right. No, you did not — even under the good old days of imperialism etc — and still do not have my permission to mis-spell, mis-pronounce or in any other imaginative way distort my name, anglicise it etc. If unclear, ask. I don’t bite [too hard]. It is more offensive to make an ‘intelligent guess’ and get it wrong, although nicknames and other name-calling may exist (behind my back). See gallery from plethora of examples below – are you a culprit?

  • Yes: Tan. Three letters. What can go wrong?
  • No: ‘Tang’. I’m not from the Tang clan/dynasty, sorry. That’s a different surname – close-ish, but nope.
  • Rhymes with: ‘ton’. Not: ‘Suntan’, ‘tango’, ‘tangerine’
  • Yes: You know other Tan-s. So do I. There are billions.
  • No: I am not related to all of them. I haven’t re-produced any [that I know of]).
  • First name: Kai Syng. Both of them are my ‘first name’.
  • Call me: Kai or Kai Syng
  • Kai: Sounds like ‘why’, with a hard ‘k’ like ‘kite’. If you can say ‘why’, why can’t you say ‘Kai’? ‘Kay’ and ‘Kia’ are both not okay. Kai is a name for boys and girls in Germany, Scandinavia, Japan and elsewhere too.
  • Kai Syng: Syng rhymes with ‘sing’. Yes it has an ‘unusual’ spelling. Both my parents left school by 16 + English is not their first language + postpartum situations that’d have led to 3 small+ one large bodybag + my dyslexic father had 3 jobs = there were a few more things to work on than to ‘rectify’ the spelling of my name for your benefit. They also had high hopes as Kai refers to victory, and Syng glory, so I am ‘glorious victory’. Clearly.
  • Correct: Kai Syng Tan. All three, no hyphen. Why take the trouble to add them?
  • Correct: Full name with title and professional accreditations: Dr Kai Syng Tan FRSA PFHEA or Kai Syng Tan PhD FRSA PFHEA. FRSA refers to my Fellowship status of the Royal Society of Arts (2014-2023: I quit my membership in 09/2023 in solidarity with its workers and in response to its elitism. Also, I have quit Twitter in 10/2023). ‘PFHEA’ refers to my Principal Fellowship of Advance HE (2022). ‘PhD’ refers to my doctorate degree at University College London Slade (2013).
  • Correct: Dr Tan, although this was the name of our medical doctor at the neighbourhood clinic.
  • Correct: Tan Kai Syng. This is the sequence when not inverted to fit Western conventions of what and where ‘last names’ are placed).
  • Incorrect: Kai Tan, Kai S Tan, Kai Sington (!), Kai-syng (with a hyphen), Kai-Syng (with another stray hyphen), Dr Syng-Tan (how many times must I say that there are no hyphens in my name?), any other combination or sequence etc that you can see on for my films or journal publications by co-authors who didn’t check with me (why not?).

Japanese: タン. カイシン

Simplified Chinese: 陈凯欣

Traditional Chinese: 陳凱欣

Chinese Hanyu Pinyin: Chen Kai Xin

Caption: Still from keynote lecture What Should 2050 look like? A Love Letter to Cinema (Singapore Arts Week 2021).