TIL: Stroke order of Chinese surnames

Sometimes we publish papers with authors in alphabetical order; sometimes we use an order based on contribution, typically the main author (often the most junior) first followed by the lesser contributors and culminating in the most senior author, who might not have made many concrete contributions to the writing. Personally I’m a firm believer in the second style.

But I always wondered: how does one list authors in alphabetical order for languages like Chinese that are non-alphabetic? I had the opportunity to ask a couple of Chinese colleagues.

While Chinese doesn’t have an alphabetical order, it can use a stroke order: some surnames require more strokes than others, often significantly more (four versus eleven, in the case of the two colleagues who explained this to me). So one can list authors in order of the increasing numbers of strokes needed to write their surnames. That’s really clever, and no more or less arbitrary in terms of author appearance than the alphabetic approach.