The Meaning Behind New Super-Man's Name Revealed

When The New Super-Man was introduced as part of DC's Rebirth presentation, writer Gene Yang [...]

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(Photo: DC Comics)

When The New Super-Man was introduced as part of DC's Rebirth presentation, writer Gene Yang talked about how his lead character's name was basically the Chinese version of "Clark Kent."

Coming up with that name? Well, that's a whole story -- and one Yang has shared to DC's official blog.

The writer indicated that the task is harder than one might think especially since you want to create a name that's authentic to a Chinese character, but which is instantly pronounceable for an English-speaking audience who will be the comics' primary readership.

He set out to name the character using five rules for himself:

One of my first tasks as the New Super-Man writer was to give our lead guy a secret identity, a Chinese civilian name.

1. The name would need to be a plausible Chinese name.

2. The name's meaning should relate to the character's journey in some way.

3. The English version of the Chinese name should be derived using Pinyin. There are different ways of Romanizing Chinese. A lot of what we see in American Chinatowns uses a system called Wade-Giles (or is "Wade-Giles-ish"). Pinyin is now the standard in Mainland China, so that's what I want to use in the book.

4. The English version should have the initials K. K. I want to use this as a mnemonic device to help readers connect the new character to Clark Kent. I can't use C. K. because there is no hard c in Pinyin. The Pinyin c is pronounced "ts," like in "cats."

5. The English version should be immediately pronounceable by American readers who haven't studied Pinyin. This means I have to avoid certain letters like x (pronounced kind of like "sh" in Pinyin) and q (pronounced kind of like "ch").

Using this criteria, he came up with the name Kenji Kong -- he said that choosing between Kang and Kong was easy becuase "Kang" is a Marvel Comics villain -- and started writing stories with that name.

"Kenji," though, is far more common as a Japanese name. While it fits the criteria of being "plausible" as a Chinese name, Yang writes that he realized he may have been thinking too much like when he worked on his original graphic novels -- which are about life as an American-born Chinese person -- and not as someone contributing to the DC Comics legacy.

"Kenji," he knew, would sound to a casual reader like a non-Asian writer had simply confused Chinese and Japanese culture.

So we get Chinese Super-Man -- 孔克南 (Kenan Kong). Yang gives a breakdown of why this works for him at the link above.

"Kenan isn't quite as easy to pronounce (in Chinese, it's closer to 'Ken Ann' than 'Key Nan'), but it's pronounceable enough. And it definitely satisfies constraint #6," he writes.

The first issue of The New Super-Man hits the stands on July 13. Between now and then, elements of Kenan's story are appearing in "The Last Days of Superman," a storyline running through Superman, Action Comics, Batman/Superman, and Superman/Wonder Woman.