Chinese name

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  1. Used only for royalty and Emperors
  2. Used only to distinguish years of royalty or Emperor's reigns
Chinese name
Chinese 姓名
Hanyu Pinyin xìngmíng

Milk name

Traditionally, babies were named a hundred days after their birth; modern naming laws in the People's Republic of China grant the parents a month before requiring the baby to be registered.[ citation needed ] Upon birth, the parents often use a "milk name" ( 乳名 , rǔmíng; 小名 , xiǎomíng)—typically employing diminutives like xiǎo ( , lit. "little") or doubled characters—before a formal name is settled upon, often in consultation with the grandparents. The milk name may be abandoned but is often continued as a form of familial nickname. A tradition sometimes attached to the milk name is to select an unpleasant name, in order to ward off demons who might wish to harm the child. [20]


Nicknames ( 綽號 ; chuòhào, or 外號 , wàihào) are acquired in much the same way they are in other countries. Not everyone has one. Most that do received theirs in childhood or adolescence from family or friends. Common Chinese nicknames are those based on a person's physical attributes, speaking style, or behavior. Names involving animals are common, although those animals may be associated with different attributes than they are in English: for example, Chinese cows are strong, not stupid; foxes are devious, not clever; pigs are lazy, but not dirty. Similarly, nicknames that might seem especially insulting in English—such as "Little Fatty" ( 小胖 )—are more acceptable in Chinese. One especially common method of creating nicknames is prefixing Ā- ( ) or Xiǎo ( ) to the surname or the second character of the given name. Ā- is more common in the south and abroad, while Xiǎo is common throughout China. Both Ā- and Xiǎo are distinguished from Lǎo ( , "old" but see below for usage). Nicknames are rarely used in formal or semi-formal settings, although a famous exception is A-bian.

Western name

English is taught throughout China's secondary schools and the English language section is a required component of the Gaokao , China's college entrance examination. Many Chinese teenagers thus acquire Western names, commonly of English origin, which they may keep and use as nicknames even in Chinese-language contexts. Chinese may adopt English names for a variety of reasons, including foreigners' difficulty with Chinese tones and better integration of people working in foreign enterprises. Established English names chosen by Chinese may also be those rarely used by native English speakers. [21]

In Hong Kong, due to its century-and-a-half long British rule, many people pick English names as early as attending English classes in kindergarten, or even have the English alias embedded in official documentation. One example is actor Chan Kong-sang, who in English goes by the name Jackie Chan. More unusual names made and adopted by Hongkongers are created by modifying normal English names — either by deleting, inserting or substituting specific letters (e.g. Kith, Sonija, Garbie), or by emulating the phonetic sounds of the Chinese name (e.g. Hacken Lee from Lee Hak-kan (李克勤)). [22] English aliases are widely used at schools, at work, and in social circles.

Usage of English aliases is also a common occurrence in Malaysia and Singapore, both of which are former British colonies. An English alias can be accepted as part of the name in official documentation, but whether to include such is an option to individuals.

Among Chinese diaspora residing in Western countries, it is becoming common practice for parents to give their children a Western name as their official first name, with the Chinese given name being officially recorded as a middle name.

School name

The school name ( 學名 ) was a separate formal name used by the child while they were at school.

As binomial nomenclature is also called xuémíng in Chinese, the school name is also sometimes now referenced as the xùnmíng ( 訓名 ) to avoid confusion.

Courtesy name

Upon maturity, it was common for educated males to acquire a courtesy name ( , or 表字 , biǎozì) either from one's parents, a teacher, or self-selection. The name commonly mirrored the meaning of one's given name or displayed his birth order within his family.

The practice was a consequence of admonitions in the Book of Rites that among adults it is disrespectful to be addressed by one's given name by others within the same generation. The true given name was reserved for the use of one's elders, while the courtesy name was employed by peers on formal occasions and in writing. The practice was decried by the May Fourth Movement and has been largely abandoned.


Pseudonyms or aliases ( ; hào) or pen names ( 筆名 ; bǐmíng) were self-selected alternative courtesy names, most commonly three or four characters long. They may have originated from too many people having the same courtesy name.

Some—but by no means most—authors do continue to employ stylized pen names. A noted[ dubious ] example is the exile and dissident poet Zhao Zhenkai, whose pen name is "Bei Dao" ( , lit. "North Island").

Posthumous name

Posthumous names ( 諡號 ; shìhào) were honorary names selected after a person's death, used extensively for royalty. The common "names" of most Chinese emperors before the Tang dynasty—with the pointed exception of Shi Huangdi—are their posthumous ones. In addition to emperors, successful courtiers and politicians such as Sun Yat-sen also occasionally received posthumous titles.

Temple name

The temple name ( 廟號 ; 'miàohào) of the emperor inscribed on the spiritual tablets of the imperial ancestral temple often differed from his posthumous name. The structure eventually became highly restricted, consisting of a single adjective and either ( ) or zōng ( ). These common "names" of the emperors between the Tang and the Yuan are their temple ones.

Era name

The era name ( 年號 , niánhào) arose from the custom of dating years by the reigns of the ruling emperors. Under the Han, the practice began of changing regnal names as means of dispensing with bad luck and attracting better. Almost all era names were literary and employed exactly two characters. By the Ming and Qing dynasties, emperors had largely dispensed with the practice and kept a single era name during their reign, such that it is customary to refer to Ming and Qing emperors by their era names.

Forms of address

Within families, it is often considered inappropriate or even offensive to use the given names of relatives who are senior to the speaker. Instead, it is more customary to identify each family member by abstract hierarchical connections: among siblings, gender and birth order (big sister, second sister, and so on); for the extended family, the manner of relationship (by birth or marriage; from the maternal or paternal side).

The hierarchical titles of junior relatives are seldom used except in formal situations, or as indirect reference when speaking to family members who are even younger than the person in question. Children can be called by their given names, or their parents may use their nicknames.

When speaking of non-family social acquaintances, people are generally referred to by a title, for example Mother Li (Chinese :李媽媽; pinyin :lǐ māma) or Mrs. Zhu (朱太太, pinyin :zhū tàitai). Personal names can be used when referring to adult friends or to children, although, unlike in the West, referring to somebody by their full name (including surname) is common even among friends, especially if the person's full name is only composed of two or three syllables. It is common to refer to a person as lǎo (, old) or xiǎo (, young) followed by their family name, thus Lǎo Wáng (老王) or Xiǎo Zhān (小战). Xiǎo is also frequently used as a diminutive, when it is typically paired with the second or only character in a person's name, rather than the surname. Note that because old people are well respected in Chinese society, lǎo (old) does not carry disrespect, offense or any negative implications even if it is used to refer to an older woman. Despite this, it is advisable for non-Chinese to avoid calling a person xiǎo-something or lǎo-something unless they are so-called by other Chinese people and it is clear that the appellation is acceptable and widely used. Otherwise, the use of the person's full name, or alternatively, their surname followed by xiānsheng (Chinese :先生, mister) or nǚshì (女士, madam) is relatively neutral and unlikely to cause offense.

Within school settings and when addressing former classmates, it is common to refer to them as older siblings, e.g. elder brother Zhao (趙哥; Zhào Gē) or e.g. elder sister Zhang (張姐; Zhāng Jǐe) if they were of senior classes, or simply to show respect or closeness. The opposite (e.g. younger brother Zhao) is rarely used. This custom spawns from traditional forms of respectful address, where it was considered rude to directly address your seniors.

Whereas titles in many cultures are commonly solely determined by gender and, in some cases, marital status, the occupation or even work title of a person can be used as a title as a sign of respect in common address in Chinese culture. Because of the prestigious position of a teacher in traditional culture, a teacher is invariably addressed as such by his or her students (e.g. 李老師; Lǐ Lǎoshī; 'Teacher Li'), and commonly by others as a mark of respect. Where applicable, "Teacher Surname" is considered more respectful than "Mr/Mrs/Miss Surname" in Chinese. A professor is also commonly addressed as "teacher", though "professor" is also accepted as a respectful title. By extension, a junior or less experienced member of a work place or profession would address a more senior member as "Teacher".

Similarly, engineers are often addressed as such, though often shortened to simply the first character of the word "engineer" -- Chinese :; pinyin :Gōng. Should the person being addressed be the head of a company (or simply the middle manager of another company to whom you would like to show respect), one might equally address them by the title "zŏng" (), which means "general" or "overall", and is the first character of titles such as "Director General" or "General Manager" (e.g. 李總; Lĭ zŏng), or, if they are slightly lower down on the corporate hierarchy but nonetheless a manager, by affixing Jīnglĭ (經理, manager).


Unusual names

Because the small number of Chinese surnames leads to confusion in social environments, and because some Chinese parents have a desire to give individuality, some Chinese have received unusual given names. As of April 2009, about 60 million Chinese people have unusual characters in their names. A 2006 report by the Chinese public security bureau stated that of about 55,000 Chinese characters used in the People's Republic of China, only 32,232 of those are supported by the ministry's computers. The PRC government has asked individuals with unusual names to change them so they can get new computer-readable public identity cards, and the diversity prevents them from receiving new identity cards if they do not change their names. [9]

Beginning in at least 2003, the PRC government has been writing a list of standardized characters for everyday usage in life, which would be the pool of characters to select from when a child is given his or her name. Originally the limits were to go in place in 2005. In April 2009, the list had been revised 70 times, and it still has not been put into effect. [9]

Wang Daliang, a China Youth University for Political Sciences linguistics scholar, said that "Using obscure names to avoid duplication of names or to be unique is not good. Now a lot of people are perplexed by their names. The computer cannot even recognize them and people cannot read them. This has become an obstacle in communication." [9] Zhou Youyong, the dean of the Southeast University law school, argued that the ability to choose the name of one's children is a fundamental right, so the PRC government should be careful when making new naming laws. [5]

While the vast majority of Han Chinese names consist of two or three characters, there are some Han Chinese with longer names, up to 15 characters. [5] In addition, transliteration of ethnic languages into Chinese characters often results in long names.


Han family names in Taiwan are similar to those in southeast China, as most families trace their origins to places such as Fujian and Guangdong. Indigenous Taiwanese have also been forced to adopt Chinese names as part of enforced Sinicization. The popularity distribution of family names in Taiwan as a whole differs somewhat from the distribution of names among all Han Chinese, with the family name Chen ( ) being particularly more common (about 11% in Taiwan, compared to about 3% in China). Local variations also exist.

Given names that consist of one character are much less common on Taiwan than on the mainland.[ citation needed ]

A traditional practice, now largely supplanted, was choosing deliberately unpleasant given names to ward off bad omens and evil spirits. For example, a boy facing a serious illness might be renamed Ti-sái ( , lit. "Pig Shit") to indicate to the evil spirits that he was not worth their trouble. Similarly, a girl from a poor family might have the name Bóng-chī ( , lit. "No Takers").

Nicknames ( , gín-á-miâ, "child names") are common and generally adopt the Southern Chinese practice of affixing the prefix "A-" ( ) to the last syllable of a person's name. Although these names are rarely used in formal contexts, there are a few public figures who are well known by their nicknames, including former president A-bian and the singer A-mei.


Among Chinese Americans, it is common practice to be referred to primarily by the Western name and to use the Chinese given name as an often-omitted middle name.

In Malaysia and Singapore, it is equally acceptable for Western names to appear before or after the Chinese given name, in Latin characters. Thus, the Singaporean President Tony Tan might see his name written as "Tony Tan Keng Yam" or "Tan Keng Yam Tony".[ citation needed ] Individuals are free to register their legal names in either format on their identity cards. In general use, the English name first version is typically preferred as it keeps the correct order for both systems; however, for administrative purposes, the government agencies tend to place the English name last to organize lists of names and databases more easily, similar to the Western practice of organizing names with the last name first followed by a comma ("Smith, John"). In Singapore, there is an option to include the Chinese characters on one's National Registration Identity Card.

The Hong Kong printed media tend to adopt the hybrid name style—for example, Andy Lau Tak-wah—although some people prefer American-style middle names, such as Steven N. S. Cheung, or simply use English names like Henry Lee. On official records such as the Hong Kong Identity Cards, family names are always printed first in all-caps Latin characters and followed by a comma for all names, including Chinese ones. Thus, the examples above would have identity cards that read "LAU, Tak-wah Andy" or "CHEUNG, Steven Ng-sheong", with the position of the given names determined at the time of application. Non-Chinese names are printed in similar style: "DOE, Jane".

In Indonesia, one of the countries with the largest Chinese diaspora population, the Indonesian Chinese in Indonesia and in diaspora has mostly adopted Indonesian-sounding variations of Chinese names due to decades of regulation and acculturation. Conversely, the usage of these Indonesian-sounding Chinese names are not restricted for surnames, and many are used liberally between other surnames since many Indonesian Chinese did not keep track their Chinese (sur)names anymore, and even used by non-Chinese people (with some names being borrowing from regional languages and names).

In English

The signature of Sun Yat-sen; in English Chinese people usually keep their names in Chinese order unless they live or travel abroad Sun Yat Sen Signature.png
The signature of Sun Yat-sen; in English Chinese people usually keep their names in Chinese order unless they live or travel abroad

Chinese people, except for those traveling or living outside China, rarely reverse their names to the western naming order (given name, then family name). Western publications usually preserve the Chinese naming order, with the family name first, followed by the given name. Beginning in the early 1980s, in regards to people from Mainland China, [23] western publications began using the Hanyu Pinyin romanization system instead of earlier romanization systems; this resulted from the normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and the People's Republic of China in 1979. [24]

Although it is generally possible to guess the gender of Chinese names from the choice of Chinese characters used, it is almost impossible to guess the name's gender when it is romanized. For example, 王晓明 is more likely a male name but the romanized name Xiaoming Wang could correspond to many Chinese names (王晓明, 王小明, 王晓鸣, 汪晓明 ...), and thus it is near-impossible to guess the gender of the name. [25]

The usual presentation of Chinese names in English differs from the usual presentations of modern Japanese names, since modern Japanese names are usually reversed to fit the western order in English. In English the presentation of Chinese names is similar to those of Korean names. [26] As of 1989, Pinyin became the preferred romanization system in works discussing contemporary China, while English-language books relevant to Japanese history still used the Wade–Giles system to romanize Chinese names more often than other romanization systems. [27] As of 1993, Wade–Giles was still used in Taiwan. [28] Unlike mainland Chinese, Taiwanese people usually place a dash between the two characters of the given name, similar to Korean names. This is also the case for the standard styling of Hong Kong Chinese names, where the given name is hyphenated. [29] [30] [31] Names of Malaysian Chinese and Singaporean Chinese people are often romanized inconsistently, usually based on dialect pronunciation, but are usually expressed in three parts (e.g., Goh Chok Tong). [32]

For people with just a single given name or with compound surnames and single given name, the western name order may add to the complication of confusing the surname and given name. [33]

NameChinese MainlandTaiwanSingapore/MalaysiaWestern ordering [lower-alpha 1]
Known by their Mainland pinyin names
毛澤東 Mao Zedong Mao Tsê-tungMao Tse-tung/Mao Ze DongZedong Mao
习近平 Xi Jinping Hsi Chin-P'ingXi Jin PingJinping Xi
Known by (or by derivatives of) their Wade–Giles names
蔡英文Cai Yingwen Tsai Ing-wen Tsai Ing-wenIng-wen Tsai
蔣介石 Jiang Jieshi Chiang Chieh-shih Chiang Kai-shekKai-shek Chiang
Known by their Singaporean names
李光耀Li GuangyaoLi Kuang-yao Lee Kuan Yew Kuan Yew Lee
吳作棟Wu ZuodongWu Tso-tung Goh Chok Tong Chok Tong Goh
李顯龍Li XianlongLi Hsien-lung Lee Hsien Loong Hsien Loong Lee
王瑞杰Wang RuijieWang Jui-chieh Heng Swee Keat Swee Keat Heng
Known by their Western ordering names
马友友Ma YouyouMa Yu-yuMa You You Yo-Yo Ma
李文和Li WenheLi Wen-hoLi Wen Ho Wen Ho Lee
顧維鈞Gu WeijunKu Wei-chünGu Wei JunVi Kyuin Wellington Koo
Known by their initialized Western ordering names
宋子文Song ZiwenSoong Tse-venSong Zi Wen T. V. Soong
孔祥熙Kong XiangxiKung Hsiang-hsiKong Xiang Xi H. H. Kung
Disyllabic family names
諸葛亮 Zhuge Liang Chu-ko LiangZhuge LiangLiang Zhuge
司馬懿 Sima Yi Ssu-ma YiSima YiYi Sima
  1. The western ordering here are only shown as example, but are generally not used for these names.

According to the Chicago Manual of Style , Chinese names are indexed by the family name with no inversion and no comma, unless it is of a Chinese person who has adopted a Western name. [34]

In Japanese

In the Japanese language, Chinese names can be pronounced either approximating the original Chinese, the Local reading (現地読み) of the characters, or using a Sino-Japanese On'yomi reading (音読み) to pronounce the Chinese characters. Local readings are often written in katakana rather than kanji, but not always. For example, 毛泽东 (Mao Zedong) is pronounced Mō Takutō using an On'yomi reading, whereas Beijing (北京) is spelled with kanji but pronounced Pekin (ペキン), with a local reading (which may also be considered a post-Tōsō-on reading), rather than Hokkyō (which would be the Kan-on reading).[ citation needed ]

See also

Kinds of Chinese group-names:

Kinds of personal names:

Kinds of Chinese monarchical names:

Other links and influences from Chinese names:

Related Research Articles

Pinyin Romanization scheme for Standard Mandarin

Hanyu Pinyin, often abbreviated to pinyin, is the official romanization system for Standard Mandarin Chinese in mainland China and to some extent in Taiwan and Singapore. It is often used to teach Standard Mandarin, which is normally written using Chinese characters. The system includes four diacritics denoting tones. Pinyin without tone marks is used to spell Chinese names and words in languages written with the Latin alphabet and also in certain computer input methods to enter Chinese characters.

Chinese surnames are used by Han Chinese and Sinicized ethnic groups in China, Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam, and among overseas Chinese communities around the world such as Singapore and Malaysia. Written Chinese names begin with surnames, unlike the Western tradition in which surnames are written last. Around 2,000 Han Chinese surnames are currently in use, but the great proportion of Han Chinese people use only a relatively small number of these surnames; 19 surnames are used by around half of the Han Chinese people, while 100 surnames are used by around 87% of the population. A report in 2019 gives the most common Chinese surnames as Wang and Li, each shared by over 100 million people in China. The remaining top ten most common Chinese surnames are Zhang, Liu, Chen, Yang, Huang, Zhao, Wu and Zhou.

Japanese names in modern times consist of a family name (surname) followed by a given name, in that order. Nevertheless, when a Japanese name is written in the Roman alphabet, ever since the Meiji era, the official policy has been to cater to Western expectations and reverse the order. As of 2019, the government has stated its intention to change this policy. Japanese names are usually written in kanji, which are characters that are Chinese in origin but Japanese in pronunciation. The pronunciation of kanji Japanese names follows a special set of rules. Parents also have the option of using hiragana or katakana when giving a birth name to their newborn child. Names written in hiragana or katakana are phonetic renderings, and so lack the visual meaning of names expressed in the logographic kanji.

Zhang (surname) Surname list

Zhang is the third most common surname in mainland China and Taiwan, and it is one of the most common surnames in the world. Zhang is the pinyin romanization of the very common Chinese surname written in simplified characters and in traditional characters. It is spoken in the first tone: Zhāng. It is a surname that exists in many languages and cultures, corresponding to the surname 'Archer' in English for example. In the Wade-Giles system of romanization, it is rendered as Chang, which is commonly used in Taiwan; Cheung is commonly used in Hong Kong as romanization.

Generation name is one of the characters in a traditional Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean given name, and is so called because each member of a generation share that character.

Chinese given names are the given names adopted by speakers of the Chinese language, both in majority-Sinophone countries and among the Chinese diaspora.

Chang (surname) Surname list

Chang is the pinyin romanization of the Chinese surname (Cháng). It was listed 80th among the Song-era Hundred Family Surnames.

Xiao (surname) Surname list

Xiao is a Chinese surname. In the Wade-Giles system of romanization, it is rendered as Hsiao, which is commonly used in Taiwan. It is also romanized as Siauw, Shiao, Sjauw, Siaw, Siew, Siow, Seow, Siu or Sui, as well as Shaw in less common situations, inspired by the transliteration of the surname of notable figures such as Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw and English actor Robert Shaw. It is the 99th name on the Hundred Family Surnames poem.

Zhuang is the pinyin romanization of the Chinese surname written in simplified character and in traditional character. It is spoken in the first tone: Zhuāng.

Yao, also romanized as Yiu in Cantonese, is one of the most ancient Chinese surnames, the "Eight Great Xings of High Antiquity". It is also unique that, along with Jiang 姜 it is still in common use in the modern day. It is listed 101st in the Hundred Family Surnames, and as the 51st most common surname in Mainland China.

Zhu is the pinyin romanization of five Chinese surnames: , , , and .

is the pinyin and Wade–Giles romanisation of the Chinese surname written in simplified character and in traditional character. It is the 47th most common surname in China, shared by 5.6 million people, or 0.47% of the Chinese population as of 2002. It is especially common in Shandong and Henan provinces.

Wāng Chinese surname

Wāng (汪) is a Chinese surname. It was 104th of the Hundred Family Surnames poem, contained in the verse Yáo, Shào, Zhàn, Wāng (姚邵湛汪). In 2013, the Fuxi Cultural Association found the name to be the 60th most common in China, being shared by around 48.3 million people or 0.360% of the population, with the province with the largest population being Anhui. Another study found it to be the 58th-most-common surname in mainland China.

Naming laws in China are based on technical capability rather than the appropriateness of words. Although it is advised for parents to name their children so that others are able to easily read their names, there are no restrictions on the complexity of Chinese characters used, provided that there are no technical issues in doing so. The use of Simplified characters is advised over Traditional Chinese characters; however, this is not strictly enforced.

Li (surname 李) Chinese surname

Li is a common East Asian surname and one of the most common surnames in the world, shared by 92.76 million people in China, and more than 100 million worldwide. It is the 4th name listed in the Song dynasty classic text Hundred Family Surnames, the second most common surname in China as of 2018, but the 5th most common surname in Taiwan, where it is usually romanized as Lee.

Lu (surname 魯)

is the pinyin romanization of the Chinese surname written in simplified character and in traditional character. It is also spelled Lo according to the Cantonese pronunciation. Lu 鲁 is listed 49th in the Song Dynasty classic text Hundred Family Surnames. As of 2008, Lu 鲁 is the 115th most common surname in China.

Ping (surname) Surname list

Ping is the Mandarin pinyin romanization of the Chinese surname written in Chinese character. It is romanized P'ing in Wade–Giles. Ping is listed 95th in the Song dynasty classic text Hundred Family Surnames. It is not among the 300 most common surnames in China in 2008.

Ai (surname) Surname list

Ai is the Mandarin pinyin and Wade–Giles romanization of the Chinese surname written in Chinese character. It is listed 334th in the Song dynasty classic text Hundred Family Surnames. As of 2008, it is the 215th most common surname in China, shared by 400,000 people.

Chao is a surname in various cultures. It is the Pinyin spelling of two Chinese surnames, the Wade–Giles spelling of two others, and a regional or other spelling of two additional Chinese surnames. It is also a Galician and Portuguese surname.



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  28. Evans, Richard. Deng Xiaoping and the Making of Modern China . Penguin Books, 1995. Second Edition. Page xi. ISBN   0-14-013945-1. The first edition is dated 1993.
  29. "Style Guide" (PDF). Hong Kong University Press. July 2014. p. 7. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-09-24. For Hong Kong Chinese names, our preferred style is: Peter Tai-man Chan or Peter T. M. Chan. If personal preferences are known, they should be retained.
  30. Telegraph style book "Chinese mainland given names are one word only, as in (Deng) Xiaoping. Hong Kong Chinese and Korean given names are hyphenated, as in (Roh) Tae-woo. "
  31. "Chinese names". The Economist. Retrieved 2017-10-17.
  32. "Guardian and Observer style guide: C." The Guardian . Retrieved on November 1, 2017.
  33. Louie, Emma Woo (2019-03-09). Chinese American Names: Tradition and Transition. ISBN   9780786438778.
  34. "Indexes: A Chapter from The Chicago Manual of Style" (Archive). Chicago Manual of Style. Retrieved on December 23, 2014. p. 25-26 (PDF document p. 27-28/56).