Chinese name

From Academic Kids

Chinese personal names follow a number of conventions different from those of Western personal names. Most noticeably, a Chinese name is written with the surname first and the given name second. For instance, the basketball player Yao Ming is Mr. Yao, not Mr. Ming.

Note however, some Chinese people who emigrate to or do business with Western countries sometimes adopt a Westernized name, usually with a Western first name together with their surname, which is then written in the usual Western order with the surname last. Other Chinese people sometimes take a combined name, consisting of Western first name, surname, and Chinese given name, in that order.

Traditional naming schemes often followed a pattern of using generation names as part of a two-character given name; however, this is less used today, especially in the People's Republic of China, where many given names use only one character.

In addition to the given name, many Chinese have various kinds of nicknames.


Family names

There are over 700 different Chinese family names, but as few as twenty cover a majority of Chinese people. The variety in Chinese names therefore depends greatly on given names rather than family names. The great majority of Chinese family names have only one character, but there are a few with two.

Chinese family names are written first, something which often causes confusion among those from cultures where the family name usually comes last. Thus, the family name of Mao Zedong is Mao (毛), and his given name is Zedong (澤東, 泽东).

Chinese married women usually retain their maiden name as their family name, rather than adopt the name of their husband, and children usually inherit the father's family name. Historically, it was considered taboo to marry someone with the same family name--even if there is no direct relationship between those concerned--though in recent decades this has no longer been frowned upon.

For more information, see Chinese family name.

Given names

Chinese given names have one or two characters, and are written after the family name. When a baby is first born parents often give it a "little name," such as Little Treasure (小寶, 小宝). The given name is then chosen somewhat later: in China, parents have a month before having to register the child. The parents may continue to use the nickname.

With a limited supply of family names, Chinese depend on using given names to introduce variety in naming. Almost any character with any meaning can be used. However, it is not considered appropriate to name a child after a famous figure and highly offensive after an older member among the family or even distant relatives.

Given names resonant of qualities which are perceived to be either masculine or feminine are frequently given, with males being linked with strength and firmness, and females with beauty and flowers. Females sometimes have names which repeat a character, for example Xiuxiu (秀秀) or Lili (麗麗, 丽丽). This is less common in males, although Yo-yo Ma (馬友友 Mǎ Yǒuyǒu, 马友友) is a well-known exception.

In some families, one of the two characters in the personal name is shared by all members of a generation and these generational names are worked out long in advance, historically in a poem listing the names. Also, siblings' names are frequently related, for example, a boy may be named pine (松, considered masculine) while his sister may be named plum (梅, considered feminine).

Chinese personal names also may reflect periods of history. For example, many Chinese born during the Cultural Revolution have "revolutionary names" such as strong country (強国) or eastern wind (东风). In Taiwan, it used to be common to incorporate one of the four characters of the name "Republic of China" (中華民國) into boys' names.

For more information, see Chinese given name.

Alternative names

Nicknames are usually an alteration of the given name, sometimes based on the person's physical attributes, speaking style or even their first word. In Hokkien- or Cantonese-speaking areas, a nickname will often consist of the diminutive Ah (阿), followed by part of the given name (usually the last character). Nicknames are rarely used in formal or semi-formal settings. One exception to this is Chen Shui-bian, who is commonly known as A-bian (阿扁) even by himself and in newspaper articles.

In former times, it was common for educated males to acquire courtesy names. The two most common forms were a zi (字), given upon reaching maturity, and a hao (號), usually self-selected and often somewhat whimsical. Although this tradition has lapsed, authors' use of pen names is still a common phenomenon. For more information, see Chinese courtesy name.

For prominent people, posthumous names (諡號, 諡号) have often been given, although this is uncommon now. Sun Yat-sen was given the posthumous name of Guófù (國父, Father of the Nation), the name by which he is most frequently known by in Taiwan. Rulers were also ascribed temple names (廟號, 廟号).

Regional Variations

Many Chinese who live or work in Western cultures have a Western name in addition to their Chinese name. For example, the Taiwanese politician Soong Chu-yu (宋楚瑜) is also known as James Soong.

Among Chinese Americans, it is common practice to be referred to primarily by the Western name and to use the Chinese given name as a middle name. In a more recent effort to combine Western names for those with native Chinese names, the Western name is placed directly in front of the Chinese name so that both the Chinese and Western names can be easily identified. The relative order of family name-given name is also preserved. Using this scheme, Soong Chu-yu would be James Soong Chu-yu. This is also a fairly common custom in Hong Kong.

Another variation is whether the form used in romanization is the Mandarin form or the one using local dialect. In general, ethnic Chinese in Mainland China and Taiwan will romanize the Mandarin form of their name, and those in southeast Asia and Hong Kong will romanize the local dialect form. Chinese from Mainland China are generally recognizable from the Hanyu pinyin romanization used which includes "x", "zh" and "q" which are not found in other romanization systems and which does not use hyphens.

For more information about naming conventions which are peculiar to Taiwan, see the article on Taiwanese names.

Forms of address

Within families, adults are rarely referred to by their given names. Rather, the relationship is stressed, so each member is known by this connection. Thus, there is big sister, second sister, third sister and so on. These connections are also distinguished by what side of the family they are on (mother or father's side) and the generation gap between the two family members. Generally speaking though, the family title is only used when the relative being called is older than caller. It is considered highly inappropriate and sometimes extremely offensive if a person from a younger generation calls someone from an older generation by his/her given name. Younger relatives are normally only called by their relational title in formal situations. Children can be called by their given name, or their parents may use their nickname.

When speaking of non-family social acquaintances, people are generally referred to by a title, for example Mother Li (李媽媽, 李妈妈) or the Wife of Chu (朱太太). Personal names are used when referring to adult friends or to children. It is common to refer to a person as lao (老, old) or xiao (小, young) followed by their family name, thus Lao Wang (老王) or Xiao Zhang (小張, 小张). Note that because old people are well respected in Chinese society, lao (old) does not carry disrespect, offense or any negative implications even if it's used to refer to an older woman.

External links

es:nombre chino zh:中国人名


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