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Chinese given name

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Chinese given name

Chinese given names (Chinese: 名, p míng) are the given names adopted by native speakers of the Chinese language, both in majority-Sinophone countries and among the Chinese diaspora.


Chinese given names are almost always made up of one to two characters and are written after the surname. Therefore, Wei (伟) of the Zhang (张) family – currently China's most common single name[1] – is called "Zhang Wei" and not "Wei Zhang". Despite the relative paucity of Chinese surnames, given names can theoretically include any of the Chinese language's 100,000 characters[2] and contain almost any meaning.

Unlike Western naming conventions, it is considered disrespectful in China to name a child after an older relative, and both bad practice and disadvantageous for the child's fortune to copy the names of celebrities or famous historical figures. A common name like "Liu Xiang" might be possessed by tens of thousands of people,[3] but generally they were not named for the athlete. An even stronger naming taboo was current during the time of the Chinese Empire, when other bearers of the emperor's name could be gravely punished for not having changed their name upon his ascension. Similarly, it is quite rare to see Chinese children bear the same name as their fathers – the closest examples typically include small differences, such as the former Premier Li Peng's son, who is named Li Xiaopeng.

Since the Three Kingdoms era, some families share the first of the two characters in its personal names among all members (or all male members) of a generation and these generation names are worked out long in advance. In other families there is a small number of generational names which are cycled through. Together, these generation names may be a poem about the hope or history of the family. This tradition has largely fallen into abeyance since the Communist victory in the Civil War; the "Tse" in Mao Tse-tung was the fourteenth generation of such a cycle, but he chose to ignore his family's generational poem to name his own sons.

There are also other conventions. It is frequently the case that children are given gender-based names, with boys acquiring 'masculine' names implying strength or courage while girls receive 'feminine' names concerning beauty or flowers. Since doubled characters are considered diminutives in Chinese, many girls also receive names including a doubled pair of characters or two characters with identical pronunciation. A famous exception to this generally feminine practice is Yo-Yo Ma.

Apart from generational names, siblings' names are frequently related in other ways as well. For example, one son's name may include a character meaning "Sun" (阳 or 日) while his sister would have the character for "Moon" (月) or a character including the moon radical. It is also common to split modern Chinese words – which now usually consist of two characters of similar meaning both to each other and the full word – among a pair of children, such as Jiankang (健康, "healthy") appearing in the children's names as -jian (健, "hale") and -kang (康, "healthy").

Chinese personal names can also reflect periods of history. For example, many Chinese born during the Cultural Revolution have "revolutionary names" such as Qiangguo (强国, lit. "Strong Country" or "Strengthening the Country") or Dongfeng (东风, lit. "Eastern Wind"). On Taiwan, it was formerly common to incorporate one of the four characters of the name "Republic of China" (中華民國, Zhōnghuá Mínguó) into masculine names. Patriotic names remain common but are becoming less popular – 960,000 Chinese are currently named Jianguo (建国, lit. "Building the Country") but only a few thousand more are now being added each year.[4]

Within families, adults rarely refer to each other by personal names. Adult relatives and children referring to adults generally use a family title such as "Big Sister", "Second Sister", "Third Sister", and so on. As is the case in the West, it is considered rude for a child to refer to parents by their given name, but – unlike the West – this taboo is extended to all adult relatives.

When speaking of non-family social acquaintances, people are generally referred to by a title – for example, "Mister Zhang", "Mother Li" or "Chu's Wife". Personal names are used when referring to adult friends or to children and are typically spoken completely; if the given name is two characters long, it is almost never truncated. Another common way to reference someone in a friendly way is to call them "Old" (老, Lǎo) or "Little" (小, xiǎo) along with their surname.

Many coastal Chinese have a Western name (typically English) in addition to their Chinese names. For example, the Taiwanese politician Soong Chu-yu is also known as "James Soong". In Hong Kong, it is common to list the names all together, beginning with the English given name, moving on to the Chinese surname, and then ending with the Chinese given name – for example, Alex Fong Chung-Sun. Among American-born and other overseas Chinese it is common practice to be referred to primarily by one's Western name, with the Chinese one relegated to alternate or middle name status. Recent immigrants, however, often use their Chinese name as their legal name and adopt a Western name for casual use only.

Proper use of pinyin romanization means treating a Chinese given name as a single word with no space between the letters of the two characters: for example, the common name 王秀英 is properly rendered either with its tone marks as Wáng Xiùyīng or without as Wang Xiuying, but should not be written as Wang Xiu Ying, Wang XiuYing, Wangxiuying, &c. The earlier Wade-Giles system accomplished the same effect by hyphenating the given name between the characters: for example, the same name would be written as Wang2 Hsiù4-Yīng1. However, many Chinese either do not understand or do not care to follow these rules and simply treat each character as a separate word, romanizing them with a space between each. This often causes native speakers of other languages to take the names as divisible, although this remains untrue.

In regions where fortune-telling is more popular, many parents may name their children on the advice of literomancers. The advice are often given based on the number of strokes of the names or the perceived elemental value of the characters in relation to the child's birth time and personal elemental value; rarely on the sound of the name as there is no system of fortune-telling based on character pronunciations. In jurisdictions where it is possible, people may also choose to change their legal given name, or their children's names, in order to improve their fortune.

For given names, each character of the name is chosen according to the wishes and desires of the parents. Around 1904 names were chosen in accordance with the wishes and desires of the fathers of the children. There is no standard set of Chinese given names.[5]

Common Chinese names

As of 2007, the most common names in China were:[6][7]

Rank Surname Given Name Pinyin Meaning Number
1 Wěi Big, Great 290607
2 Wěi Big, Great 281568
3 Fāng Fragrance, Virtue 268268
4 Wěi Big, Great 260980
5 秀英 Xiùyīng Outstanding Beauty, Elegant & Brave 246737
6 秀英 Xiùyīng Outstanding Beauty, Elegant & Brave 244637
7 [None][8] 244223
8 秀英 Xiùyīng Outstanding Beauty, Elegant & Brave 236266
9 Wěi Big, Great 234352
10 Mǐn Quick, Clever 233708
11 Jìng Peaceful, Tranquil 232686
12 Beautiful 232533
13 Jìng Peaceful, Tranquil 231914
14 Beautiful 226724
15 Qiáng Strong, Better 223950
16 Jìng Peaceful, Tranquil 221483
17 Mǐn Quick, Clever 213606
18 Mǐn Quick, Clever 213603
19 Lěi Mound of Rocks, Great 209757
20 Jūn Army 199772
21 Yáng Ocean 199642
22 Yǒng Brave 198720
23 Yǒng Brave 197859
24 Yàn Gorgeous 194371
25 Jié Outstanding, Heroic 191759
26 Lěi Mound of Rocks, Great 191065
27 Qiáng Strong, Better 190266
28 Jūn Army 189999
29 Jié Outstanding, Heroic 189117
30 Juān Beautiful, Bewitching 187701
31 Yàn Gorgeous 181752
32 Tāo Large Wave 177993
33 Tāo Large Wave 177978
34 Míng Bright 177898
35 Yàn Gorgeous 176676
36 Chāo Overleap, Surpass 174891
37 Yǒng Brave 173615
38 Juān Beautiful, Bewitching 171785
39 Jié Outstanding, Heroic 166929
40 秀兰 Xiùlán Beautiful Orchid, Elegant & Graceful 166111
41 Xiá Rosy Clouds, Mist 165189
42 Mǐn Quick, Clever 164133
43 Jūn Army 162773
44 Beautiful 162497
45 Qiáng Strong, Better 159914
46 Píng Peaceful, Tranquil 155617
47 Gāng Hard, Strong 154600
48 Jié Outstanding, Heroic 154113
49 桂英 Guìyīng Laurel & Beautiful, Brave 153218
50 Fāng Fragrance, Virtue 152189

See also


  1. ^ Beijing News. "一个“张伟”找到29万人". 26 Jul 2007. Accessed 16 Mar 2012. (Chinese)
  2. ^ The 2004 Taiwanese Ministry of Education Dictionary of Chinese Variant Form compiled 106,230.
  3. ^ 法制晚报(北京). Op. cit. "中国1.8万多人姓名为刘翔,叫刘德华的人逾1.6万". 15 Oct 2007. Accessed 17 Mar 2012. (Chinese)
  4. ^ Xinhua Net. "[1]". Oct 2007. Accessed 17 Mar 2012. (Chinese)
  5. ^ Evans, Richard. Deng Xiaoping and the Making of Modern China. Penguin Books, 1995. Second Edition. Page 3. ISBN 0-14-013945-1
  6. ^ Beijing News. "中国重名最多50姓名“出炉”" 26 Jul 2007. Accessed 17 Mar 2012. (Chinese)
  7. ^ 69FW. "在中国重名最多的姓名". 10 Mar 2012. Accessed 17 Mar 2012. (Chinese)
  8. ^ itself is merely phonetic, although the same character pronounced as nuó forms a part of the words for "lithe", "graceful", and "willowy".

External links

  • Some western names written in Chinese characters
  • Chinese Name Gender Guesser API
  • Scholar urges resuming traditional names
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