Chinese Name

Chinese Name

Chinese personal names (Chinese: 姓名, xìngmíng) are the names adopted by the citizens of the Republic and People's Republic of China and the Chinese diaspora overseas. They arose from the culture of the Han people. In some cases, the term may also refer to Chinese names adopted or used to refer to people from other areas.

Chinese names typically consist of three syllables – a monosyllabic family name and a disyllabic given name – with each syllable having a particular tone and being written as a single Chinese character. About one in seven people have a two-syllable name, and fewer than one-fifth of one percent – many of them ethnic minorities – have a name of four or more syllables; most Han Chinese that have names longer than four characters have compound surnames (e.g. Ouyang Kunpeng or Da-Hong Seetoo).

Chinese names originated the Eastern ordering of names, where the family name precedes the given name. A boy called Wei (伟) and belonging to the Zhang (张) family – currently China's most common single name – is called "Zhang Wei" and not "Wei Zhang" (unless he's travelling abroad). It is standard for the Chinese to address one another – especially those with two-character names – by using full names. Normally, Zhang Wei would be formally addressed as "Mr. Zhang" (not "Mr. Wei") but even informally he would be addressed as "Zhang Wei" and not "Wei".

The two halves of the name are almost always treated as indivisible units. There is no corollary to English middle names, which are both official and generally ignored. 王秀英 – currently China's most common three-character name – might be called "Wang Xiuying" or simply "Xiuying", but no one would ever say "Wang Xiu" or "Wang Ying" and omit the other half of her given name.

Chinese people interacting with others who do not know characters romanize their names in a variety of ways, although Hanyu Pinyin is now the standard in both mainland China and Taiwan. Many also adopt a European-style name (typically English) either by reversing the Chinese order (e.g., "Wei Zhang") or by choosing a new name entirely (e.g., "John Zhang"). In Hong Kong, a common practice is to combine both English and Chinese names into a single hybrid: "John Zhang Wei".

From at least the time of the Shang dynasty, the Han Chinese observed a number of naming taboos regulating who may or may not use a person's given name (without being disrespectful). In general, using the given name connoted the speaker's authority and superior position to the addressee. Peers and younger relatives were barred from speaking it. Owing to this, many historical Chinese figures – particularly emperors – used a half-dozen or more different names in different contexts and for different speakers. Those possessing names (sometimes even mere homophones) identical to the emperor's were not infrequently forced to change them. The normalization of personal names after the May Fourth Movement has generally eradicated aliases such as the school name and courtesy name but traces of the old taboos remain, particularly within families.

Read more about Chinese Name:  Family Names, Given Names, Writing, Spelling, Alternative Names, Forms of Address, Chinese Names in English

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