Chinese Names



Now a Chinese name is simply written with the family name first and the given name next, and Chinese people commonly address each other with full names instead of given names. But historicaly, there are much more than that in names.

History of Chinese Surnames

The Emperor Yao (2356 b.c.) is said to first divide the upper classes of the people according to their surnames (xìng). This was in effect a recognition of the tribes by the State. As the State became more civilized it would be impossible to preserve the territorial integrity of the tribe. Commerce and agriculture would disintegrate the larger units; and so a subdivision under the shì, or name of the gens or clans, followed. This shì, at first the particular designation of a single ancestor, derived from a totem, or local habitation, or bodily peculiarity, in time took the place of the xìng, and was actually called the 姓.

Family name

Surname. In ancient times two types of surnames, family names (xìng) and clan names (shì), existed.

Family name were surnames held by the immediate royal family.

Clan name, as fiefdoms in a feudal society were divided and subdivided among descendants, so additional sub-surnames known as shi were created to distinguish between different seniority of lineages among the nobles though they shared the same ancestor.

Register name (Pǔ míng) is a name recorded in a pedigree or genealogy.

Generation name, Bèifen, is one of the characters in a traditional Chinese name, and is so called because each member of a generation (i.e. siblings and cousins of the same generation) share that character, unlike surnames or given names.

Given name

Given names Míng are generally made up of one or two characters, and are written after the family name.

Milk name, Rǔmíng, are usually an alteration of the given name.

Nick name (chuòhào). There are two kinds of nicknames; one given by biological parents to a baby, and one given by the family or a child’s friends to another child.

School name, Xuémíng, is the name that a child takes to go to school.

A Chinese style name, sometimes also known as a courtesy name (zì), is a given name.

Courtesy name is traditionally given to Chinese males at the age of 20, marking their coming of age, and usually based on the meaning of the given name.

Pseudonym, Hào, is an alternative courtesy name, was usually self-selected, without connection with given name or courtesy name. It may embody a person’s character or use the name of one’s residence.

Designation is an official name, description, or title, related to an an office or post.

Royal Names

Honorary title may be given after person’s death.

Posthumous name (Shì hào) is an honorary name given to royalty, nobles, and sometimes others after the person’s death. Posthumous names can be praises or deprecations.

Temple names (Miàohào) were given after death to an emperor or king.

Era name (niánhào) is the regnal year, reign period, or regnal title used when traditionally numbering years in an emperor’s reign and naming certain Chinese rulers. For example, the Emperor T’ung Chih (同治) of Ts’ing dynasty was the style or Era name of the reign of Tsai-Shun(载顺), he died on the 13th January 1875, aged eighteen years and nine months.

Other Names

Alias, alternative name or fancy name.

Literary name or pen name is another title beside given name and courtesy name of a literati.

Buddhist monk has special buddha name, Fóhào, and Taoist has also Taoist name, Dào hào.

Naming taboo

Naming taboo is a cultural taboo against speaking or writing the given names of exalted persons. This includes naming taboo of the state, the clan, and he holinesses. Either one or all of the characters composing an emperor’s name are altered by the addition or omission of certain component parts; as if, for instance, we were to write an El_iza_bath 11 or something else merely because Elizabeth II is the current Queen of the United Kingdom. Similarly, a child will never utter or write its father’s name, and the names of Confucius and Mencius are forbidden to all alike.

Naming method includes: Changing the character to another one which usually was a synonym or sounded like the character being avoided; Leaving the character as a blank; and omitting a stroke in the character, especially the final stroke. In my family, we were not allowed to mention the name of a homemade noodle soups, Keng (羹), since it sounds like the name my mother’s grandfather, we used “wheat_strings” (麦条) instead.

An Example

Below is the names of the First President of Republic of China, Sun Yat-sen.

Surname: Sun

Given name: Wén

Register name: dé míng

Milk name: dì xiàng

School name: Wén

Courtesy name: Zài zhī

Pseudonym: Rì xīn, Yì Xian, or Yat-sen in Cantonese language

Alias: Chungshan in Cantonese, or Zhōngshān in Mandarin, or Nakayama Shō in Japan.

Styled or Posthumous name: guófù, i.e. “Father of the Nation”