Introduction to Chinese Names

In Chinese culture the last name is the same for all family members, and usually is only one syllable. There are more first names than last in China. It isn’t unusual for a man to introduce himself by his last name even in a casual situation because there are more than a billion first names. In fact in China the surname is usually used first and the given or first name comes second. Unfortunately, this can become confusing as some Chinese people try to make their Chinese name conform to Western standards. Thus you may see a Chinese name listed two different ways and be confused as to what to call the person. An emperor once made a list of the most popular last names in China and school children were required to learn the first one hundred. Some of these names are Zhou, Zhao, Qian, Wu, Sun, Zheng, Li, and Wang. These names are much like Smith or Jones in the US as they are commonly heard. Today more than 250 million people share the same Chinese name Li, Wang, and Zhang.

The Chinese name has a history of changing in popularity depending on what events were going on. For instance, during the Cultural Revolution Hong was popular as it meant “red” or “revolution”. When the political climate changed in the 1980s families began naming their children according to what they wished for them in their lives. Zhifu is one such name as it means “getting rich”. China has seen many different political systems and leaders, so the Chinese name origin has varied widely.

For generations a Chinese girl name was reflective of grace, beauty, flowers, or even birds. Some examples are: Ting meaning “grace”, Mei or “enchanting”, and Yan which means “beautiful”. A Chinese boy name had to do with strength, homage to ancestors, or a soldierly bearing. Examples of these are: Gang or “steel”, Shaozhu for “bring honour to our ancestors”, and Zhijian or “firm in spirit”.

As in many families the name origin in China has its roots in a locale or an occupation. There are so many that it would be difficult to look at very many, but here is a sample: Yuan is now the 33rd most common surname in China. It dates back to a king called Yu Shun. About ten generations down the lineage, a male descendant took the name to honour him and it became Yuan. The word means “robe” and there were three kings with the name over the years. The story is much too complicated to include in this article, but there are a number of websites where you can find very detailed information about Chinese name origin. In China dynasties are often referred to rather than years.

One of the first questions people ask of someone expecting a baby is, “What will you name him or her?” Of course it is no different in China, and couples search for the perfect Chinese baby name. With the world becoming smaller due to technology cultures are merging. It isn’t that unusual to meet a young child in a nation other than China that was given a Chinese baby name. One Chinese girl name that may be heard in many areas is Lian which means “a graceful willow”. There are many women bearing this name, even though the spelling may vary. Jin may be either a Chinese girl name or a Chinese boy name and it translates to “jewel”.


One thought on “Introduction to Chinese Names

  1. Hi there! This post could not be written much better!
    Looking at this post reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He constantly kept preaching about this. I most certainly will send
    this information to him. Pretty sure he’ll have a good read.
    Thank you for sharing!

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