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Chinese Name Culture

The Formation of Chinese Names

In China, most people's names have two parts, the family names and the given names. One person may have different names. For example, when they are very young at home, they usually have pet names. In school and society they use their formal names. If someone is a writer, he or she has a pen name. Most of the names have special meanings. Some show their parents' wishes. Girls' names show that their parents want them to be nice.

The Origin of Chinese Names

It is said that the original purpose of giving each person a name was for convenience. Ancient people found that whenever it was dark, they couldn't see each other and they couldn't tell who's who. Each person was given a name, so that they could address each other easily, even in the dark. Later, people became more and more particular about their names. Under the influence of political, economic and other factors, people had different preferences at different period of time.

How Many Surnames in China?

According to the records of the One Hundred Family Names (a book about the Chinese surnames, which was written in the early years of the Northern Song Dynasty), there are 408 monosyllabic surnames and 30 hyphenated surnames in China. But by today's statistics and other ancient documents there are more than 5600. In addition, some ethnic groups have names but have no surnames, for instance the Dai people.

Ten Common Used Surnames

According to the national census, the ten common used Chinese family names are Li, Wang, Zhang, Liu, Chen, Yang, Zhao, Huang, Wu and Zhou.

How to Address Chinese People

It is customary to address Chinese by their given name, using the title Miss, Mrs., or Mr. until persons become good friends and know other's nicknames. There are a large range of official titles and formal address forms in daily use, especially occupation-linked titles such as doctor, professor, and mayor. Younger members address elder members according to their formal role within families such as elder brother, cousin, sister-in-law and so forth.

How Chinese Address Each Other

Mostly, Chinese address each other by their names. For example, a girl whose full name is Li Hui Lan. People may address her Li Hui Lan, Hui Lan, A Lan, or Xiao Lan, even some (those who are elder than she or of the same age) may call her Xiao Li. If a man whose full name is Huang Yue Po, people address his full name or Yue Po, or Lao Huang (usually those who are younger than he or of the same age), or Xiao Huang (usually those who are elder than he or of the same age). Interestingly, if the man with a pockmarked face, some people who like cracking jokes may not address his full name Huang Yue Po, they nickname him Huang Ma Zi (lit. Yellow Pockmarks). But this is considered impolite.

Some Interesting Chinese Formal Names

If you can read Chinese and have lived in China for some years you may find some interesting Chinese names. Take some examples: "Chen Bai Wan" (lit. the Millionaire of the Chen Family), this is a man's name. "Chen" is his family name. "Bai Wan" means "millionaire" in Chinese; "Wang Da Fa" is another man's name. "Da Fa" in his name indicates "making a big fortune". From the two men's names you can see their parents have based great hopes on the sons; "Wu You Mu", "You Mu" in the name means "have wood". The man may lack "wood" in his fate. According to "the five elements" in ancient Chinese philosophy, any one of the five (metal, wood, water, fire and earth) are indispensable for a person's fate, or s/he will meet disaster; "Li Wei Dong", "Yi Wei Hong", and "Zheng Wen Ge", all these names with very markedly characteristics of the times. The first one "Wei Dong" in the name means "defending Mao Zhe Dong"; the second "Wei Hong" means "defending the red political power"; the last "Wen Ge" means "cultural revolution", from the names you can see that the three persons were born during 1966-1976; "Ning Zhao Di", this is a girl's name. She may be the first one child of the family or her parents have given birth to several girls before her, they want a boy after her so they name her "Zhao Di" (lit. Wanting a Brother), this is considered a good wish; "Zhao Lai Fu", "Lai Fu" in the name denotes "happiness coming"; "Qian Wang Cai", "Wang Cai" means "prosperous and wealthy", "Sun Guo Qing", "Guo Qing" means "National Day", so long as you meet a man whose name is "Guo Qing" you can draw the conclusion without question that his birthday is October first (the National Day of China). In addition, some Chinese parents name their children according to the 12 zodiacal animals. For instance, Song Sha Sha (宋莎莎), a girl's name. The radicals "艹"and "氵" in the character "莎" stand for grass and water in Chinese respectively. So you can make out the girl's animal signs are ox, horse or sheep.

Some Funny Chinese Pet Names

Some pet names are also very interesting. If you have the opportunity to pay a visit to some Chinese rural areas you will discover some. For instance: "Tie Dan" (lit. Iron Egg"); "Lao Da" (the oldest child), "Lao Er" (the second oldest child), "Lao San" (the third oldest child), "Lao Si" (the fourth oldest child); "Gou Sheng" , literally "dog has as remainder". In the rural Chinese areas, dog is considered having strong vitality. And because the boy is the last son of the parents, they hope he can grow adult. In the remote villages, some uneducated fond parents may give pet name their children "Da Gou" (the first dog); "Er Gou" (the second dog); "San Gou" (the third dog); "Si Gou" (the fourth dog)... by parity of reasoning.

Chinese Tom, Dick and Harry

Just like the English phrase "Tom, Dick and Harry". Chinese people use the three men's names "Zhang San, Li Si and Wang Wu" to play the same role for one unspecified person. The phrase most commonly occurs as "every Zhang San, Li Si and Wang Wu ", meaning everyone, and "any Zhang San, Li Si and Wang Wu ", meaning anyone. The masculine names in these phrase do not in themselves imply exclusion of females, but use of either version when the context implies necessarily being female - for example, "Your mother could be any Zhang San, Li Si and Wang Wu " - would normally be seen as careless or ironic.

Read more Chinese culture info at See China-Global Chinese Culture

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