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Chinese Names

The names of Chinese people have their own tradition and characteristics. Unlike westerners, the family name in China is put first, followed by the given name. Interestingly a feme covert does not use her husband's family name. The given name usually contains one or two Chinese characters but in order to avoid confusion, newly-born babies are now entitled to be given names of three characters.

Given Name

Chinese names are meant to convey special meaning, with the given names often expressing the best of wishes on the new-born. Some imply the birthplace, birth time or natural phenomenon, like Jing (Beijing), Chen (morning), Dong (winter) and Xue (snow); Some embody the hope of virtue, like Zhong (faithful), Yi (righteous), Li (courteous) and Xin (reliable) while others express the wishes of life, like Jian (health), Shou (longevity), and Fu (happiness).

Family Name

Altogether some 22,000 family names have been used in China but over time, some of them have become reserved and only 3,500 are commonly used nowadays. The most popular three are Li, Wang and Zhang, respectively occupying about 7.9%, 7.4% and 7.1% of the whole Chinese population. There are 270 million Chinese people who own one of these top three surnames.

Among all the family names, 100 common ones cover almost 87% of the total population. Of these, 19 are more popular than others, including Li, Wang, Zhang, Liu, Chen, Yang, Zhao, Huang, Zhou, Wu, Xu, Sun, Hu, Zhu, Gao, Lin, He, Guo and Ma, and represent about half of the whole Chinese people.

Some Chinese have compound surnames, consisting of two characters, like Ou Yang, Tai Shi, Duan Mu, Shang Guan, Si Ma, Dong Fang, Du Gu, Nan Gong, among others. Now there are altogether 81 compound surnames existing in the country.

All Chinese people have equal rights to use their own names, which are legally protected. Generally speaking, a child is always entitled to the surname of his father. However, children nowadays in China do not have to do so; they can adopt that of their mother. Nicknames are often called in their childhood or by their confidants.

Addressing Chinese People

It is considered to be polite and respectful to address a Chinese people by his/her surname, followed by honorific titles like Xian1 Sheng1 (Sir), Nv3 Shi4 (Madam) or the job position. Given names are often called between good friends. Xiao3 Jie3 nowadays is considered to be an offensive way to address young ladies. Below is the general way to address various Chinese people.

English Chinese Pinyin
Mr. Li Li Xian1 Sheng1
Mrs. Wang Wang Nv3 Shi4
Ms. Zhang Zhang Nv3 Shi4
President Xi Xi Zhu3 Xi2
Minister Zhou Zhou Zong3 Li3
Manager Wang Wang Jing1 Li3

- Last modified on Dec. 03, 2020 -
Questions & Answers on Chinese Names
Asked by Skyler from CANADA | Oct. 22, 2020 21:21Reply
Lin Feng Mian
Her first name(s) are Feng Mian, and her surname is Lin. Can I refer to her as Feng? Or Mian? She lives over here where I am.
Answers (2)
Answered by James | Oct. 25, 2020 19:47

Well, you can call her Lin.
Answered by Terence | Dec. 03, 2020 10:23

It doesn't matter where she lives. Her name is Feng Mian, and you should say "Feng Mian", or Ms. Lin. Unless she's a friend or relative, maybe you can use "Mian", but that's more like a nickname.
Asked by Lane from USA | Sep. 28, 2020 12:02Reply
Which name is given and which is the surname? Lin LI (Mr.) Thank you
Answers (4)
Answered by Sophia | Sep. 29, 2020 17:41

Well, both them can be given and surname. Would you mind providing the Chinese characteristics? Then I can find the exact answer.
Answered by Lane | Sep. 30, 2020 07:53

Thank you Sophia - here are the Chinese characters:

Answered by Sophia | Oct. 25, 2020 19:47

According to the situation, the surname is 李
Answered by Terence | Dec. 03, 2020 10:26

Yes, they're both surnames. But for some countries, like Japan, they have officially started to use all CAPS for surnames. So if you see LI written with all caps, that's a good clue that LI is the person's surname.
Asked by Ileana from MEXICO | Sep. 21, 2020 11:00Reply
His name is 张焙 Zhang Bei (Bill)
How should I address him in a business letter?
Answers (4)
Answered by Colton | Sep. 23, 2020 23:28

You can call him Mr. Zhang in the business letter.
Answered by Ileana | Sep. 24, 2020 10:07

Thank you!
if I don't want to be too formal, could I start the email like this: Hello Zhang Bei? or should I use Hello Zhang?
Answered by Colton | Sep. 29, 2020 17:36

Both Zhang Bei or Zhang will be ok. :)
Answered by Terence | Dec. 03, 2020 10:30

No, not Zhang, that's his surname. Always error on the more formal and polite option, use either Mr. Zhang or Zhang Bei. His given name is Bei - but to use Bei is informal. That's okay only if he's a friend or acquaintance.
Asked by Denise from USA | Sep. 13, 2020 17:15Reply
Her name is Yen Ta Mei. Yen is her last name correct? What is her first name?
Answers (2)
Answered by mei ta yen | Sep. 13, 2020 18:57

Answered by Leah | Sep. 13, 2020 18:59

I think that her first name is Ta Mei.
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