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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 May. 09, 2021 -
Questions & Answers on Chinese Names
Asked by Chris from WALES | Jul. 25, 2021 12:33Reply
How would I address Mok Souw Leung
Answers (2)
Answered by Amanda | Jul. 25, 2021 22:47
00Reply


You can call him Mr. Leung.
Answered by Fong | Jul. 26, 2021 20:36
00Reply


You gotta find out what's the family name/surname. Both Mok and Leung are common Chinese surname. In this name, to me "Mok" sounds like the family name, the family name is placed before the given name; however, sometimes in the Western society, Chinese would place the family name at the back because in Western culture Family name = last name. For eg., Lee Jun Fan is written as Jun Fan Lee (btw that's Bruce Lee's name)
Besides, Souw Leung sounds like the given name, Mok Souw can be the given name but it sound rather ancient and uncommon. If that's true, it should be Mr Mok.
p.s. the pronunciation of the name sound Cantonese.
Asked by Candace from USA | Jul. 20, 2021 17:43Reply
Middle vs last name
I am speaking of a physician who is working in the U.S. and whose name is given as Xaw Win Myint. Is he then addressed as Dr. Win Myint? Or as Dr. Myint?

Thank you.
Answers (2)
Answered by Leo | Jul. 25, 2021 22:50
00Reply


He should be addressed as Dr. Win Myint.
Answered by x | Jul. 26, 2021 21:50
00Reply


sound like a Burmese name
Asked by Robert Uttaro from UNITED STATES | May. 07, 2021 11:02Reply
Two Chinese students in my class
I have two Chinese students in my class. They are listed on the roster as follows:

Chunyu Liu

Yu Wang

When I call on them, it is by the names listed on the roster. Is this correct?
Answers (1)
Answered by Ava | May. 09, 2021 17:56
00Reply


As I know, Liu and Wang are their family names.
Asked by Amir from IRAN | Mar. 23, 2021 07:18Reply
SHU YAN, which one is the Family name?
There is a Professor in Oklahama state university, named SHU YAN. Which one is his Surname? I want to start my letter with Dear Dr. Yan,
is it correct?
Answers (1)
Answered by Emily | Apr. 06, 2021 18:42
00Reply


Yes, generally speaking, Yan is his family name.
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