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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 Feb. 12, 2020 -
Questions & Answers on Chinese Names
Asked by Joe from CAGE | Jul. 27, 2020 20:26Reply
Her name is XiangChun Li, what would I refer to as her first name?
Her name is XiangChun Li, what would I refer to as her first name? We are friends over the internet and everytime I ask her what her first name is supposed to be, she tells me it's as it shows on the display name "XiangChun Li". What do I make out of this?
Answers (1)
Answered by Dorothy from FINLAND | Aug. 05, 2020 20:22

Her first name is Xiangchun and last name is Li.
Asked by Jean-Paul Raven from UNITED KINGDOM | Jun. 29, 2020 06:55Reply
How to address "Li Ching Cheung"
I am corresponding informally with a Chinese woman in the UK who has signed her emails "Li Ching Cheung".
Assuming "Li" is her surname, I know I can address her as "Dear Ms Li", but if I want to keep it informal, so how should I address her? "Dear Chin", "Dear Cheung" or "Dear Chin Cheung".
Thanks in advance for your help.
Jean-Paul Raven
Answers (1)
Answered by Abigail from GERMANY | Jul. 12, 2020 18:57

It is suggested to use Dear Cheung.
Asked by sam garwood from U.S.A. | Feb. 11, 2020 23:19Reply
Chinese name Ren-shao Ye. Which is the surname? the given name? How should I address a letter in
How should I address a letter to him? To his wife? Ho w should I address him in casual conversation?
Answers (1)
Answered by Richard from SINGAPORE | Feb. 12, 2020 16:38

The surname is Ren. The given name is Shaoye.
You can write Mr.Ren or Mrs.Ren in the letter. Called him Shaoye will be ok in casual conversation.
Asked by Ellie from SPAIN | Sep. 05, 2019 00:52Reply
Chinese students
We are receiving a large number of Chinese students into our international curriculum. On our records, we have (I think) their surname in the first name column and their given name in the surname column.
Does that indicate that we should be calling them by their surname?
E.G. Yaqi Tu - which name comes first?
Similarly, we have a large number who choose western names e.g. Sarah. We obviously would call them Sarah, but which name should follow Sarah? Should it be Sarah Yaqi or Sarah Tu?
I feel very ignorant, but want to make sure I am not offending any students!
Answers (1)
Answered by Evan from FRANCE | Sep. 08, 2019 23:33

Yes, you can call them by their surname. Sarah Tu is the suitable one.
Asked by Will from UNITED KINGDOM | Aug. 25, 2019 01:49Reply
Do children go by given names or surnames?
In general conversation, are children more often addressed by their given name or surname?
Answers (1)
Answered by Sami from THAILAND | Aug. 26, 2019 02:30

You need to call their given names.
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