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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. 06, 2019 -
Questions & Answers on Chinese Names
Asked by Robert M | May. 02, 2019 18:22Reply
Do I address a Chinese person's last name first?
In the US, when we wanna address someone by their full name, we would refer to them first name,followed by last name (i.e. John Smith). I always hear that in many Asian countries, including China, you say their last name, followed by their first name. Would I be correct in assuming this/
Answers (1)
Answered by Sebastian from POLAND | May. 06, 2019 23:15

Yes, you are correct. Just address a Chinese person't last name first.
Asked by A Smith from UNITED KINGDOM | Dec. 03, 2018 20:17Reply
How to address students?
I teach a lot of students who come from China - I am teaching them in England and in English, and I am English. Among colleagues and with students, the convention in the university is to use everyone's first names (given names). What is the most appropriate way for me to address students, since in England we use first names but in China they use family names?

Thank you :)
Answers (1)
Answered by Alan from CANADA | Dec. 03, 2018 18:05

I think it's okay to call their given names or just call their full names.
Asked by Maru from SWITZERLAND | Sep. 14, 2018 10:38Reply
I have to write in an envelope Family Chang but the lady has another surname Gou....
and the kids are Chang as well.
How can I write it in a polity way?
Mrs Gou and Mr Chang family?
Just Family Chang?
Gou Nv3 Shi4 & Chang Xian1 Sheng1
how can I include the kids there?
Answers (1)
Answered by Thomas from USA | Sep. 16, 2018 23:38

Hi, generally, the name on the envelope can be pretty simple and Gou Nv3 Shi4 & Chang Xian1 Sheng1 are ok to write on. You can write the children's name in the letter, which will be proper.
Asked by 圆圆 from CHINA | Jul. 17, 2018 16:59Reply
if I want to address a medical doctor, like for eg: Dr, Zhang would I say Zhang 医生?
Answers (1)
Answered by Myron from USA | Jul. 17, 2018 18:22

If you write to a foreign doctor, you should choose the former. If you write to a Chinese doctor, just write 张医生.
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