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China Facts: Chinese Names

(People's Daily Online)

14:39, June 19, 2012

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 surnames in China 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 Chinese 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 people have compound surnames, consisting of two Chinese 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 China.

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 use their father's surname; 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 Jie4 nowadays is considered to be an offensive way to address Chinese young ladies.

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