Why do Chinese people keep non-Chinese names

Chinese name

A chinese name consists of a family name (Chinese 姓xìng), usually monosyllabic or more rarely two-syllable, followed by a first name (Chinese 名字míngzi) follows. The family names come from the clan names of ancient China, the personal name can be formed almost freely from the basic elements of the vocabulary and often conveys a meaning intended by the namesake.


Among the Chinese family names (Chinese 姓xìng, also: Clan name, Kin name) one understands one of the more than seven hundred family names which are used by the Han Chinese and which are also used by Sinized nationalities in China. In Chinese society, the family name is passed on from the father to the children. If someone is adopted, he is usually given the family name of the adoptive father.

Chinese women usually keep their maiden name after they get married. Sometimes the man's family name is placed before his own family name. This is the name of the former chairman of the Hong Kong administration and later MP Anson Chan, her Chinese name is CHAN F.ONG On-sung (陳方安 生), where Fong is the maiden name. Children usually get the father's surname.[1]

Although there are over 700 Chinese family names, most Chinese only share around 20 very common names.

In addition, it was common in the Chinese imperial era for the Chinese emperors to pass on their family names to their subordinates in order to promote them. With the exception of emperors who did not belong to the Han Chinese, the Chinese emperors had completely normal family names - not like in Europe, where the nobility could already be read off from the family name. That was the name of all emperors of the Han dynastyLiú (劉 / 刘), and all emperors of the Ming Dynasty were called Zhu (朱).

This was the result of the Chinese imperial theory, according to which an ordinary citizen could get the mandate of heaven and thus be proclaimed emperor. But whoever became emperor kept his actual family name.

In addition, and this also distinguishes China from Europe, the entire family of the emperor lost power when the imperial family was replaced. Thus, the passing on of the family name by the emperors to the subjects was also a means of binding the latter to themselves.

As a result of the practice that the emperor passed his family name on to his subjects in order to promote them, there were very many people with the same name as the emperor, but without any relationship to him or the imperial family. There are some complex traditions associated with family names that usually have something to do with respect for ancestors. For example, in Taiwan there is a clan with the so-called double liao as a family name. The story is that one of the ancestors of this clan was adopted and hence the family name Liao got. In honor of his ancestors, however, he wanted to use the name Chen to be burried. The family name is still used today by his descendants Liao used as long as they live, however, they are used as Chen to bury.

In some regions it is not possible for people with certain surnames to marry. On the other hand, there are areas where people with certain family names are not considered to be related. As a rule, however, people with the same family name do not marry there either.

Most family names are monosyllabic and therefore only consist of one character. However, about twenty two-syllable family names have made it into modern times. The better known of these are Sīmǎ (司馬 / 司马), Zhūgé (諸葛 / 诸葛), Ōuyáng (歐陽 / 欧阳, often translated as O’Young), and Sītú (司徒, in Cantonese: Szeto). There are also family names with three or four characters (syllables), which are usually non-Han names, for example Manchurian or Mongolian names. Àixīnjuéluó (愛新覺羅 / 爱新觉罗) is an example of this, often paraphrased as Aisin Gioro from the Manchurian language; this was the family name of the emperors in the Qing dynasty founded by Manchurians.

Not all family names are common. Some names are very common in the north, but almost unknown in the south. The name Xiāo (肖) is never heard in Hong Kong. Chen is extremely common for this in Taiwan. The name Fang (方) is very common in southern China and is the most common name in San Francisco's Chinatown.

Table with the most common names

The following table lists the 60 most common names in their Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese transcriptions [2][3][4][5].

Notes on the table: Under Other There are romanizations that were introduced before the standardization of the transcription systems and are mainly used by overseas Chinese or some dialects. The diacritical marks that indicate the tones are not given in passports and similar official documents.

characterMandarinCantoneseOther dialects
T.V.PinyinW-G1OtherJyutpingYale / pyOther
1WángWang Wong4WongVongOng, Heng
2ChénCh'en (Chen)ChernCan4ChanChunTan, thing
3LileeLei5lee Ly, Le
4ZhāngChang Zoeng1Cheung  
6YángYang Joeng4Yeung  
7HuángHuangHwangWong4Wong Vong
9LinLin Lam4LamLumLim
11Yeh Jip6YipYapIp
12ZhàoChao Ziu6ChiuJiu 
13Lü (Lu) Leoi5Lui  
14Hsü (Hsu) Ceoi4Tsui  
15SūnSunSuenSyun1Sun / Suen  
16ZhuChu Zyu1ChuChueGee, Ju
17GāoKao Gou1KoGo 
18Ma Maa5MaMah 
19LiángLiang Loeng4Leung / LeongLong 
20GuoKuo Gwok3Kwok  
21Hê, Ho Ho4Ho  
23Hu Wu4WuWoo 
24CàiTs'ai (Tsai) Coi3ChoiChoy 
26ShēShe Ne4Sheh  
27DèngTeng Dang6TangManure 
28ShenShen Sam2SumShum 
30TángT'ang (Tang) Tong4Tong  
31Hsü (Hsu) Heoi2Hui  
32LuóLo Lo4LoLaw, Lowe 
33YuanYuan (yuan) Jyun4Yuen  
34FéngFengRemoteFung4Fung / Fong  
35SongSungSoongSung3Shung (?)  
36Su Sou1So  
37CáoTs'ao (Tsao) Cou4Cho  
38Lu Luk6Luk (?)  
39MayMay Maak6MakMuk 
40DǒngTung Dung2Tung  
41Yü (Yu) Jyu1 or Jyu4?Yu  
42HánHan Hon4Han  
43RénJen Jam4 or Jam6?YamYum 
45Ku Gu3GuGoo 
46ZhongChung Tongue 1Chung  
47FangCatch Fong1Fong  
48YouDo Dou6To do  
49ThingTing Thing1Tingthing 
50YáoYao Jiu4Yao  
51PānP'an (Pan) Pun1Poon  
52JiāngChiang Goeng1Geung  
53TanT'an (Tan) Taam4TamTomHom
54QiūCh'iu (Chiu)ChiouJau1Yau  
55XiāoHsiao Ciu3Chiu  
57JiǎChia Gaa2Ga  
58TiánT'ien (Tien) Tin4Tin  
59CuīTs'ui (Tsui)TsueiCeoi1Cheui (?)  
60ChéngCh'eng (Cheng) Cing4Ching  
  1. Unofficial versions of the Wade-Giles romanization (without diacritical marks) in brackets. Often used in Taiwan to Latinize Taiwanese names, Wade-Giles is often used incorrectly without diacritical marks.

The "Old Hundred Names"

There is a fixed expression in the Chinese language the old hundred (family) names (Chinese 老百姓lǎobǎixìng), which echoes the popular notion that the Han Chinesentum originally consisted of exactly one hundred families distinguished by the same number of names. If a person describes himself as "lǎobǎixìng", then this is to be understood as a modesty formula, with which one considers oneself to be part of the core of the Chinese people, but at the same time describes oneself as an average Chinese of little class and without social influence. As a metaphor for the population of China, “lǎobǎixìng” means as much as in German “Otto Normalverbrauch”, a term that tends to be disparaging for the population in terms of its mass, averageness and controllability.

Personal names

In contrast to the limited family names available, the personal names are míng (名) countless, as they are freely formed from basic elements of the vocabulary, but with the restriction that there are only one or two characters. Most personal names are related to what parents want their child to be. These desires are expressed through words such as "wealth", "long life" or through innuendos. An attempt is also made to influence fate with personal names. In order to bring happiness to the child, names are often chosen, which are the symbols for dragon lóng (Chinese 龍 / 龙) or Phoenix fèng (Chinese 鳳 / 凤) as well as for character traits such as dé (Chinese 德 “virtuous”), yǒng (Chinese 勇 “courageous”) or yǎ (Chinese 雅 “elegant”). Often names are chosen whose individual symbols stand for the season and weather that prevailed on a child's birthday. Religious parents often give their children names like Fóguāng (Chinese 佛光 "Light Buddhas"). In Taiwan, names of Christian saints such as Qiaozhi (Georg) and Bide (Peter) are gradually gaining ground.

Generation name

In the traditional family, the personal name must establish a connection between the wearer and his generation within the family. All persons who are the same distance from the common ancestor then have the same character, the generation name, in their name in the first or second position, depending on the region. However, an old taboo forbids taking the name of an ancestor.

To illustrate the use of the generation name, here is a prominent example:

  • Mao Zedong
  • Mao Zetan and
  • Mao Zemin

were brothers, the generation name is ze.

But the political turbulence of the last century can also be read by names, especially in the People's Republic. Children who were born in the years after the founding of the PR are more likely to listen to names whose components mean “New”, “New China”, “Construction”, (love for) “Fatherland” or something similar. During the Cultural Revolution, on the other hand, children were often given names that included terms such as “red”, “revolution” or “soldier”.

The recent economic changes and population policy are also reflected in the naming:

  • Laidi 來 弟 / 来 弟 (“come younger brother”) a few farmers call their first-born daughter when they hope that the next child will be a boy.
  • Caidian 彩電 / 彩电 (short for color television set: cǎisè diànshìjī 彩色電視機 / 彩色电视机) is the name of a farmer's son who was born despite the regulations of the one-child policy. The name expresses that the penalty for the second-born was so high that his parents could have afforded a color television for the money.

In general, however, a recourse to common traditional names can be observed in the People's Republic.

Naming in children

  • Bad names are rare and indirect. Corpulent boys like to be 小胖(Xǐaopàng "Little fat one") called or girls whose face is too round 圓圓(Yúanyúan "Round / round").
  • Consecutive numbering (first sister, second sister ...): The consecutive numbering is only used in the family circle. The eldest son and the eldest daughter are each 大哥(Dàgē "big Brother") or 大姐(Dàjiě "Big sister") called. All further are then with the 2 beginning also called 哥 and beginnend. The youngest brother and the youngest sister are then always 弟弟(Dìdi "little brother") or 妹妹(Mèimei "little sister").
  • Naming (Meaning of line numbers, astrological aspects or political names) is essential for Chinese names. In Taiwan one often finds first names like Dégúo (德國 / 德国 "Moral of the country or also Moralland = Germany"), which gives the wearer the attribute of being moral for his country. Another politically-influenced name is Gúogūang (國 光 / 国 光 "light of the land"), which means that the bearer brings light / wisdom or enlightenment to his country.
  • nickname (Milk names) in babies and toddlers are usually the last of the three or two names doubled with 小(Xiǎo "small") or one of the two syllables of the first name or the syllable of the first name with 阿 "no meaning; should sound "sweet" ") before. For example, 黃雲婷 becomes 婷婷, 小婷, 阿婷, or 阿 雲.

Other names

The understanding of names in China is not as firm as it is in our country, as are the examples of names in children or family names and mentioned above Temple names show at emperors

  • Pseudonyms often become the main name - changing is quite normal, common especially among writers, or to indicate a changed style of painting.

Hào (Pseudonym, honorary name)

Hào (Chinese 號 / 号hào, W.-G.hào; Japanese ; Korean: 호 ho; Vietnamese: hiệu) is an alternate name, commonly known as pseudonym referred to as. It was mostly three or four characters long and was probably originally used because people share the same farm name had. A hào was usually chosen by yourself and you could have several. It had no relation to the family name míng or farm names of the wearer; rather, it was often a very personal, sometimes imaginative choice, perhaps containing an allusion or a rare character, such as would correspond to an educated writer. Another option was to use the name of his residence as a pseudonym hào to choose; so was Su Shishào Dongpo Jushi (i.e. 'residents of Dongpo' ('Eastern Slope'), a residence he built during his exile). The pseudonym hào an author was also often used in the title of his collected works.

(Major Age Name)

(Chinese (表) 字 / (表) 字(biǎo) zì, W.-G.(piao) tzu; Japanese: 字, azana; Korean: 자 Yes), also known as the 'court name', in English also as the 'Chinese style name' or 'courtesy name', are second names that men in particular acquired during the imperial era when they entered adulthood. This name, which the person gives himself, is mostly derived from the first name and reflects it sensually. It also largely replaces the first name, which is reserved only for older family members, and is used to address people of the same age. Today are unusual.

Transcriptions and internationalizations

For the People's Republic of China, the Hanyu Pinyin is used in the transcription of Chinese names. This means that the Chinese name does not contain any hyphens or aspiration characters after the initial ('). The first name, if it is a two-syllable, is written together. It gets a bit complicated with names that were still in circulation in old romances. Several spellings are known here. However, only the use of pinyin is compliant with the rules and is becoming more and more popular internationally, as it is now being promoted by important institutions such as the UN and the Library of Congress.

  • Example: off Mao Tse-tung becomes Mao Zedong, from his wife Chiang Ch'ing becomes Jiang Qing
  • Deviation: instead of Sun Zhong Shan or Sun Wen is used internationally Sun Yat-sen, instead of Jiang Jieshi is still Chiang Kai-shek Mao's adversary. Here, due to the low recognition value of Pinyin, which is based on standard Chinese, the correct transcription does not prevail, since both men are known under the transcription based on their southern Chinese name pronunciation.

In fact, many Chinese do not follow these relevant rules. There are many reasons. On the one hand, the regional pronunciation should be reflected in the transcription, on the other hand, English-speaking or Christian names are often added. The latter has three main reasons: firstly, Chinese names are often unfamiliar to non-Chinese people and not easy to pronounce in any form of transcription; secondly, it is simply chic and gives an international flair. In addition, an international first name gives the ignorant to a certain extent an orientation as to where the first name and last name are hidden in the letter structure.

If you put the western and the Chinese names together, the following variants are possible:

  • Zhang, Guorong - China, official romanization (Pinyin)
  • Cheung Kwok-wing - Hong Kong, Cantonese transliteration (Yale)
  • Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing - Hong Kong, mixture of Chinese and Western names
  • Cheung Kwok-wing, Leslie - also Hong Kong, official spelling
  • Leslie Kwok-wing Cheung - the Chinese first name becomes a middle name in the US and other countries.

In official documents and publications, the family name is usually capitalized or in small caps to avoid confusion, for example Leslie C.HEUNG Kwok Wing.

Treatment of non-Han names in Chinese

  • Minorities in the VR
  • general handling (phonetic, meaning)
  • Foreigners

Salutation and other aspects of practical life

The family name is not only mentioned first in conjunction with the first name, but also placed before the salutation. If you had wanted to address Deng Xiaoping in Chinese as "Mr. Deng", you would have done this in the order Deng-Herr (Deng xiansheng) have to do. It is the same with all other substantive forms of address. "Teacher Zhu" becomes Zhu laoshi, which becomes "Chairman Mao" Mao zhuxi.

It looks a little different with the two adjectival forms of address xiao (literally: small, but here “buddy”, “friend” or, if there is a large age difference between older people and younger people, e.g. friends of one's own children, related) and lao (literally: old, but used more in the meaning of “worthy of admiration” and with a general show of respect). They are only used in combination with the surname, but are placed in front of them here: lao Chen, xiao Wang etc.

Addressing only the first name implies a high degree of confidentiality and in most cases sounds very unusual to the person addressed. A teacher would not only address his student by their first name, but always the full name, e.g. B. Wang Qiang, use. It is also not common for Chinese to address each other by first name in business dealings.

The gender of the person cannot always be read from the first name, but there are certain indications for those who know how to draw.

  • Recognize male and female names
  • "Spell" z. B. on the phone

See also


  • Wolfgang Leander Bauer: The Chinese personal name: The educational laws and main meanings of Ming, Tzu and Hsiao-Ming. Wiesbaden 1959

Individual evidence

  1. ↑ Su Yuping: About naming among the Chinese, Epoch Times Germany, September 6, 2006
  2. ↑ zhongwen.com - The 200 most common Chinese family names
  3. ↑ Lin Yu-tang Chinese-English Dictionary of Modern Usage: Pinyin and the transcription after Jyuping for Cantonese
  4. ^ Names for Cantonese usage Lin Yu-Tang dictionary
  5. ↑ Yahoo! Hong Kong surname in today's Cantonese translation