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Chinese name
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Chinese name

The Chinese name is made up of a family name, which is always placed first, followed by a given name. In addition to the given name, many Chinese have various kinds of nicknames.

Family names

There are over 700 different Chinese family names, but as few as twenty cover a majority of Chinese people. The variety in Chinese names therefore depends greatly on given names rather than family names. The great majority of Chinese family names have only one character, but there are a few with two.

Chinese family names are written first, something which often causes confusion among those from cultures where the family name usually comes last. Thus, the family name of Mao Zedong is Mao, and his given name is Zedong.

Chinese married women usually retain their maiden name as their family name, rather than adopt the name of their husband, and children usually inherit the father's family name. It is often considered taboo to marry someone with the same family name, even if there is no direct relationship between those concerned.

For more information, see Chinese family name.

Given names

Chinese given names have one or two characters, and are written after the family name. When a baby is first born parents often give it a "little name," such as Little Treasure. The given name is then chosen somewhat later, although the parents may continue to use the nickname.

With a limited supply of family names, Chinese depend on using given names to introduce variety in naming. Almost any character with any meaning can be used. However, it is not considered appropriate to name a child after someone else, whether a family member or a famous figure.

Given names resonant of qualities which are perceived to be either masculine or feminine are frequently given, with males being linked with strength and firmness, and females with beauty and flowers. Females sometimes have names which repeat a character, for example Xiuxiu or Lili. This is less common in males, although Yoyo Ma is a well-known exception.

In some families, one of the two characters in the personal name is shared by all members of a generation and these generational names are worked out long in advance. Also, siblings' names are frequently related, for example, a boy may be named sun while his sister may be named moon.

Chinese personal names also may reflect periods of history. For example, many Chinese born during the Cultural Revolution have "revolutionary names" such as strong country or eastern wind. In Taiwan, it used to be common to incorporate one of the four characters of the name "Republic of China" into boys' names.

For more information, see Chinese given name.

Alternative names

Nicknames are usually an alteration of the given name, sometimes based on the person's physical attributes, speaking style or even their first word. In Hokkien speaking areas, a nickname will often consist of the diminutive Ah, followed by part of the given name. Nicknames are rarely used in formal or semi-formal settings. One exception to this is Chen Shui-bian, who is commonly known as A-bian even in newspaper articles.

In former times, it was common for educated males to acquire courtesy names. The two most common forms were a zi, given upon reaching maturity, and a hao, usually self-selected and often somewhat whimsical. Although this tradition has lapsed, authors' use of pen names is still a common phenomenon. For more information, see Chinese courtesy name.

For prominent people, posthumous names have often been given, although this is uncommon now. Rulers were also ascribed temple names.

Many Chinese who live or work in Western cultures have a Western name in addition to their Chinese name. For example, the Taiwanese politician Soong Chu-yu is also known as James Soong. Among Chinese Americans, it is common practice to be referred to primarily by the Western name and to use the Chinese given name as a middle name. In a more recent effort to combine Western names for those with native Chinese names, the Western name is placed directly in front of the Chinese name so that both the Chinese and Western names can be easily identified. The relative order of family name-given name is also preserved. Using this scheme, Soong Chu-yu would be James Soong Chu-yu.

Forms of address

Within families, adults are rarely referred to by their given names. Rather, the relationship is stressed, so each member is known by this connection. Thus, there is big sister, second sister, third sister and so on. Children can be called by their given name, or their parents may use their nickname.

When speaking of non-family social acquaintances, people are generally referred to by a title, for example Mother Li or the Wife of Chu. Personal names are used when referring to adult friends or to children. Occasionally a person will be referred to as lao (old) or xiao (young) followed by their family name, thus Lao Wang or Xiao Zhang.

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