I am Nan, the community manager at MyHeritage for the Chinese speaking countries. I would like to share with you the story of how Chinese people create their names - I hope you'll find it interesting.
Every single character in Chinese has explicit meanings; in general a character refers either to a physical object like a tree or a flower, or a concept such as beauty or strength. Finding out a Chinese name is like writing a poem, as you need to express meanings in just 2 or 3 letters. Unlike English names, Chinese people write their family name (normally a single letter) first and then their given name (one or two letters).
There are over 700 Chinese surnames, but only about 100 are commonly used. A list of Chinese surnames can be found here.
Traditionally, Chinese given names are structured by a two-character pattern. The first part is the generation name that is shared by all members of a generation, and the last character is given to the individual person. The reason Chinese people write their surname first is to show respect to the ancestors. Actually, Chinese given names are all custom-made instead of choosing one from a list of created names like Dave, Alex or Victoria. Nowadays many young Chinese have only a one-character given name, due to the fact that many families have only one child.
My name is Ma Nan, Ma is my surname and Nan is my given name. Ma is ranked as the 14th most common surname in Mainland China; 'ma' literally means 'horse'. Nan is a kind of wood - hard with a rich fragrance, it is quite precious. My parents gave me the name of Nan as this has the meanings of healthy and strong. Many Chinese are named after the aspirations that parents have for their children's future such as the literal translation of luck, wealth and so on.
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