16    Oct 20083 comments

The structure of Chinese names

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.

Chinese characters 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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Comments (3) Trackbacks (0)
  1. I wanted to know more about the Structure and information related to chinese names. Anyway thanks a tonnnn..
  2. Thank you. So now i know this. My father is a chinese, but he's really not like the fact that he is a chinese, maybe due to a harsh past in our socio-culture (Indonesian Chinese were deeply considered and treated as a 2nd class citizen during the New Order 1969-1998). Based on that fact during the time he grows up, he seems dont want to be part of Chinese anymore. And just yesterday i ask what my Chinese name is, and you can guess the rest. So thanks for the info, you really open my mind.
  3. Hi! My name is kind of a funny story. In the 1970's, they were showing a series named Kung Fu, and there was a female character by the name Nan Chi. My father liked it so much that he said that the he would name his next daughter Nan Chi :) Thing is, I have no idea what it means! I have been looking and looking but I cant find a meaning. Do you know what it might mean?

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