Chinese Personal Names

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Understanding customs used in surnames and given names can help you identify your ancestors in records. Learn to recognize name variations and see clues in names.

Online Tools[edit | edit source]

Surnames[edit | edit source]

Chinese personal names are names used by those from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and other parts of the Chinese-speaking world such as Singapore. Due to China's historical dominance in East Asia and Vietnam, many names used in Korea and Vietnam are adaptations of Chinese names or have historical roots in Chinese, with appropriate adaptation to accommodate linguistic differences.

Modern Chinese names consist of a family name (xìngshì; 姓氏), which comes first and is usually but not always monosyllabic, followed by a given name (míng; 名), which is almost always disyllabic, consisting of two characters. Prior to the 21st century, most educated Chinese men also utilized a "courtesy name" or "style name" (zì; 字) by which they were known among those outside their family and closest friends. Respected artists or poets will sometimes also use a professional "art name" (hào; 號) among their social peers.[1]

Origins of Names[edit | edit source]

According to Mr. Kiang Kang Hu, author of the book Genealogy and origin of Chinese family names, there were 18 sources from which surnames were derived: [2]

  • The name of a dynasty (Tang)
  • Feudal territory or division (Chiang, Huang)
  • Political district (Hong)
  • Town (Yin, Su)
  • Rural villages (Lu, Yen)
  • Cross-roads and stations (Mi)
  • Suburbs of direction (Tung-shiang, Xi-men)
  • Historical personage (Chin, Fu)
  • Use of a man's social name for a family name (Fang, Kung)
  • A custom of adopting the appellation applied to a relative (Meng, Mi)
  • Clans or tribes (So, Chang)
  • Official posts (Shih, Shuai)
  • Titles of nobility (Wang, Hou)
  • Occupations of trades (Wu, Tao)
  • Objects (Chu, Pu)
  • Posthumous titles of rulers (Wen)
  • Adding a diminutive to the parent name (Wang-tsu, Gong-sun)
  • Name of contempt applied to an evil-doer by a ruler (Fu, Mang)

Histories of Chinese Surnames in Wikipedia[edit | edit source]

Wikipedia has a number of very useful articles about Chinese surnames, detailing their origins, histories, and distribution in present-day China and sometimes beyond. You can view this example to see what one of the articles may have in it.

Yuan (surname)

Many other pages about Chinese surnames can be found on this category listing page on Wikipedia.

Chinese language surnames

Taiwan[edit | edit source]

Taiwanese names are often rendered into English using the Wade-Giles transcription system.
See also, Naming customs of Taiwanese aborigines

Given Names[edit | edit source]

  • Chinese given names (名字, míngzi) show much greater diversity than the surnames, while still being restricted almost universally to one or two syllables. Today, two-character names are more common and make up more than 80% of Chinese names.
  • 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.
  • It is considered bad form to name a child after a famous person.
  • Similarly, owing to the traditional naming taboos, it is very uncommon in China to name a child directly after a relative, since such children would permit junior family members to inappropriately use the personal names of senior ones.
  • Many personal names reflect periods of Chinese history. For example, following the victory of the Communists in the Civil War, many Chinese bore "revolutionary names" such as Qiangguo (強國, lit. "Strong Nation" or "Strengthening the Nation") or Tungfung (東風, lit. "Eastern Wind").
  • Similarly, on Taiwan, it used to be common to incorporate one of the four characters of the name "Republic of China" (中華民國, Zhōnghuá Mínguó) into masculine names.
  • Periodic fad names like Aoyun (奧運; "Olympics") also appear.
  • Owing to both effects, there has also been a recent trend in China to hire fortune tellers to change people's names to new ones more in accordance with traditional Taoist and five element practices. In creating a new Chinese name, it is sometimes the practice to analyze the number of strokes in the characters used in the potential name and attempt to use characters that produce specific totals of strokes.[3]

Generation names[edit | edit source]

In some Chinese families, one of the two characters in the personal name is shared among members of a generation, either of the same sex, or less frequently for both sexes. These generation names may be an indicator for a familial relationship or help to determine generations within a family, but this is by no means a definitive way to linkindividuals. For example:

1st child = YANG Qingzhao
2nd child = YANG Qingxi (Qing is the generation name)[4]

Tibetan Names[edit | edit source]

Surnames[edit | edit source]

  • Family names are rare except among those of aristocratic ancestry and then come before the personal name.
  • Tibetan nomads (drokpa) also use clan names; in farming communities, they are now rare and may be replaced by household name.
  • Descent is claimed from the four ancient clans that are said to have originally inhabited Ancient Tibet: Se, Rmu, Stong and Ldong. The four clans were further divided into branches which are Dbra, Vgru, Ldong, Lga, Dbas and Brdav. With inter-clan marriages, the subclans were divided into many sub-branches.
  • While Tibetans from Kham and Amdo use their clan names as surnames, most farming communities in Central Tibet stopped using their clan names centuries ago and instead use household names.

Given Names[edit | edit source]

  • Traditionally, personal names are bestowed upon a child by lamas, who often incorporate an element of their own name.
  • In the Tibetan diaspora, Tibetans often turn to the Dalai Lama for names for their children. As a result, the exile community has an overwhelming population of boys and girls whose first name is "Tenzin", the personal first name of the 14th Dalai Lama.
  • Personal names are in most cases composed of readily understood Tibetan words. Most personal names may be given to either males or females. Only a few are specifically male or female.<ref>"Tibetan name", in Wikipedia., accessed 13 March 2021.

For Further Reading[edit | edit source]

FamilySearch Library[edit | edit source]

Additional sources are listed in the FamilySearch Catalog:

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Chinese name", in Wikipedia,, accesed 5 March 2021.
  2. Kiang Kang Hu. "Genealogy and origin of Chinese family names." At various libraries (WorldCat)
  3. "Chinese name", in Wikipedia,, accesed 5 March 2021.
  4. "A GUIDE TO NAMES AND NAMING PRACTICES, UK Names Guide'",, accessed 5 March 2021.