Name is something that differentiates you and others. To pick a name for their baby, Chinese people are very cautious when selecting the meaningful, beautiful, sometimes powerful, easy to remember characters as the name of their new born babies. Chinese believe a good name affects one’s luck and sometimes the destiny of a person. It’s the Feng Shui of an individual person. That’s why some people change their names when they grow up even in their 20s or 30s after they check with the masters of names. A good name brings you luck and fortune. So, how do the Chinese pick their names?
First, family name or surname, you have nothing to choose but follow whatever family name your father has, the same as westerners. If he is a Wang, you are a Wang. You will be registered as a Wang XX in your family resident’s book, your ID card, etc. Sometimes the parents may discuss and agree the baby follows the mother’s family name. The family name is a symbol of which family you belong to as a decendent. It is such an important thing that the fathers rarely agree his son takes the family name of their wives, meaning the same family name of his father in law.
Generally speaking, Chinese surnames are always one Chinese character. The most frequently-used Chinese surnames, 438 altogether, are included in the Book of Family Names. “张-Zhang”, “王-Wang” and “李-Li” are three surnames taken by the largest group of people. Among all the family names, 100 common ones cover almost 87% of the total population. Of these, these 16 are more popular than others, including“刘-Liu”, “陈-Chen”, “杨-Yang”, “赵-Zhao”, “黄-Huang”, “周-Zhou”, “吴-Wu”, “许-Xu”, “孙-Sun”, “胡-Hu”, “朱-Zhu”, “高-Gao”, “林-Lin”, “何-He”, “郭-Guo” and “马-Ma”, and represent about half of the whole Chinese population.
A few surnames have two characters, like “欧阳-Ou Yang”, “上官-Shang Guan”, “司马-Si Ma”, “东方-Dong Fang”. Now there are altogether 81 compound surnames existing in the country.
When a baby is born, parents often give him or her a nickname, such as “小宝-Xiao Bao” (little gem) or two characters that repeat “毛毛-Mao Mao”. The given name is then usually chosen later and is often chosen with consultation of the grandparents. Almost any character with any meaning can be used. Chinese names are meant to convey special meanings, with the given names often expressing the best of wishes on the newborn. Some imply the birthplace, birth time or natural phenomenon, like “京-Jing”(Beijing), “晨-Chen (morning)”, “冬-Dong (winter)” , and“雪-Xue”(snow); Some embody the hope of virtue, like“忠-Zhong” (faithful), “义-Yi”(righteous), “礼-Li”(courteous) and“信-Xin”(reliable) while others express the wishes of life, like “健-Jian”(health), “寿-Shou”(longevity) , and“福-Fu”(blessings).
Differences do exist between names given to boys and girls. For girls, beautiful and elegant words are usually used. For example “兰-Lan” (orchid), “芳-Fang” (fragrance), “珠-Zhu” (Pearl), “雅-Ya” (Elegance). For boys, words which mean strong, powerful or smart are usually chosen. Such as “明-Ming” (brightness), “杰-Jie”(outstanding), “武-Wu”(martial), “龙-Long”(dragon).
Finally, it is worth mentioning that one thing very different with western culture. To show respect to seniors, the given names of seniors are never taken by the younger generation of the family. In ancient China, it is a capital crime and you would get killed if you take the same character of the name of the emperor.
Article by Emma Wang, Miracle Mandarin co-founder.
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