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                      Home History and Culture Understanding Chinese Names
                      Understanding Chinese Names
                      Learn Chinese - History and Culture

                      China's huge population shares a great deal of surnames. According to the ancient Chinese documents, they ranged from 300 to 3,000. But most specialists in this field agree that the most common surnames of the Han Chinese number some 500.

                      Chinese surnames are said to have originated in the prehistorical matriarchal society. The character for surname, Xing (姓), is a combination of two other characters, Nv (女) and Sheng (生), meaning 'born of woman.' An ancient Chinese name often included four parts: first the family name, followed by the given name, the alias, and then what's known as the 'style.' Take the great poet Li Bai for example. His surname in Chinese is Li (李). His given name Bai (白) means 'white.' His alias is Tai Bai (太白), and 'style' Qing Lian (青蓮), meaning 'green lotus.' One would choose his alias and 'style' when he entered adulthood. People called one another by the alias to show mutual respect.

                      Chinese people always attach great importance to the choice of names. As the old saying goes, under the right name, then can it be within your jurisdiction. In the Chinese earliest dictionary it was explained as follows: name contained the invisible fate and the visible and meaning characters. Fate was something intangible and negative, it coincided with 'the hidden material,' on which the Western scientists are working hard to find out. With concrete form and meaning, name belonged to the positive symbol of characters. It functioned far more than just a code for every specific person. Therefore in the past, when elders named a new born baby, they took several factors into full consideration: the astrological principles, the birthdate, the array of five elements (metal, wood, water, fire, and earth) told by the fortune-teller, the form, pronunciation, and meaning of name. Now superstition being lessened and constraints reduced, there are still some rules of thumb to be followed:

                      1, balance between the baby's birthdate and the five elements in its life, try to remedy the defects with the name;

                      2, try to avoid the same initial consonant and simple or compound vowel (of a Chinese syllable), and the same tone in the characters is not preferred either;

                      3, as to the form, a character with not too many strokes nor the same component will be a good choice;

                      4, the preference for the meaning of a character changes with time.

                      The May Fourth Movement in 1919 brought with it what was known as the 'vernacular Campaign' and drastic changes in Chinese culture. So did it influence names. It contended all sorts of characters could be used to form a person's name. Then after the founding of New China, name began to take on a political touch, such as 'Ai Guo' which means 'love the country' and so on. The favorite words included: red, army, revolution, soldier, east, etc.

                      Another obvious change in Chinese name is that many people now use only two characters. A study shows that, before 1966, about 90 percent of chinese names had three characters. But a recent survey tells us that about half of today's younger people have two character names.


                      One Hundred Chinese Names
                      The list of "Hundred Names (百家姓)" was compiled many years ago by order of the Emperor as the 100 most popular surnames (or last, or family names) in China at the time. School children used to memorize them, or at least the first few names from the list.

                      The top 8 Chinese last names, based on this list complied hundreds of years ago, are:Zhao Qian Sun Li, Zhou Wu Zheng Wang.

                      In 2006, a new list based on a two-year study of some 200 million names gives the most popular names as:

                      Li (Lee), Wang, Zhang, Liu, Chen, Yang, Huang, Zhao, Zhou, Wu, Xu, Sun, Zhu, Ma, Hu, Guo, Ln, He, Gao, Liang, Zheng, Luo, Song, Xie, Tang, Han, Cao, Xu, Deng, Xiao.......

                      See details here.

                      In many Western countries, there is a short list of popular 'first names,' but countless 'last names.' In China, it is just the reverse. The list of last name is short, and the number of first names is in the billions.

                      This may be the reason that in Western countries, one customarily tell strangers one's first name ("My name is Bob.") Whereas in China, one generally give out his last name instead ("Just ask for Mr. Wang.")

                      The "Hundred Names" :

                      趙錢孫李 周吳鄭王 馮陳諸衛 蔣沈韓楊 朱秦尤許 何呂施張 孔曹嚴華 金魏陶姜

                      戚謝鄒喻 柏水竇章 云蘇潘葛 奚范彭郎 魯韋昌馬 苗鳳花方 俞任袁柳 酆鮑史唐

                      費廉岑薛 雷賀倪湯 滕殷羅畢 郝鄔安?!酚跁r傅 皮卡齊康 伍余元卜 顧孟平黃

                      和穆蕭尹 姚邵堪汪 祁毛禹狄 米貝明臧 計伏成戴 談宋茅龐 熊紀舒屈 項祝董粱

                      杜阮藍閔 席季麻強 賈路婁?!〗伖∶肥⒘值蟆$娦烨耨槨「呦牟烫铩》杌?br />

                      虞萬支柯 咎管盧莫 經房裘繆 干解應宗 宣丁賁鄧 郁單杭洪 包諸左石 崔吉鈕龔

                      程嵇邢滑 裴陸榮翁 荀羊於惠 甄魏加封 芮羿儲靳 汲邴糜松 井段富巫 烏焦巴弓

                      牧隗山谷 車侯宓蓬 全郗班仰 秋仲伊宮 寧仇欒暴 甘鈄厲戎 祖武符劉 姜詹束龍

                      葉幸司韶 郜黎薊薄 印宿白懷 蒲臺從鄂 索咸籍賴 卓藺屠蒙 池喬陰郁 胥能蒼雙

                      聞莘黨翟 譚貢勞逄 姬申扶堵 冉宰酈雍 郤璩桑桂 濮牛壽通 邊扈燕冀 郟浦尚農

                      溫別莊晏 柴翟閻充 慕連茹習 宦艾魚容 向古易慎 戈廖庚終 暨居衡步 都耿滿弘

                      匡國文寇 廣祿闕東 毆殳沃利 蔚越夔隆 師鞏厙聶 晁勾敖融 冷訾辛闞 那簡饒空

                      曾毋沙乜 養鞠須豐 巢關蒯相 查后江紅 游竺權逯 蓋益桓公 萬俟司馬 上官歐陽

                      夏侯諸葛 聞人東方 赫連皇甫 尉遲公羊 澹臺公冶 宗政濮陽 淳于仲孫 太叔申屠

                      公孫樂正 軒轅令狐 鐘離閭丘 長孫慕容 鮮于宇文 司徒司空 亓官司寇 仉督子車

                      顓孫端木 巫馬公西 漆雕樂正 壤駟公良 拓拔夾谷 宰父谷粱 晉楚閻法 汝鄢涂欽

                      段干百里 東郭南門 呼延媯?!⊙蛏辔⑸≡缼浘椏骸r後有琴 梁丘左丘 東門西門

                      商牟佘佴 伯賞南宮 墨哈譙笪 年愛陽佟 第五言福


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