Chinese Names

In China, as in other Asian countries, the surname is written first, then the given names. For example:

Wu Gongfu — The last name is Wu (like Smith, Jones, etc.) and the given names are Gong and fu (written together in Pinyin and hyphenated in Wade-Giles, Wu Gong-fu).

In China, what is most important about a person is that he/she has a family, or is part of a family, hence the last name comes first. Of second importance is the individual name. Very often when speaking to a Chinese person the whole name is said: "Hi, Wu Gongfu!" Good friends will also just use the given name: "Gongfu, will you please pass the tea?"

Chinese names give a good picture of how the Chinese view the world and the importance of the family.

In the first two lists of names, read the English translation from top to bottom. The words in the first list make up a saying of Confucius regarding the Chinese view of life. The words in the second list make up a poem reflecting that view of the world.

The third list consists of two examples of how Chinese names are given, with each generation having a name in common. The fourth list demonstrates how the characters from the first list (the Confucius saying) can be used through a number of generations.

List A. Quotation from a Confucian saying List B. A couplet
Generation 1 修 xio cultivate Generation 1 孝 xiao filial piety
Generation 2 身 shen personal life Generation 2 仁 ren love and kindness
Generation 3 齊 qi regulate Generation 3 起 qi build
Generation 4 家 jia family life Generation 4 家 jia family life
Generation 5 治 zhi administer Generation 5 忠 zhong faith and loyalty
Generation 6 國 guo country affairs Generation 6 義 yi justice and righteousness
Generation 7 平 ping make peace of Generation 7 建 jian found, build
Generation 8 天 tian the whole world Generation 8 國 guo country
Generation 9 建 jian

the whole world



List C-1. Generation 4 in Ding (丁) household.
List C-2. Generation 6 in Wang (王) household.
丁 家 元 Ding Jia yuan Ding family's first born 王 尚 義 Wang Shang yi Wang promotes justice
丁 家 玉 Ding Jia yu Ding family's jade 王 明 義 Wang Ming yi Wang loves justice
丁 家 美 Ding Jia mei Ding family's beauty 王 愛 義 Wang Ai yi Wang loves justice
丁 家 才 Ding Jia cai Ding family's talent 王 心 義 Wang Xin yi Wang believes justice
These four may be brothers, sisters, or cousins all in the same generation in the Ding family. They all share the same middle character.
These four names represent four members in Wang household who belong to the same generation. They share the same third character.


List D. A multigenerational example of Ding (丁) household
Generation 1
Generation 2
丁 修 全 Ding Xio quan Ding cultivates perfection 丁 身 建 Ding Shen jian Ding's personal health
丁 修 仁 Ding Xio ren Ding cultivates love 丁 身 智 Ding Shen zhi Ding's personal wisdom
丁 修 德 Ding Xio de Ding cultivates morality 丁 身 善 Ding Shen shan Ding's personal goodness
Generation 3
Generation 4
丁 齊 心 Ding Qi xin Ding to be one (regulates) heart 丁 家 元 Ding Jia yuan Ding family's first born
丁 齊 力 Ding Qi li Ding to be one force 丁 家 玉 Ding Jia yu Ding family's jade
丁 齊 備 Ding Qi bei Ding to be all ready 丁 家 美 Ding Jia mei Ding family's beauty
      丁 家 才 Ding Jia cai Ding family's talent

All lists reprinted with permission from Echoes of China.