85 percent of Han in China have two-syllable given names: report

Just how common are monosyllabic given names in China? I’ve seen lots of wild guesses, which generally range from about one-quarter to one-half (?!) of the population. Zhang et al., however, give the following figures:

91.06% Chinese have three-character names and only 8.34% have two-character names. People with four characters or more only constitute 0.6% of the population.

This was based on a database of 1,644,911 names in China.

According to a larger survey last year in the PRC, however, 14.22 percent of Han people in China have given names that are monosyllabic … and thus are written with a single Chinese character. On the other hand, 85.61 percent of Han people in China have full names written with exactly three Chinese characters, according to the report released by the National Citizen Identity Information Center, an organization with ties to China’s Ministry of Public Security. (It thus seems likely they have access to especially good data.)

Since the source material is unclear on what is meant by names written with three Chinese characters, it’s possible that some people in the second group have disyllabic family names and monosyllabic given names; but that number is likely to be close to statistically insignificant, given the relative paucity of monosyllabic given names and the outright rarity of disyllabic family names. (Only 0.02 percent of those in Zhang et al.‘s name list had disyllabic family names.)

The sum of 14.22 and 85.61 is 99.83, which leaves 0.17 percent of those in China classified as Han having names that are at least four syllables long and so take at least four Chinese characters to write.

According to a report published last December but which I’m just now getting around to writing about, nearly one thousand names in China are written with at least ten Chinese characters. The news story, alas, does not give any of these names; but it does provide a breakdown of the numbers:

10 characters: 594 names
11 characters: 272 names
12 characters: 94 names
13 characters: 33 names
14 characters: 5 names
15 characters: 1 name

A total of 97 percent of those 999 people live in the predominantly non-Han Chinese region of Xinjiang, which likely indicates that they have non-Han names that are being forced into forms that fit procrustean Mandarinized syllables.

A report from Nanjing states that 309 of the city’s 6 million people have names that take more than four Chinese characters to write.

PRC authorities have proposed limiting given names to two syllables and family names to four syllables (for rare cases in which a child receives a disyllabic family name from both parents).

As for Taiwan, monosyllabic given names are much rarer here than in China. My guess would be about 2 percent. This could probably be worked out from Chih-Hao Tsai’s list of Chinese names; but right now I don’t have the time.

On the other hand, China’s public is being urged to embrace new disyllabic family names, largely because the relative paucity of surnames ensures many, many people in China share common names.

Recent demographic surveys indicate there are about 1,600 surnames, with only 100 or so being frequently used, among Chinese nationals, which means many people share a name. For example, nearly 300,000 people, male and female, use the same common name of Zhang Wei, the statistics show.

The top 1,600 U.S. surnames don’t even cover half of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, whose list of surnames found in the United States contains more than 88,000 entries.


Further reading:

Dagur (Dawo’er) grammar and sample sentences

This week’s rerelease from Sino-Platonic Papers is Introduction, Grammar, and Sample Sentences for Dagur (1.6 MB PDF), by Üjiyediin Chuluu (Chaolu Wu).

Dagur, which is related to Mongolian, is spoken by the Dagur (a.k.a. Dawo’er, Dáwò’?rzú, ????, ????), who live mainly in China in Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang.

The Dagur language belongs to the Mongolic branch of Altaic languages. Dagur is usually divided into Butkha, Tsitsikar, Hailar, and Xinjiang, four dialects….

Since there is a close historical and linguistic relationship between the Dagur and the Mongols, there has been a dispute about whether Dagur is a dialect of Mongolian or an independent language within the Mongolian languages. In the recent studies, Dagur has been mostly regarded as one of the Mongolian languages. Dagur has many similarities in phonetics, grammatical structure, and vocabulary with the other languages of the Mongolian languages, especially, with Mongolian itself.

Most of the vowels in Dagur have similar corresponding vowels in either classical or modern Mongolian. For example….

The sample sentences (268 in total) are given with IPA and English translation.

This issue of Sino-Platonic Papers was first published in November 1994.

Three Brief Essays Concering Chinese Tocharistan: SPP

The latest rerelease from Sino-Platonic Papers is Three Brief Essays Concerning Chinese Tocharistan (1.7 MB PDF), by Victor H. Mair.

Here are the beginnings of each of the three essays.

The Significance of Dunhuang and Turfan Studies:

There are well over a thousand scholars around the world who are working on some aspect of Dunhuang and Turfan studies. Do these two remote places in Chinese Central Asia merit such intense interest on the part of so many? In the first instance, this paper attemps to show that Dunhuang and Turfan studies, though focussing on texts and artifacts associated with these two particular sties, actually have broad ramifications for the history of East-West cultural and commercial relations in general. Another major factor is the unique quality of many materials discovered at Dunhuang and Turfan. Archaeological finds from these locations have enabled us, for the first time, to obtain an essentially first-hand look at China and some of its neighbors during the medieval period. That is to say, we can now learn, for example, about popular culture during Tang times without being forced to view it through a Confucian historiographical filter. In other words, the availability of primary materials for correcting the biases of traditional historians and materials which document the existence of phenomena (languages, religions, popular literary genres, social customs, etc.) that were completely overlooked — or even suppressed — by them. As examples of the vivid immediacy afforded by such materials, two texts from Dunhuang manuscripts S4400 — a prayer by Cao Yanlu — and S3877 — a contract for the sale of a woman’s son — are edited and translated. The paper concludes by stressing that, because of the complexity and vast scope of Dunhuang and Turfan studies, international cooperation is essential.

Early Iranian Influences on Buddhism in Central Asia:

It is usual to imagine that the transmission of Buddhism from India to China was accomplished largely by Indian missionaries and Chinese pilgrims. Until recently, the role of Iranian-speaking peoples in this great process of intellectual and religious transformation has been little known and seldom recognized. Primarily as a result of archeological discoveries during the last century, however, the vital importance of Central Asian Buddhism has become increasingly clear. It is now possible to point to specific doctrinal, iconographic, and textual instances of Iranian influence upon Buddhism in Central Asia and, consequently, in China and elsewhere in East Asia. Here we shall touch upon only a few examples of the Iranian contributions to Buddhism. The items listed in the bibliography should enable the reader to locate many more without much difficulty.

The deep involvement with Buddhism of individuals from the very heartland of Iranian civilization is evidenced by the fact that the fist known translator of Buddhist texts into Chinese was a Parthian of royal descent….

The History of Chinese Turkistan in the Pre-Islamic Period:

The first thing which needs to be pointed out about Chinese Turkistan (also spelled Turkestan) is that, for the period in question, the habitual designation is a complete misnomer. As will become obvious in the course of this article, the place was neither politically Chinese nor ethnically Turkish until after the establishment of Islam in the region. It is probably safest to refer to the area by more neutral geographic names such as the Tarim Basin and the Dzungar (also spelled Zungar and Jung[g]ar) Basin which, together with their associated mountain ranges, constitute the two main divisions of the area, or Central Asia in contrast to Middle Asia (Russian / Soviet Turkistan).

No matter how we refer to it, there is no doubt that this remote, largely desert part of the world is of extreme importance because it lies at the crossroads of Eurasia. From the dawn of civilization, trade and cultural exchange have been carried out by peoples living in and around this “heart of Asia….”

The was first published in March 1990 as issue no. 16 of Sino-Platonic Papers.