Mandarin words with more than one apostrophe

listen attentively

As I often note, apostrophes are used in only about 2 percent of words as written in Hanyu Pinyin. But when they’re needed, they’re needed. Don’t skip them.

A few years back, someone wrote to me to ask about multiple apostrophes in Pinyin. I dug through a 2019 edition of the CC-CEDICT (2019-11-12 04:41:56 GMT) for an answer. But I don’t think I ever posted my findings online. It’s time to rectify that.

CC-CEDICT is not an ideal source in terms of words, because some entries are phrases rather than single words, though they are not marked separately than words, which means that some entries might be better off with spaces rather than apostrophes, which would reduce the apostrophe count and percentage.

So, with that in mind, of the file’s 117,579 entries, 3,006 needed apostrophes, or 2.56 percent.

No entry needed three or more apostrophes.

Only 52 entries needed two apostrophes, or 0.04% of the total (1 per 2,261 entries).

Most of those were just Mandarinized foreign proper nouns. For example:

  • Ā’ěrjí’ěr: Algiers, capital of Algeria/ 阿爾及爾 阿尔及尔
  • Āi’ěrduō’ān: Erdogan (name)/Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (1954-), Turkish politician, prime minister from 2003/ 埃爾多安 埃尔多安
  • Běi’ài’ěrlán: Northern Ireland/ 北愛爾蘭 北爱尔兰
  • Bì’ěrbā’è: Bilbao (city in Spain)/ 畢爾巴鄂 毕尔巴鄂
  • Dá’ěrfú’ěr: Darfur (western province of Sudan)/ 達爾福爾 达尔福尔
  • Dá’ěrfù’ěr: Darfur, region of west Sudan/ 達爾富爾 达尔富尔
  • fēi’ābèi’ěr: (math.) non-abelian/ 非阿貝爾 非阿贝尔
  • Fèi’àoduō’ěr: Theodor of Fyodor (name)/ 費奧多爾 费奥多尔
  • gǔ’ānxiān’àn: glutamine (Gln), an amino acid/ 谷氨酰胺 谷氨酰胺
  • Láiwàng’è’ěr: Levanger (city in Trøndelag, Norway)/ 萊旺厄爾 莱旺厄尔
  • Léi’ā’ěrchéng: Ciudad Real/ 雷阿爾城 雷阿尔城
  • Luójié’ài’ěrzhī: Raziel, archangel in Judaism/ 羅潔愛爾之 罗洁爱尔之
  • Mài’ěrwéi’ěr: Melville (name)/Herman Melville (1819-1891), US novelist, author of Moby Dick / 麥爾維爾 麦尔维尔
  • Pí’āi’ěr: Pierre (name)/ 皮埃爾 皮埃尔
  • Shàng’àisè’ěr: Overijssel/ 上艾瑟爾 上艾瑟尔
  • Sīfú’ěrwǎ’ěr: Svolvær (city in Nordland, Norway)/ 斯福爾瓦爾 斯福尔瓦尔
  • Sītài’ēnxiè’ěr: Steinkjær (city in Trøndelag, Norway)/ 斯泰恩謝爾 斯泰恩谢尔
  • Tèlǔ’āi’ěr: Tergüel or Teruel, Spain/ 特魯埃爾 特鲁埃尔
  • Xīn’ào’ěrliáng: New Orleans, Louisiana/ 新奧爾良 新奥尔良

Examples of more regular Mandarin entries with two apostrophes include:

  • bái’éyàn’ōu: (bird species of China) little tern (Sternula albifrons)/ 白額燕鷗 白额燕鸥
  • báixuě’ái’ái: brilliant white snow cover (esp. of distant peaks)/ 白雪皚皚 白雪皑皑
  • chū’ěrfǎn’ěr: old: to reap the consequences of one’s words (idiom, from Mencius); modern: to go back on one’s word/to blow hot and cold/to contradict oneself/inconsistent/ 出爾反爾 出尔反尔
  • húnhún’è’è: muddleheaded/ 渾渾噩噩 浑浑噩噩
  • pāi’àn’érqǐ: lit. to slap the table and stand up (idiom); fig. at the end of one’s tether/unable to take it any more/ 拍案而起 拍案而起
  • qì’áng’áng: full of vigor/spirited/valiant/ 氣昂昂 气昂昂
  • qīng’ěr’értīng: to listen attentively/ 傾耳而聽 倾耳而听
  • qīqī’ài’ài: stammering (idiom)/ 期期艾艾 期期艾艾
  • suíyù’ér’ān: at home wherever one is (idiom); ready to adapt/flexible/to accept circumstances with good will/ 隨遇而安 随遇而安
  • xiù’ēn’ài: to make a public display of affection/ 秀恩愛 秀恩爱
  • yǐ’échuán’é: to spread falsehoods/to increasingly distort the truth/to pile errors on top of errors (idiom)/ 以訛傳訛 以讹传讹

A few of those present interesting questions in orthography. For example, Xīn’ào’ěrliáng or Xīn Ào’ěrliáng?

But, basically, those entries are outliers. Relatively few words in Pinyin need an apostrophe; only a minute subset of those need two apostrophes; and, to my knowledge, none need three or more apostrophes.

Can you think of any triple-apostrophe words? Sorry, written examples of stuttering don’t count.

Most common baby names in China, 2020

What were the most common names for newborn babies in China in 2020?

Please note that some names appear more than once (Yichen three times in the top 10 for boys, and Yinuo and Yutong twice in the top 10 for girls). The only differences are in some of the characters used.

Most common names for newborn boys in China, 2020

Rank Chinese characters Pinyin (with
tone marks)
(without tone marks)
1 奕辰 Yìchén Yichen
2 宇轩 Yǔxuān Yuxuan
3 浩宇 Hàoyǔ Haoyu
4 亦辰 Yìchén Yichen
5 宇辰 Yǔchén Yuchen
6 子墨 Zǐmò Zimo
7 宇航 Yǔháng Yuhang
8 浩然 Hàorán Haoran
9 梓豪 Zǐháo Zihao
10 亦宸 Yìchén Yichen

Most common names for newborn girls in China, 2020

Rank Chinese characters Pinyin (with
tone marks)
(without tone marks)
1 一诺 Yīnuò Yinuo
2 依诺 Yīnuò Yinuo
3 欣怡 Xīnyí Xinyi
4 梓涵 Zǐhán Zihan
5 语桐 Yǔtóng Yutong
6 欣妍 Xīnyán Xinyan
7 可欣 Kěxīn Kexin
8 语汐 Yǔxī Yuxi
9 雨桐 Yǔtóng Yutong
10 梦瑶 Mèngyáo Mengyao

I tried using ChatGPT again to clean up the HTML in the tables above. But it kept hallucinating and changing characters, and it never gave me the entire tables but cut off at least one row each time. So I cleaned up the code myself in a text editor.

Source: 《2020 nián quánguó xìngmíng bàogào》 fābù (《二〇二〇年全国姓名报告》发布), Gōng’ānbù wǎngzhàn (公安部网站), February 2, 2021

Prevalence of single-syllable Chinese given names

How common are single-syllable Chinese given names — names that take just one Chinese character to write?

Much less common than they were in the 1980s and 1990s. The downward trend is not likely to change, because China wants to avoid being a place filled with the equivalent of John no-middle-name Smiths.

The proportion of two-character names (i.e., a single-syllable family name plus a single-syllable given name) in China increased from 7.6% in the 1960s to peak at 27.6% in the 1990s. But the figure has now fallen to just 6.3%.

Although some of the three-character names will be those of people with two-character family names and single-syllable given names (as opposed to single-syllable family names and two-syllable given names), the figure is statistically insignificant, as only 0.11% of people in China have two-character family names and only about 6.3% of them will have single-syllable given names (or only about one person in fifteen thousand).

Although in the chart below the number of people with names totaling four or more characters/syllables is small (and largely within minority groups), such names have been on the increase, growing from from just 0.3% and 0.4%, respectively, in the 1950s to 1.6% and 1.7%, respectively, at present.

My translation of a graph from the PRC government, showing the popularity of two-syllable given names in China being high in the 1980s and 1990s and lower before and since then.

Source: Ministry of Public Security Household Administration Research Center System. Translation of labels by

In Taiwan, single-syllable given names are much less common than in China. Also, in Taiwan the majority of those with single-syllable given names are female; I don’t know if that tendency exists in China as well, but I suspect that it does.

Source: 《2020 nián quánguó xìngmíng bàogào》 fābù (《二〇二〇年全国姓名报告》发布), Gōng’ānbù wǎngzhàn (公安部网站), February 2, 2021

Further reading: 85 percent of Han in China have two-syllable given names: report, Pinyin News, August 10, 2008

Thanks to Qin-Hong Anderson for her input.

Reagan candy

photo of jelly beans, just for the sake of color

From watching a brief documentary piece on TV about how jelly beans are made, I learned a new Taiwan-specific Mandarin term: Léigēn táng (雷根糖).

Leigen is a Mandarinization of the name of Ronald Reagan, who famously loved jelly beans. And táng is the word for sugar/candy. So Léigēn táng / “Reagan candy” is a term (but not the only one) in Taiwan for jelly beans. Cool name. I’m going to remember that.

Oddly, Google Translate didn’t know the term yet — or apparently even that Léigēn is how one says “Reagan” in Taiwan, given how Google Translate produced “Regan [sic] Candy”. But at least Google Translate didn’t produce “thunder root sugar,” which would be a literal translation of each morpheme, taken individually.

screenshot of Google Translate turning '???' into 'Regan Candy' and giving 'Léi gēn táng' as the Pinyin

I sent feedback, so let’s see if it gets corrected.

In China, “Reagan” is usually written instead as 里根 (Lǐgēn). But it doesn’t look like either 里根糖 (Lǐgēn táng) or 雷根糖 (Léigēn táng) is a thing in the PRC. Instead, in China jelly beans are called “果冻豆” (guǒdòng dòu; lit. “jelly beans”) or “软心豆” (ruǎn xīn dòu; lit. “soft-heart beans”).

One wonders what jelly beans were called in Taiwan prior to Reagan administration. Maybe they just weren’t popular here yet.

It’s quite common for proper nouns to differ in Taiwan and China, especially for people. For example, see my old post on Obama, Bush, vitamin drinks, and puns.

The most common given names in Taiwan, by decade

Some names have waxed and waned in popularity in Taiwan over the past century or so. This post gives tables of the top-three names for each decade (as calculated by the ROC calendar).

In this post, I give only Mandarin forms of names — out of familiarity, not preference. An exacting writer seeking character names might do well to investigate how such names might be pronounced in Taiwanese, Hakka, or even yet another Sinitic language other than Mandarin, depending on the who, when, and where.

Note: Although the normal style for names in Hanyu Pinyin is to write given names solid, without a space or hyphen, I have used hyphens in this post to preserve the style of writing names that has been standard in Taiwan for many decades. I am including the spelling in Wade-Giles, even though I don’t recommend using that system, because that is what is commonly seen in Taiwan — albeit without apostrophes or umlauts.

Most popular Taiwan boys names, by ROC decade of birth

Birth Year Chinese
Pinyin Wade-Giles
1912–1920 明、金水、健 Míng, Jīn-shuǐ,
Ming, Chin-shui,
1921–1930 金龍、金水、金生 Jīn-lóng,
Jīn-shuǐ, Jīn-shēng
Chin-lung, Chin-shui,
1931–1940 正雄、文雄、武雄 Zhèng-xióng, Wén-xióng,
Wen-hsiung, Wu-hsiung
1941–1950 正雄、武雄、文雄 Zhèng-xióng, Wǔ-xióng,
Wu-hsiung, Wen-hsiung
1951–1960 金龍、進財、榮華 Jīn-lóng,
Jìn-cái, Róng-huá
Chin-lung, Chin-ts’ai,
1961–1970 志明、志成、文雄 Zhì-míng, Zhì-chéng,
Chih-ming, Chih-ch’eng,
1971–1980 志偉、志明、建宏 Zhì-wěi,
Zhì-míng, Jiàn-hóng
Chih-wei, Chih-ming,
1981–1990 家豪、志豪、志偉 Jiā-háo,
Zhì-háo, Zhì-wěi
Chia-hao, Chih-hao,
1991–2000 家豪、冠宇、冠廷 Jiā-háo,
Guàn-yǔ, Guàn-tíng
Chia-hao, Kuan-yü,
2001–2010 承恩、承翰、冠廷 Chéng-ēn,
Chéng-hàn, Guàn-tíng
Ch’eng-en, Ch’eng-han,
2011–2018* 承恩、宥廷、品睿 Chéng-ēn,
Yòu-tíng, Pǐn-ruì
Ch’eng-en, Yu-t’ing,

Most popular Taiwan girls names, by ROC decade of birth

Birth Year Chinese
Pinyin Wade-Giles
1912–1920 秀英、英、玉 Xiù-yīng,
Yīng, Yù
Hsiu-ying, Ying,
1921–1930 秀英、玉蘭、玉英 Xiù-yīng,
Yù-lán, Yù-yīng
Hsiu-ying, Yü-lan,
1931–1940 秀英、玉蘭、玉英 Xiù-yīng,
Yù-lán, Yù-yīng
Hsiu-ying, Yü-lan,
1941–1950 秀英、秀琴、美玉 Xiù-yīng,
Xiù-qín, Měi-yù
Hsiu-ying, Hsiu-ch’in,
1951–1960 麗華、秀琴、秀美 Lì-huá, Xiù-qín,
Li-hua, Hsiu-ch’in,
1961–1970 淑芬、美玲、淑惠 Shū-fēn,
Měi-líng, Shū-huì
Shu-fen, Mei-ling,
1971–1980 淑芬、雅惠、淑娟 Shū-fēn,
Yǎ-huì, Shū-juān
Shu-fen, Ya-hui,
1981–1990 雅婷、怡君、雅雯 Yǎ-tíng,
Yí-jūn, Yǎ-wén
Ya-t’ing, I-chün,
1991–2000 雅婷、怡君、怡婷 Yǎ-tíng,
Yí-jūn, Yí-tíng
Ya-t’ing, I-chün,
2001–2010 宜蓁、欣妤、詩涵 Yí-zhēn,
Xīn-yú, Shī-hán
I-chen, Hsin-yü,
2011–2018* 詠晴、子晴、品妍 Yǒng-qíng,
Zǐ-qíng, Pǐn-yán
Yung-ch’ing, Tzu-ch’ing,

*: The counting of names continued until June 2018. I’ll give newer figures once I have them.

Source: Quánguó xìngmíng tǒngjì fēnxi (全國姓名統計分析). Department of Household Registration, Ministry of the Interior, Taiwan, 2018, p. 59.

Gwoyeu Romatzyh on Taiwan buses

Although in posts mentioning Gwoyeu Romatzyh I often note that romanization system can be seen in the wild in Taiwan most often on the sides of coach buses, I haven’t put online many examples of this. So here’s an image-heavy post with some examples of photos I’ve taken of the Gwoyeu Romatzyh romanization system on buses in Taiwan.

The captions give the Gwoyeu Romatzyh, along with the Hanyu Pinyin (with and without tone marks) in parentheses.

Herng Chuen (Héngchūn/Hengchun)

Wuu Feng (Wǔfēng/Wufeng)

Diing Dong (Dǐngdōng/Dingdong)

Shin Shinn (Xīnxìn/Xinxin)

Jin Shii (Jīnxǐ/Jinxi)

Jiann Fa (Jiànfā/Jianfa)

Shuenn Yih (Shùnyì/Shunyi)

Two-syllable Taiwanese family names

As of June 30, 2018, Taiwan had just 22,332 people with a disyllabic surname (i.e., one that takes two Chinese characters to write). They cover just 0.09% of the population — just less than one in a thousand. This is slightly less than the 0.11 percent of the population of China that has such a family name. Also, in China, by far the most common two-syllable surname is Ouyang; but in Taiwan “Zhangjian” is more seen.

Name Name total
張簡 Zhangjian 9,059
歐陽 Ouyang 7,860
范姜 Fanjiang 4,300
周黃 Zhouhuang 590
江謝 Jiangxie 523

Further reading:


  • Quánguó xìngmíng tǒngjì fēnxi (全國姓名統計分析). Department of Household Registration, Ministry of the Interior, Taiwan, 2018, p. 28.

Two-syllable Chinese family names

By far the most common two-syllable Chinese family name in China is Ouyang (NB: this should not be written Ou-yang, Ou-Yang, or Ou Yang), with it representing more than twelve times as many people as the next most common name on the list: Shangguan.

Surname Fùxìng (複姓/复姓) Number of people in China with this surname
Ouyang 欧阳 1,112,000
Shangguan 上官 88,000
Huangfu 皇甫 64,000
Linghu 令狐 55,000
Zhuge 诸葛 48,000
Situ 司徒 47,000
Sima 司马 23,000
Shentu 申屠 19,000
Xiahou 夏侯 11,000
Helan 贺兰 10,000
Wanyan 完颜 6,000

Those figures for the most common two-syllable Chinese family names (commonly called “two-character” family names) total 1.495 million, or about 1.5 million, which is not an inconsiderable number but still just a drop in the bucket compared with China’s population of some 1.41 billion. Only about one tenth of 1 percent (0.11%) of people in China have such names.

The percentage is a bit less in Taiwan. The most common doubled surname in Taiwan, however, is Zhangjian (張簡/张简), which doesn’t appear at all on the list of the most common disyllabic family names in China. In Taiwan, Ouyang is second.

Further reading:

source: 《2020 nián quánguó xìngmíng bàogào》 fābù (《二〇二〇年全国姓名报告》发布), Gōng’ānbù wǎngzhàn (公安部网站), February 2, 2021