2.3 Personal Names

The discussion of personal names in this section confines itself to names of ethnic Han Chinese origin; names of non-Chinese and of the ethnic minorities of China will be discussed in Section 4 below. Like place names, personal names are of many forms, and the rules governing their writing are fairly complicated. Generally speaking, personal names may be divided into two categories: formal and non-formal. Terms relating to posts and ranks, seniority within the family, personal address, and titles are also discussed here, as they fall within the general scope of personal names. The treatment of personal names presented here follows the spirit of Zhōngguó Rénmín Hànyǔ Pīnyīn Zìmǔ Pīnxǐfǎ (The Hanyu Pinyin Alphabebet Writing of Chinese Personal Names; Zhōngguó Wénzì Gǎigé Wěiyuánhuì, 1976).

  1. Formal names

    Han Chinese personal names are composed of two parts, xìng (surname) and míng (given name). In usage, the surname always precedes the given name.

    Nearly all Han surnames are monosyllabic, though there are a small number of disyllabic surnames. At least five thousand surnames have been used by the Han over the course of their history; only a few hundred, however, are in wide use today.

    Given names in ancient times were most commonly monosyl labic, but nowadays tend to be disyllabic. A confusing feature of ancient Han names is that men possessed several given names: in addition to a míng, they also used a (which was assumed upon reaching manhood) and a hào (also assumed later in life). The Song dynasty hero Yuè Fēi was also known as Yuè Péngjǔ; Fei was his míng and Péngjǔ his . The Song poet Sū Shì was also known as Sū Dōngpō; Shì was his míng, Dōngpō his hào. Each of these three kinds of given names -- míng, , and hào -- had its own range of use, dictated by the conventions of the period. Modern Han Chinese, however, use only one given name, the míng.

    Personal names are written with the surname and the given name separated, and with each of the two components capitalized. Remember as you look at the examples below that the surname always comes first.

    1 + 1
    • Zhāng Fēi
    • Qū Yuán
    • Huáng Xīng
    • Léi Fēng
    1 + 2 (This is the most common form for modern names)
    • Huò Qùbìng
    • Qī Jìguāng
    • Sūn Zhōngshān
    • Zhōu Enlái
    2 + 1
    • Sīmǎ Qiān
    • Dōngfāng Shuò
    • Zhūgě Liàng
    • Ōuyáng Hǎi
    2 + 2
    • Sīmǎ Xiàngrú
    • Huángfǔ Wúyì
    • Ōuyáng Yúqiàn
    • Sītú Huìmǐn
    In the past, Han Chinese women habitually used their husband's surname and their own together. In writing names of this type, the surnames are linked by a hyphen:
    • Zhāng-Luó Yùxiù
    • Wáng-Guō Guìyīng

    There are three points still to be discussed with regard to formal personal names:

    1. In the past it was common to separate the two syllables of a Han given name in writing by a hyphen, as: Zhōu Ēn-lái. This is not considered standard usage in Hanyu Pinyin. The given name is a single entity and should not be broken up; moreover, use of the hyphen to clarify syllable boundaries is entirely superfluous (see Part 1, 6.3). For these reasons, Hanyu Pinyin does not use the hyphen in this manner.
    2. Since the order of surname and given name in a Han peraonal name is the opposite of that used in many Western countries, Han names often generate confusion among people of other nationalities. Names in which surname and given name are both monosyllabic are the most apt to be reversed inadvertently: an English speaker, for instance, looking at the name Fāng Yáng will probably assume that Yáng rather than Fāng is the surname. In order to avoid confusion, it is advisable to use the technique, generally recognized in international circles, of capitalizing every letter of the surname, thus: NG Yáng, LIÚ Jiànguó.
    3. People of other nationalities frequently use abbreviations in writing their names. Since Han names are already extremely short, it is unnecessary to adopt abbreviations for them. Another form of simplification -- the omission of tone markers -- is used when Han names appear in international use: Zhou Enlai, or ZHOU Enlai.
  2. Non-formal names

    Non-formal names include pen names, stage names, Buddhist, Taoist and Christian names, aliases and nicknames. Since no particular rules govern the form of these names, they take on all kinds of forms; some are up to ten syllables in length, while others are made up of elements from classical Chinese. This great varity makes them difficult to set orthographic rules for. In general, non-formal names may be divided into two categories, as described below.

    Names of the first type resemble formal personal names in form, and can be split into surname and given name. Pen names are most commonly of this type. The writer Zhōu Shùrén, for example, took Lǔ Xùn as his pen name; Lǔ is an actual Han surname and Xùn is a possible given name, so the whole may be treated as a formal personal name and written accordingly. Some more examples of this sort of non-formal name are given below:

    • Máo Dùn (pen name; a modern Chinese author and playwright);
    • Dīng Líng (pen name; a modern Chinese author);
    • Lǔ Bān (professional name; a master carpenter of the Chunqiu period);
    • Zhāng Sān (nickname; sān means number three);
    • Méi Lánfāng (stage name; a Peking opera actor);
    • Sēng Yīxíng (Buddhist name; a Tang dynasty astronomer);
    • Sūn Wùkōng (Buddhist name; a character from the novel Journey to the West);
    • Wáng Tiěrén (nickname: "Iron Man Wang");
    • Bāo Qīngtiān (nickname: "Upright Bao"; Song dynasty statesman Bāo Zhěng);
    • Liǔ Liǔzhōu (nickname; Tang dynasty writer Liǔ Zōngyuán, Liǔ Zhōu is a place name);
    • Zhāng Bǐdé (Christian name; Bǐdé = Peter);
    • Lì Mǎdòu (Chinese name of thē 7th-century Italian missionary Matteo Ricci).

    Skilled craftsmen of every profession take nicknames from their skills: Wáng Pàngyā (Fat Duck Wang) is famed for his skill in preparing duck dishes, Nírén Cháng (Clay Figurine Chang) for his skill at making clay figurines. Names of this type can all be divided into surname and given name, and written accordingly.

    Non-formal names of the second type have no resemblance to formal names, and cannot be analyzed into surname and given name. The simplest way to regulate their written form is according to syllables: names of three or fewer syllables are written as one unit, while names of four or more are divided according to words or word-units. This principle is demonstrated in the examples below.

    • Bō ("Wave"; pen name);
    • Hǎi ("Sea"; pen name);
    • Lǜzhū ("Green Pearl"; stage name);
    • Mòchóu ("Don't Worry"; nickname);
    • Dōngdōng ("East-East"; childhood name);
    • Chūnshēng ("Spring-Born"; childhood name);
    • Qínwén ("Clear Sky, Colored Clouds"; name of a servant girl);
    • Nézhā (name of a deity);
    • Tàixū ("The Great Void"; Taoist name);
    • Dàpò ("Big Gun"; nickname);
    • Liúshāhé ("River of Quicksand"; pen name);
    • Liùlíngtóng ("Six-year-old Child"; stage name);
    • Sānxiāngū ("Three Immortals GiW; nickname);
    • Báigǔjīng ("White Bone Demon"; name of a monster);
    • Cáishényé ("God of Wealth"; nickname);
    • Húlúsēng ("Monk of the Gourd"; nickname);
    • Bàozitóu ("Leopard Head"; nickname);
    • Héngtáng Tuìshì ("Retired Scholar of Hengtang"; pen name);
    • Gōngsūn Dàniáng ("Aunty Gongsun"; stage name);
    • Tàibái Jīnxīng ("Highest White Golden Star"; name of the god of the planet Venus);
    • Jiànjú Nǚxiá ("The Woman Knight of Jian Lake"; nickname);
    • Luòtuo Xiánzi ("Camel Xiangzi"; nickname);
    • Lánlíng Xiàoxiàoshēng ("Sound of Laughter on Orchid Hill"; pen name);
    • Hóngyīngguǎn Zhǔrén ("Master of the House of Red Mats"; nickname);
    • Yùgāng Sǎoyè Dàorén ("The Taoist Who Who Sweeps the Leaves at Yugang"; nickname);
    • Gémìngjūn zhōng Mǎqiánzú ("Pawn of the Revolutionary Army"; nickname).

    In children's stories and folk tales, animals or inanimate objects are often personified and given personal names. The personal component of such names should be capitalized, as: Hēixióng yéye (Grandfather Black Bear), Húli xiǎojiě (Miss Fox), Yuèliang pópo (Grandmother Moon), etc.

    Classical Chinese novels often use the non-formal and formal names of a character together. A dash is interposed between the two names when they are written in Hanyu Pinyin.

    • Dàdāo--Wáng Wǔ ("Big Sword" Wang Number Five);
    • Hēixuànfēng--Lǐ Kuí ("Black Tornado" Li Kui);
    • Bàozitóu--Lín Chōng ("Leopard Head" Lin Chong);
    • Pīnmìng Sānláng--Shí Xiù ("Death-Defying Brother Number Three" Shi Xiu);
    • Gǒutóu Jūnshī--Lǐ Biāo ("Dog-Head Military Adviser" Li Biao).
  3. Forms of address

    Forms of address include official titles, conferred titles, terms indicating a post or job occupied, terms indicating seniority within a family, and respectful and affectionate forms of address. These terms are introduced in this section because they are frequently used together with a surname or given name in addressing a person. They are not pure personal names, however, as they include elements of common nouns. In general, forms of address may be divided into two types: general and specific.

    General forms of address are those which can apply to more than one person. An example is Zhāng xiānsheng (Mr. Zhang), which can be applied to any man whose surname is Zhāng. The correct written form for such names is with the surname or given name separate from the term of address, the former capitalized (e.g. Zhāng) and the latter with a lower-case initial (e.g. xiānsheng). Some examples of this form follow:

    • Lǐ jūn (Mr. Li);
    • Wáng xiōng (Mr. Wang; xiōng literally means "elder brother");
    • Wú mā (Mrs. Wu; mā literally means 'mother");
    • Xiāng mèi (Miss Xiang; mèi literally means "younger sister", and Xiāng is a given name);
    • Zhāng Sǎo (Mrs. Zhang; sǎo literally means "sister-in-law");
    • Liú jiě (Miss Liu; jiě literally means "elder sister");
    • Zhào bó (Mr. Zhao; bó literally means "uncle");
    • Qián lǎo (Our respected comrade Qian);
    • Lín xiānsheng (Mr. Lin);
    • Fù nǚshì (Ms. Fu);
    • Sūn lǎoyé (Mr. Sun; lǎoyé is an obsolete term, originally used by servants in addressing their master);
    • Dài tóngzhì (Comrade Dai);
    • Jīn tàitài (Mrs. Jin);
    • Kǒng xiǎojie (Miss Kong);
    • Liào shīfu (Master Liao; shīfu is a general term with wide application);
    • Dēng dàma (Mrs. Deng; dàma literally means "mother");
    • Xuéwén xiōng (Mr. Xuewen; xiōng literally means elder "brother", and Xuéwén is a given name);
    • Yùlán mā (Mrs. Yulan; mā literally means "mother", and Yùlán is a given name);
    • Zhōu zhǔxí (Chairman Zhou);
    • Yáng bùzhǎng (Minister Yang, in a governmental, not a religious, sense);
    • Hé lǎoshī (Professor He; lǎoshī is used to address all teachers);
    • Xiāo kuàijí (Accountant Xiao);
    • Chén sījī (Driver Chen);
    • Zhū xiùcái (Scholar Zhu; xiùcái is an obsolete form);
    • Luó gōngchéngshī (Engineer Luo);
    • Fāng jìshùyuán (Technician Fang);
    • Máo érxiǎojiě (Miss Mao, second daughter of the family);
    • Dīng fùzhǔrèn (Assistant Director Ding).

    Specific forms of address, in contrast to the general forms described above, can apply only to one person. These forms are reserved for historical figures and characters from classical novels; they generally consist of a general term of address which has become fixed in connection to a certain person over time. As with general forms of address, surname or given name and form of address are written separately; unlike general forms, both parts should be capitalized. Some examples follow:

    * It should be noted, however, that these two names are conventionally written as single units: Kǒngzǐ, Mèngzǐ.
    • * Kǒng Zǐ ( = master, refers to Kǒng Qiū, Confucius);
    • * Mèng Zǐ (refers to Mèng Kē, Mencius);
    • Zhōu Gōng (Gōng = duke, refers to Jī Dàn of the Zhou dynasty);
    • Táng Sēng (Sēng = monk; refers to Monk Tang Xuanzang of the Tang dynasty, also a character in Journey to the West);
    • Dù Gōngbù (Gōngbù is an official title; refers to the Tang dynasty poet Dù Fǔ);
    • Hóng Tiānwāng (Tiānwáng = "heavenly king"; title of Taiping Rebellion leader Hóng Xiùquán);
    • Yáng Guìfēi (Guìfēi is a conferred title; refers to Tang dynasty imperial concubine Yáng Tàizhēn);
    • Táng Tàizōng (Tàizōng is an imperial title; refers to Tang dynasty emperor Lǐ Shìmín);
    • Hàn Wǔdì (Wǔdì is an imperial title; refers to Han dynasty emperor Liú Chè);
    • Mèngcháng Jūn ("The Gentleman of Mengchang"; refers to Tián Wén of the Warring States period);
    • Huáiyīn Hóu ("Marquis of Huaiyin"; refers to Han dynasty general Hán Xìn);
    • Xīchǔ Bàwáng ("The Feudal Lord of Western Chu"; refers to pre-Han general Xiàng Yǔ).

    Sometimes it is necessary to look at context to determine whether a form of address is general or specific. Zǒnglǐ (premier), for example, is a general form, but in the excerpt below it acts as a specific form, referring uniquely to Premier Zhōu Enlái. In this context, zǒnglǐ, usually written with a lower-case "z," must be capitalized:

    ... Zhè shí, Zǒnglǐ de sījī zǒuxià chē lái, zhàn zài wǒ shēnpáng wèn wǒ: "Tóngzhì, pèngzhe méiyǒu?" Wǒ gǎnmáng huídá: "Méi shìr! Méi shìr! Yǒuguān rényuán xùnsù chákànle xiànchǎng, juédìng liúxià lìng yī liàng Hóngqì jiàochē sòng wǒ qù yīyuàn jiǎnchá, Zǒnglǐ de chē cái kāizǒu le.
    ... Then the Premier's driver got out of the car, stood at my side and asked, "Comrade, did we hit you?" I hurriedly replied, "It's nothing, it's nothing!" The concerned personnel quickly looked over the site and decided to leave a second Red Flag sedan behind to take me to the hospital to be examined. Only then did the Premier's car drive off. (from "A Precious Shirt")

    One other extremely common form of address is a prefix added onto a surname or given name. Such prefixes are capitalized in writing and written separately from the surname or given name they precede. The most commonly used prefixes of this sort are lǎo, xiǎo, and . Their usage is explained below.

    • Lǎo (old): Used in combination with a surname, e.g. Lǎo Wáng, Lǎo Lǐ. Used in addressing middle-aged or older persons. It is used more frequently in addressing men than towards women, being applied only to women beyond middle age. Lǎo cannot be used in conjunction with two-syllable surnames such as Ōuyáng.
    • Xiǎo (little): Used in combination with a surname, e.g. Xiǎo Zhōu, Xiǎo Féng. Used in addressing young persons of either sex. Xiǎo carries overtones of affection.
    • Ā: Used in combination with a surname, given name, or term indicating seniority within a family, e.g. Ā Xiāng, Ā Guì (Xiāng and Guì are given names); Ā Sān (Sān = three; "third eldest"). Ā is an affectionate form of address.