How to choose or create a good Chinese name?
Conventions of Creating Chinese Names
Unlike some Western cultures where there are lists of common names, there is no predefined list of specific names in Mandarin Chinese as Chinese people can combine any characters in the dictionary to create their unique names. As a result, the combination is limitless.
So then how does one craft a good Chinese name?
There are many factors that Chinese people take into consideration when selecting characters for their name, which include but are not limited to the meaning of the character, phonetic harmony, family tradition, and social trends.
Oftentimes, a person’s name reflects various aspects related to their parents, including creativity, education, personalities, and the parents’ good wishes for their children.
Let’s take a look at some examples:
1 – Some parents wish for their daughter to be pretty, so they choose characters like 美，丽，倩， all of which mean pretty.
2 – Parents with higher education tend to create names for their children using words that appear in poetry or literary works that have good meanings at the same time.
3 – Many people born in the 1950s have the name 建国, which literally means “founding the country”, as the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949. The name 建国 reflects the social trend of that era.
How to Create a Chinese Name
A Chinese name consists of two parts. The first is the surname, followed by the first name. Yes, our last name comes first.
English name order: First Name + Last Name
Chinese name order: Last Name + First Name
For example, the legendary martial artist, actor, and cultural icon Bruce Lee’s Chinese name is 李小龙 (Lǐ Xiǎo Lóng). 李 (Lǐ) is his surname/last name, and 小龙 (Xiǎo Lóng) is his first name.
Step 1: Choose a Chinese Surname
Traditionally, Chinese people inherit their father’s surname. Chinese surnames are one or two characters long. As a foreigner, if you want to create an authentic Chinese name for yourself, you will want to choose a Chinese surname first. Click here to see a list of the 100 most common Chinese surnames. We recommend choosing one based on your preference.
Step 2: Choose a Chinese First Name
Then, choose one or two characters as your name. A recent Chinese naming trend has been creating names with three characters so that it is distinctive and not repeated with others. However, it is still much more common to find names with one or two characters.
If you don’t know what characters to pick to go with your name, check out the 100 most beautiful Chinese characters here.
In theory, you can choose any character you like and combine them to create your first name. However, we strongly recommend taking the character’s meaning, pronunciation, and cultural taboos into consideration. An important caveat is to avoid characters that you do not want to appear in your name. Click here to read more.
Lastly, you might be interested in the following two stories related to Chinese names and surnames. Both stories are exclusive to the Chinese graded reader Chinese Stories for Language Learners (HSK 1 to HSK 3)
Summary: What did the dad do to make the little girl want to change her dad for another one?
Summary: As per Chinese tradition, children inherit their father’s last name. However, as a Chinese, I have a strange last name.