Understanding Chinese Names
China's huge population shares a great deal of surnames. According
to the ancient Chinese documents, they ranged from 300 to 3,000.
But most specialists in this field agree that the most common surnames
of the Han Chinese number some 500.
Chinese surnames are said to have originated in the prehistorical
matriarchal society. The character for surname, Xing ( ), is a combination
of two other characters, Nv ( ) and Sheng ( ), meaning 'born of
woman.' An ancient Chinese name often included four parts: first
the family name, followed by the given name, the alias, and then
what's known as the 'style.' Take the great poet Li Bai for example.
His surname in Chinese is Li ( ). His given name Bai ( ) means 'white.'
His alias is Tai Bai ( ), and 'style' Qing Lian ( ), meaning 'green
lotus.' One would choose his alias and 'style' when he entered adulthood.
People called one another by the alias to show mutual respect.