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CHINESE CULTURE

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.