Chinese Name Culture
Chinese names are usually composed of two or three Chinese characters. A study shows that, before 1966, about 90 percent of chinese names had three characters. But a recent survey tells us that about half of today's younger people have two-character names.
The first Chinese character of a Chinese name (from the left) is the surname of the name, or xing4 () in Chinese. Still there is a small portion of Chinese people having two characters for their surnames so their names can have up to four characters. We are talking about the names of the Han people here, the majority of the Chinese. Also remember a Chinese last name is always in front of a name.
For a Chinese name with three Chinese characters, the middle character of the name traditionally stands for the generation of the family. However, many people have not followed the convention over the last several decades, besides some only have two-character names.
The third character of a Chinese name or the second for a two-character name is the Chinese given name, similar to the Western first name. This character (or the middle and the third characters) is usually meaningful and carefully chosen by one's parents or someone knowledgeble.
For the Han Chinese, there are over 3,500 surnames used in China. But the 100 most common surnames count for 87% of all the names used by the Han people. In addition, the 18 most common surnames stand for almost 56% of the Han Chinese and the largest three surnames, li3 (), zhang1 ( ) and wang2 (), represent over 22% of the Han people. Thus the distribution of Chinese surnames is quite extreme in China, which causes a lot of people having the same names.
Chinese people always attach great importance to the choice of names. In the old days, when elders named a new born baby, they took several factors into full consideration: the astrological principles, the birthdate, the array of five elements (metal, wood, water, fire, and earth), the form, pronunciation, and meaning of a name. Now superstition being lessened and constraints reduced, there are still some rules to be followed:
1, balance between the baby's birthdate and the five elements in its life, try to remedy the defects with the name;
2, try to avoid the same initial consonant and simple or compound vowel (of a Chinese syllable), and the same tone in the characters is not preferred either; but duplicate characters are ok for some names;
3, as to the form, a character with not too many strokes nor the same component will be a good choice;
4, the preference for the meaning of a character changes with time.
Overall, to have a good name, one needs to consider a name as a whole, its sound, shape and meanings.