An Introduction to Chinese Names

Chinese Name - Family Name and Given Name How does Chinese name look like and what the most common Chinese names are #Chinese4kids #Chinesenames #Chinesefamilyname #Chinesegivenname

Like most of the names from the rest of the world, Chinese names have two parts: 姓 family name and 名given name. Unlike names from most of the western countries, in China, the family name 姓 comes before the given name 名. Therefore, 丽 from family 赵 is called 赵丽 Zhao Li instead of Li Zhao.


In China, family names are typically passed from the father to the children. Women normally keep their maiden surname upon marriage. The same surname many times unite families into a big clan where people show respect to the same ancestors. For many Chinese, a stranger of the same surname is like a distant relative.

There are thousands of surnames, the top 100 common surnames are shared by 85% of the population. And the top 3 most common surnames in Mainland China are 李(Lǐ), 王(Wáng) and 张 Zhang, which make up 7.9%, 7.4% and 7.1% respectively.

Based on population, the top 20 most common Chinese surnames in 2018 were

1:李 Lǐ   2:王 Wáng   3:张 Zhāng   4:刘 Liú   5:陈 Chén
6:杨 Yáng  7:赵 Zhào  8:黄 Huáng  9:周 Zhōu  10:吴 Wú
11:徐 Xú   12:孙 Sūn   13:胡 Hú   14:朱 Zhū   15:高 Gāo
16:林 Lín   17:何 Hé   18:郭 Guō   19:马 Mǎ   20:罗 Luō

As you can see, all of the top 20 surnames have only one character. Indeed most of the common Chinese family names have only one characters; however, there are still around 20 double-character family names such as 司马 (Sīmǎ), 诸葛(zhūgé),欧阳(ōuyáng),司徒(sītú) and so on. There are also some family names with three or more characters. For example, 爱新觉罗 (Ài xīn jué luō )which was the family name of the Manchu royal family of the Qing Dynasty.


Family names are so important that a book of 100 family names has become of the first books for children to learn. 百家姓 Bǎi jiā xìng (One Hundred Family Names) records 568 surnames including 444 single-character surnames and and 124 double-character surnames. The book starts as follows

Zhào qián sūn lǐ

zhōu wú zhèng wáng

féng chén chǔ wèi

Zhào qián sūn lǐ


Unlike in English, Chinese titles are always placed after the family name of the person.
For example,

张老师 Zhāng lǎoshī Mr Zhang (to a teacher)
李同学 Lǐ tóngxué Classmate Li
刘先生 Liú xiānshēng Mr Liu
吴小姐 Wú xiǎojiě Miss Wu
陈女士 Chén nǚshì Ms Chen
王太太 | 王夫人 Wáng tàitài | wáng fūrén Mrs Wang


Parents or senior members of the family usually given the first names to the children. The names are usually made up of one or two characters. Theoretically they can include all the Chinese characters and contain any meaning.

In China, it is quite usual that adults give names to their children based on their gender: for boys, names implying strength, greatness or courage are often given while girls tend to receive names containing beauty , elegance or flowers.

For boys, some common Chinese given names include
伟 wěi (great, grand)
英 yīng (brave)
平 píng (peace)

For girls, some common Chinese given names include
丽 lì (beauty)
兰 lán (orchid)
玉 yù (jade)


In Chinese, when we ask for name, we use 你叫什么名字? Nǐ jiào shénme míngzì?

Nǐ jiào shénme míngzì?
What’s your name?

Wǒ jiào…
My name is ….

Let’s listen to a song “你叫什么名字?”

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Chinese Name - Family Name and Given Name How does Chinese name look like and what the most common Chinese names are #Chinese4kids #Chinesenames #Chinesefamilyname #Chinesegivenname

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