If you’re looking for inspiration for naming a new baby, look to China. The way that a Chinese name is constructed differs from the Western tradition…
In the past, several astrological factors were taken into account before naming a baby. These would be worked out by a fortune‐teller and would include, timing of birth, astrological principles and the balance of the five elements (metal, wood, water, fire and earth). Although these constraints are somewhat lessened these days, there is still a desire that the name should be structured so as to create balance.
The order of a Chinese name is the reverse of the Western tradition, with the last name being the person’s given name and the first name being the surname. Middle names are usually generational and all children of the same gender in a family will have the same name in the middle. In the case of Mr Yao Ming, the surname is Yao and Ming is the first name, so the proper form of address would be ‘Mr Yao’.
If there is no special generational name, parents use two words as the child’s name. Typical words that are used to form names for boys are: An (peace), Chiang (strong), Da (big), De (virtuous), Wan (scholar), Xiong (hero), Zhi (ambitious). For girls, popular name elements include: Chin (musical instrument), Hua (flower), Li (beautiful), Lian (lotus), Mei (beautiful), Qing (blue), Shu (good), Xia (cloud), Ying (flower), Yue (Moon). Combining two words would produce a word such as Moon‐flower or beautiful‐Moon. Sisters may be given names that share a component, such as names meaning ‘precious‐flower’ and ‘precious‐peace’.
Nicknames are used within the immediate family and often refer to the child’s place in the family, for instance in the nickname ‘Ah San’, the word ‘Ah’ is an affectionate informal term and ‘San’ means ‘three’, used for a third child.