Chinese naming: traditions & popular names

Written by    Last updated: March 28, 2007

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.

Some popular Chinese names

Name Gender Meaning
An Boy or Girl peace
Bik Girl jade
Chao Boy or Girl great one
Chen Boy or Girl dawn
Cheng Boy to become
Cheng‐Gong Boy success
Cheung Girl good luck
Chi Boy younger energy
Chiang Boy strong
Chin Girl musical instrument
Cong Boy or Girl intelligent, clever
Da Boy big
De Boy virtuous
Fa Boy beginning
Fai Boy brilliant light
Fang Boy wind
Feng Girl Maple or Phoenix
Fu Boy wealthy
Guang Boy light
Heng Boy eternal
Howin Boy loyal swallow
Hua Girl flower
Huan Girl happiness
Huang Girl yellow
Huo Girl fire.
Jia Girl beautiful
Jia Li Girl good and beautiful
Jiang Girl river
Jie Boy or Girl pure
Ju Boy chrysanthemum
Jun Boy truthful
Keung Boy universe
Kong Boy bright
Kuan‐yin Boy Buddhist deity of mercy
Kueng Boy universe
Le Boy or Girl joy
Li Boy or Girl pretty, powerful
Li Hua Girl pear blossom
Li Mei Girl pretty rose
Li Ming Girl pretty and bright
Lian Girl lotus
Liang Boy good, fine
Lien Girl lotus
Ling Girl dawn
Lixue Girl pretty snow
Lok Boy joy
Long Boy dragon
Manchu Boy pure
Mei Girl beautiful
Ming Girl shining, bright, clear
Ming Yue Boy or Girl bright Moon
Mu Girl wood
Mulan Girl Magnolia blossom
Ning Girl peace, rest, tranquility
Niu Girl girl
Nuo Girl graceful
On Boy peace
Park Boy or Girl Cypress tree
Ping Boy or Girl duckweed
Shu Girl good
Qi Girl fine Jade
Qiao Boy or Girl pretty, handsome
Qing Girl blue
Qing Yuan Boy or Girl deep water, clear spring
Quon Boy bright
Wan Boy scholar
Xia Girl cloud
Xiong Boy hero
Ying Girl flower
Yue Girl moon
Zhi Boy ambitious

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