Chinese naming: traditions & popular names

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

NameGenderMeaning
AnBoy or Girlpeace
BikGirljade
ChaoBoy or Girlgreat one
ChenBoy or Girldawn
ChengBoyto become
Cheng‐GongBoysuccess
CheungGirlgood luck
ChiBoyyounger energy
ChiangBoystrong
ChinGirlmusical instrument
CongBoy or Girlintelligent, clever
DaBoybig
DeBoyvirtuous
FaBoybeginning
FaiBoybrilliant light
FangBoywind
FengGirlMaple or Phoenix
FuBoywealthy
GuangBoylight
HengBoyeternal
HowinBoyloyal swallow
HuaGirlflower
HuanGirlhappiness
HuangGirlyellow
HuoGirlfire.
JiaGirlbeautiful
Jia LiGirlgood and beautiful
JiangGirlriver
JieBoy or Girlpure
JuBoychrysanthemum
JunBoytruthful
KeungBoyuniverse
KongBoybright
Kuan‐yinBoyBuddhist deity of mercy
KuengBoyuniverse
LeBoy or Girljoy
LiBoy or Girlpretty, powerful
Li HuaGirlpear blossom
Li MeiGirlpretty rose
Li MingGirlpretty and bright
LianGirllotus
LiangBoygood, fine
LienGirllotus
LingGirldawn
LixueGirlpretty snow
LokBoyjoy
LongBoydragon
ManchuBoypure
MeiGirlbeautiful
MingGirlshining, bright, clear
Ming YueBoy or Girlbright Moon
MuGirlwood
MulanGirlMagnolia blossom
NingGirlpeace, rest, tranquility
NiuGirlgirl
NuoGirlgraceful
OnBoypeace
ParkBoy or GirlCypress tree
PingBoy or Girlduckweed
ShuGirlgood
QiGirlfine Jade
QiaoBoy or Girlpretty, handsome
QingGirlblue
Qing YuanBoy or Girldeep water, clear spring
QuonBoybright
WanBoyscholar
XiaGirlcloud
XiongBoyhero
YingGirlflower
YueGirlmoon
Zhi Boyambitious

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