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Chinese Names

A complete Chinese name is composed of two parts; a family name (surname) and a given name. Chinese surnames originated from the matriarchal clan society about five thousand years ago. There are numerous surnames, but the exact number is not available. An intellectual in the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279) wrote a book titled 'Bai Jia Xing', meaning 'hundreds of surnames'. In the book are over five hundreds family names of Chinese including over sixty compound surnames (a compound surname is composed of two characters). It is said that Zhang, Wang, Li, Zhao and Liu are the most popular single surnames, and that Zhuge, Oyang, Situ, etc. are the most familiar compound family names.

Chinese names have their own traditional features. The surname, generally one character coming first, is usually passed down from father to children. Chinese women still kept their surname after marriage. The given name is often composed of one or two characters that are meaningful and hopeful. Some are named after their birth place, while others are named after natural sights or virtues. Boys' names usually show force or valor, while the names of girls are composed of soft and beautiful characters. Nowadays, Chinese names are not as complex as the ancient names with alias and more and more parents would like to choose the rare characters with significant senses for their child to avoid the similar or unisonant given names with other people.

Here are some points on addressing a Chinese person. We usually address a Chinese person by his or her family name. Otherwise it can be considered impolite; unless you are longtime, good friends. Following the surname, use Xiansheng (Mr.) for men, and Nvshi (Ms.) or Xiaojie (Miss.) for women. Using the same western custom, we suggest that you add professional title after his or her family names when addressing a very important person. For example, we address President Hu Jintao as Hu Zhuxi, Minister Wen as Wen Zongli, and Manager Zhang as Zhang Jingli, etc.