All Chinese have nicknames

What's My Name?

Chinese family names

History, culture and family memories are reflected in Chinese family names. Chinese family names are structured differently than the names in Western countries and cultures. They are mostly monosyllabic and come before the first name, which in turn consists of one or two characters. According to the latest available data, 87 percent of China's residents have the 100 most common family names. In 2013, 李 Lĭ was the most common family name with 6.93% of the population. In second place was 王 Wáng (6.49%), followed by 张 Zhāng (6.19%; Bloomberg Statistics).

So it's no wonder if you meet more than one Mr. Li on your trip to China.

Chinese with western first names?

Perhaps you've met someone named Jason Wu or Lily Zhang, for example. Are they Chinese then?

Chinese people who have frequent contact with the West sometimes adopt Western names to avoid confusion and spelling mistakes. These names are nowhere to be found in the official documents. They should support the contacts between the parties.

There's another reason to adopt Western first names: they're fashionable and sound cool!

In addition, some Chinese also opt for the western name order: they put their first name first and then their family name. Mao Zedong then becomes Zedong Mao.

Western people with Chinese first names?

It is not uncommon for people who are learning Chinese to adopt a Chinese first name. However, how can you find the right name that isn't embarrassing, funny, or ridiculous?

You have two options here. You can opt for a short, similar-sounding transliteration of your real name, e.g. Mary becomes 玛丽. Name sounds correct and beautiful, but clearly "western". You can also choose a Chinese name, but in this case you should definitely seek advice from a trusted Chinese so that your Chinese name is real, understandable and doesn't sound strange. In any case, it would be good to be able to understand the characters in your Chinese name. Hanzi represent you and your personality or convey a certain meaning depending on your communication intent.

If you already have a Chinese name, feel free to use it on your business card and digital materials. This can help your Chinese partners who may find your western name difficult.

Addressing a Chinese

Just like in Europe, it is impolite in China to address people by their last name alone. So add 先生 (for men) or 女士 (for women). So Wang Rongyi becomes Wang 先生. First names, on the other hand, are rarely used: even relatives use nicknames instead.

If you are already familiar with Chinese names, you have probably heard several times how a family name is prefixed with 小 (young) or 老 (old), e.g. 小 Wang. Here, "young" and "old" are not to be understood literally, but rather convey a concept that is linked to Chinese culture. The Chinese attach great importance to honor and social respect, which is also reflected in verbal communication. So if someone is addressed with "老 Wang", it does not mean that Mr. Wang is old, but rather shows respect for him, for example for his strong position in the company or his extensive experience in a certain economic sector When you hear the salutation "小 Li", you can assume that Mr. Li is younger than the person you are speaking to, which is also a sign of respect and is used even among friends.

If you want to be polite, address the person you are talking to by their professional position and family name (e.g. "Director Chen"). Of course, the family name comes first in China!

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