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Choosing a Chinese name

Someone in my club asked what the Chinese version of their name was, so I thought I'd make a post about choosing names in your new languages.

Note: I have written this blurb about Chinese names, but the same concepts should apply if you're learning a language that doesn't have direct translations for English names (e.g. not Spanish or French).

Also, apologies if this has been covered before; Thanks to the DL team for the new forum features, but the search function still leaves a lot to be desired.

How to Choose a Chinese Name:

In China, names have immediately recognizable meaning, which means it's a pretty bad idea to pick a direct transliteration of your name. This will most often result in a name that makes no sense whatsoever (imagine how western names would sound if random syllables were chosen without concern). Names in China have two parts, the surname and the given name. When introducing yourself or addressing others, names are stated surname first, then then given name - 李小龙 (Li Small Dragon) rather than 小龙李 (Small Dragon Li).

Last names are an important part of a Chinese name, but choosing one is pretty easy since there are only about 100 common Chinese last names (Wang, Li and Zhang being the three most common). Choosing a common Chinese last name will ensure it is readily identifiable as a personal name. Often, people choose a Chinese surname based on a name with a similar pronunciation to their own last name, e.g. if your last name is Johnson, the surname 张 (Zhāng) might be a good pick. It's best to choose a common one so that your name is easy to recognize for native speakers, so if you would like to get creative with your Chinese name, leave it for the given name.

While giving yourself a new name seems like an opportunity for artistry or humor, choosing the right name means paying attention to the many cultural nuances that play into how a name is perceived, which makes it almost an impossible task for someone unfamiliar with Chinese culture (read: most of us here learning Mandarin).

Instead, you might start by choosing personality traits that describe who you are (or who you want to be). Look at the characters with those meanings and then look at a list of Chinese names for those with that meaning. Google is your friend for name lists (http://bfy.tw/HhJ4).

Finally, consult a native speaker before settling on a name. Your name is something you use frequently so you need to make sure the one you pick isn't unlucky or unsavory in any way to your average Chinese audience. Sometimes, like in my case, you'll end up with a name that is way better than the one you picked yourself ;)

Good luck, and happy naming


April 17, 2018



Being a Chinese person, I already have a Chinese name: 于清岚 (yu qing lan) and I'd like to add that some people choose characters for names based on the meaning; the artistic touch or historic definition of it.

For example, my name comes from the saying "qing shen guo lan" which pretty much has to do with the rainbow; indigo coming after blue and "surpassing" it. It means that my parents hope that I will surpass my mother.

Of course, the artistic touch in my name is that the "qing" is written with the water radical and the "lan" is written with a "mountain" and a "wind". This has the meaning of a waterfall cascading down a mountain.

This might be explained horribly (you'll probably understand none of this) so if anyone could help me further explain I would be very thankful.


Here is another example! a pair of twins in my class, one called "something ping" and "something an" i don't remember their last name but "ping an" means peace. And from their names, you know right away who is older because "ping" always comes before "an".


This is also like back in the day, when people had much larger families, how parents would name have one character that they used in all their children's names.

For instance, in the early 20th century, the Manchurian warlord Zhang Zuolin had fourteen children, with two wives and four concubines.

Eight sons were named: Zhang Xueliang, Zhang Xueming, Zhang Xuezheng, Zhang Xuesi, Zhang Xuesen, Zhang Xuejun, Zhangxueyang, and Zhang Xuequan. Each name began with the character 学. This was meant to evoke his aspirations that his sons would become educated. Zhang himself was an illiterate bandit before rising to power, and often joked that he graduated from "Green Forest University," referring to his time hiding out in the woods.

His daughters were Zhang Shoufang, Zhang Huaiying, Zhang Huaitong, Zhang Huaiqing, Zhang Huaixi, and Zhang Huaimin. His first daughter, and oldest child, was named 首芳, as she was the first child, and 首 means "first" and his subsequent daughters all had names that started with the character 怀, which in this case could be translated as "cherished" though it also could mean heart, bosom, or pregnant.


The transliteration of my name was so bad, my first chinese teacher laughed in my face after giving it to me. That was 马泰奥 as for.. thailandese olympic horse.. why thanks..
Since then four years have passed, and I chose one for myself,
陶 tao which sounds like my italian nickname "teo", and also smirks to 陶瓷 taoci "pottery" because I look like poor man's Daniel Radcliffe, not to mention I come from the birthplace of St.Francis, whose symbol was indeed τ, the "tau".
旭峰 xufeng "crest of the rising sun" because it's a positive imagery, has to do with the sun so it's masculine, plus I come from the mountains so 峰 has to do with who I am.
Not to mention all three characters are the same in traditional and simplified so that's just one set of businesscards to print for me.


This is a great post!

A lot of foreigners get names that are basically nonsense, which ultimately can create a bit of a barrier to real interactions in Chinese. Having a good name can really open a lot of doors. People automatically engage with you differently. If you put some effort into picking your name it can be a great conversation starter, and become an important instrument in communicating your personality and cultural interests to your Chinese friends.

The name I ended up with is 欧阳悟龙. The surname 欧阳 was suggested to me because my personality tends to split the difference between classical poet 欧阳修 and kungfu novel villain 欧阳锋. I always find taking a surname slightly awkward, since it is like intruding into someone's family, but every 欧阳 I've met has been glad to have me. In general, I highly recommend picking a surname based on a figure from history or literature. It's a free opportunity to demonstrate some cultural knowledge, and that can be really meaningful in China.

For my given name, the character 悟 was chosen because I'm a Buddhist, and this character alludes to Buddhist realization or comprehension. In the Journey to the West, the Bodhisattva Guanshiyin tames three demons to protect the monk Tang Sanzang, and she gives each of them a Buddhist name starting with 悟 (孙悟空 - the "monkey king" who understands the void, and has the power of flight, 猪悟能 - the pig who understands ability, and 沙悟净 - the sand demon who understands purity.) In this case, the name 悟龙 was given to me by a friend, as a bit of a joke, given my dual passions for wulong (乌龙) tea, and my interest in Chinese culture, in addition to my Buddhist practice.

The name gives me a few good stories to tell, and it introduces a number of key aspects about my personality. It worked out that way because it was given to me by a committee of Chinese friends, who knew me well, and it was their gift to me, explaining what they saw in my personality, and giving me the ability to really function in Chinese society in a way that I couldn't with a meaningless phonetic name. I treasure it as a gift, but it's also a little over the top, and perhaps that was also the intention of my friends, as a bit of a prank. Once, when I introduced myself in a bar, a guy turned to me and said "That's hilarious. That would be like if my English name was Orlando Cadillac Jones." I told him I'd watch the hell out of that movie.

The name you are born with doesn't necessarily have much to do with who you are, but when you get the chance to take a name in another language, then you might as well have some fun!


Another thing you can think about, if you really want to go deep, in China it is traditional for people to have several different names for different contexts. Before the 20th Century, most Chinese people had a "courtesy name" - 字 - that was used in public rather than their surname - 姓 - or given name - 名. You would also have a specific name given when you were in school - 学名 (not to be confused with the same word that is used to describe binomial nomenclature in biology) - and a pen name for creative work by artists and writers - 号.

Many prominent people, especially Emperors, would have a "posthumous name" which is used after they die. Even more complicated, Emperors also had an era name, by which their period of rule is known, and Emperors had a further "Temple Name" that was used when their name was evoked in religious rituals, prayers, or tablets.

You don't need any of these names yourself, but you will see them. If you go to a museum and read the cards, or look people up in a biographical dictionary, it will usually give you all their names in a list. Reading documents, you'll see the same person referred to by different names in different documents. At first this can be confusing, but it's also pretty cool once you get the hang of it.

For example:

In English we call the founder of the Republic of China "Sun Yat-sen" because his pen name was 孙逸仙, but in China today he is referred to by his posthumous name of Sun Zhongshan 孙中山.

Bei Dao 北岛 is the pen name of Zhao Zhenkai, a poet and essayist I highly recommend. This illustrates how there are plenty of pen names that are often simply poetic justifications of characters meant to evoke something, rather than resembling a typical personal name.

You most often hear the Chinese Emperor referred to as the "Qianlong Emperor" because 乾隆 is his era name, but his birth name was 爱鑫爵楼红利 (Aisin-Gioro Hungli in Manchu, and Aixin-Juelou Hongli in Chinese) so he is often called "The Emperor Hongli" by some historians (including Phillip Kuhn). At the same time, if you are hanging out in Beijing and visit one of the many temples he contributed to, he'll be referred to there by his Temple name, 高宗. And his posthumous name (I'm not making this up) was actually 法天隆運至誠先覺體元立極敷文奮武欽明孝慈神聖純皇帝 which nobody uses for obvious reasons. But you'll see it if you visit his tomb in the Eastern Qing Tombs in Zunhua, outside of Beijing.


Thank you, 欧阳悟龙. What I shared was only a brief synopsis for an important decision, and your input gives much more insight into choosing a name. When one studies a language seriously, he not only learns the words but learns the culture as well. In fact, that is the greatest reward I've gained by learning to speak Mandarin: an insight into a deep culture with a rich history.


"Orlando Cadillac Jones" 笑死我!!

  • 1274

interesting story


My Chinese teachers gave us all names. They tried to make them sound like actual Chinese names, rather than just being strict transliterations of our English names. Mine is 孟玲 (meng4 ling2). ^_^


How to get a chinese name which everyone admires?

There are more and more foreigners who start to lean chinese and more and more foreigners have got themselves Chinese names. However, many foreigners got their Chinese names just by transliteration, means taking the Chinese characters which have the same pronunciation with English pronunciation, the homophone as Chinese name. So , Mary named herself 玛丽((Ma Li),Jack named himself 杰克(Jie Ke). But more foreigners want to have a Chinese style name. However, many foreigners don't understand the meaning of Chinese character ,the name they got are very funny. As well as the name of 史珍香, same pronunciation with 屎珍香. In English it means the "S-H-I-T" smells so good. So, do not get a ridiculous Chinese name just because you don't understand the Chinese characters. If your Chinese name gets guidance from "Professionals", then your Chinese name will not only sound good but also have a beautiful meaning .

For examle the number one China hand in the United States 费正清(Fei Zheng Qing) whose own name is John King Fairbank is a tenured professor and famous historian at Harvard University. Many Chinese people had tanke history lessons for many years and had seen the name 费正清 for many times in textbooks , they never thought that he was not a Chiense .John King Fairbank is also a good friend of Liang Si Cheng, a famous Chinese architect. John got his Chinese name from Liang Si Cheng. The three characters are taken from his English name Fairbank、 Jhon and King. It means a person who is upright and honest with last name Fei. Liang Si Cheng also told him: "With such a Chinese name,you are a real Chinese". Some foreigners have names related to Chinese celebrities. Such as Jonathan Spence who is a Chinese history researcher, named himself as 史景迁(Shi Jing Qian) which is wonderful name. Although he mainly studied Qing Dynasty history, but 司马迁(Si Ma Qian) in Han Dynasty is one of his most admired historians. The meaning of Jing Qian mean he really looks up to 司马迁(Si Ma Qian).

There is another people who admires Chinese celebrities 金介甫(Jin Jie Fu)who had been studying Chinese literature. His own name is Jeffrey Kinkley. When introducing the origin of his Chinese name to others he said "Jin" is from 金圣叹(Jin Sheng Tan)a Chinese novelist, "Jie" is from 蒋介石(Jiang Jie Shi). 甫(Fu) is from 杜甫(Du fu) a Chinese post. One name to contain them all.

Spanish director Alfonso Carlon made his Chinese name as 凤熹(Feng Xi). 凤(Feng) is the combination of Alfonso's paraphrase and transliteration. While the character 熹 (Xi) is a tribute to his idol 朱熹(Zhu Xi )from Song Dynasty.

施舟人(Shi Zhou Ren) is one of the three major singlogists in Europe. His last name Schipper means the captain in Dutch. should translate into 席佩尔(Xi Pei E) by pronunciation. Shi‘s pronuncation is similar to this own name . Zhou Ren's meaning coincides with his last name also. 舟(Zhou)means boat in Chinese . 舟人(Zhou Ren) also contains beatiful meaning of helping others get across a river. concides with his identity as ainologist. This Chinese name is really wonderful.

The American poet 孔江丽 (Kong Jiang Li) Jennifer Kronovet takes the last name 孔(Kong )not only because it's first character of her last name, she also appreciates Confucius very much. 江丽(Jiang Li) was translate by poet 王家兴(Wang Jia Xin) based on the transliteration of her English name. Meantime, the name also takes her characteristic into consideration means she is beautiful as the Yangtze river.

Moreover, some people's Chinese names express their love for china. For example, the most famous sinologist in Sweden, 高本汉(Gao Ben Han)whose own name is Bernhard karlgren. 本汉(Ben Han) means "I should have been a Chinese". In fact , when it comes to Chinese , 高本汉(Gao Ben Han) is better than most Chinese people.

It is important to have a suitable Chinese name. A name that sounds like real Chinese name shows your care and respect for Chinese culture and language. Chinese learnner can express their own values、hopes and even humor through Chinese names.

Generally speaking. A chinese Name consists of two or three Chiese character. Such as 李玲 or 李玲玲 。 Li is ther last name, followed by the first name. If you are going to get a Chinese name. there are a few things you need to pay attention to.

First, A name should sound nice the pronunciation of a name shoul be nice. Chinese people think that a bad name makes life difficult , because it will leave people a bad impression. So people are serious about the sound of a name. many chinese people like to use reduplicative character for a name. Like 黄玲玲、李芳芳、秦晓晓 and so on.

Second . If homonyms represent bad meanings, don't use them for names. Homonyms have the same pronuncaitaion but with deffrent meanings. So be careful and do not use homonyms that have bad meanging. For exmaple, 吴丽茂 Wu Li Mao, it's Homonym is 无礼貌, means rude in English.

Third, Beautiful wish. When parentes name their children , they often tink about morality, Sometimes the chils's birth date is also taken into consideration when chosing a name. They belevie that givin a good name to a child helps to make the baby's lilfe better.

Now , we take the girl's name as an Example to introduce 3 kinds of commonly used Chinese character when naming a girl.

First is character that represent beautifu Usually, you can use Chinese characters that reprensts flowers. For example, 娟 means rhodora, 兰 means orchis. Chinese name cases such as 林月娟、刘兰芝 . You can also use one character to show the beautifu of a girl. Such as 婷 means slim, 婉 means gentle 丽 means beautiful, 静 also means beautiful . Chinese name such as 李婷婷、王丽丽、宁静、刘宛如.

Second is character that represent wealth and elegance. We use some characters means treasure to express wealth and elegance. 金 means Gold, 玉 means jade , 珠 means pearl, 宝 means treaure, 佩 also means jade. Chinese name such as 王佩珊、黄婉玉、周玉珠、周玉清.

Third is character that show smartness and curiousness 颖 means clever, 灵means bright, 瑞 means intelligent ,书 means book,慧means intelligent. Chinese name cases such as 黄慧琼, 韩瑞英, 李灵俐, 刘文慧.

That's all for how to get a chinese name. If you already have an idea how to get a Chinese name, just go and get it. If you still don't know how to get a proper Chinese name, please read on.

Chinese Name Designer is a website specially designed for foreigners with Chinese names.

This website summarizes many rules of Chinese names by analyzing the names of 1.3 billion Chinese people and takes into account all the factors mentioned above. Applying these rules and rules, the website will not directly translate your English name into the corresponding Chinese homophone. It is based on the pronunciation of your name, spelling, and even the meaning of your name, as well as your gender, personality characteristics and age, to design your own name that fits your personality characteristics. It will be more meaningful for you to design a name than to choose one from the existing list of Chinese names. The name designed by this website fully conforms to the characteristics of Chinese names, usually consisting of two or three words. And you don't have to worry about getting a name like 史珍香(Shi Zhen Xiang) anymore, because this website will never allow such a thing to happen. It can help you avoid all the minefields involved in getting a Chinese name. After you get your chinese name, this website can show you how to write it and pronounce it .

Please visit www.chinesenamedesigner.com and input your English name, choose your gender and personality traits, then you will get a really chinese name.


When I started studying Chinese many years ago at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, my Chinese teachers gave me the surname Guan 关 because it appeared to them closest to my last name which is spelled Kuehn but pronounced keen. I was not given a given name. Later, when I needed a Chinese given name I transliterated Paul into 保罗 and then went by the name 关保罗. My Chinese teacher in college pointed out that this wasn't a Chinese name but he never could come up with good given names for Paul Richard.


if you change the "保罗" to the “宝罗”, you will get a turly Chinese name! It's that simple :)


So much thoughts put into these names, you guys! Great job! I wish I put in this much effort...


It took me two years scouring the Chinese dictionary to find two characters that sounded like my name in English. Stopped the Chinese from using seven characters to write my first and last name in the time that I lived in China. Now, with Chinese I get compliments on my name. Enjoyed that. 芮亚


With this Language I believe this may be one of the most common topics I have crossed on any website, forum, blog or video. They can be aimed at beginners, learns who are more advanced, and even people who are still just considering learning the language. There is a very good reason for this. Some of that has been explained by the person who created the thread and responses by other.

The issue that all of these topics address is very problematic for myself. What had started as a break from studying the language turned into many months. It feels as if I gave up. The not so little issue of my inconvenient name had made the whole idea of having a partner for language exchange impossible. It's common for other English speakers to find it difficult with some languages more then others, this becomes even more an issue for myself. I considered the idea of taking on a name. I thought on being open to not just similar sounds but a similar feel or idea. Still in the end I knew I could in no way give myself a name. Lucking into someone kind enough to help, was risky.

The more name issues read about, the more hope I lost on the idea of being able to take part at all. Let us just say it's a bit more difficult when ones name is rare, long, and difficult for most people you meet speaking your own language. I do not know if I will ever get a chance to take part in areas that seem hindered by my name. I may luck into finding a way of just have to accept that this will always be a hurdle I can not cross.

Post edited - I accidentally post it halfway through writing!

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