Names and titles in China

Names and titles

The names of Chinese people have their own tradition. The family name in China is put first, followed by the given name.

It may be confusing at first, but you should never call someone by their family name. Also, do not use the given name unless you are asked to do so. The best way to address someone is to use the surname plus a title or honorific titles like Xian1 Sheng1 (Sir), Nv3 Shi4 (Madam). This is because a person’s position and associated roles are mostly important in an organization. Furthermore, addressing someone by his or her professional title and last name conveys respect. Earlier titles were vital parts of the hierarchical and ethical systems, they also helped overcome the duplication of names.

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Given Name

Chinese names are supposed to convey special meaning, with the given names often expressing the best of wishes on the new-born. Some imply the birthplace, birth time or natural phenomenon.

Family Name

Today there are about 3,500 family names commonly used. The most popular three are Li, Wang and Zhang. There are totally about 270 million Chinese people who have one of these top three surnames. Interestingly, it is not mandatory that children must take their father’s surname. One child may often take the father’s surname and the other, the mother’s.