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Chinese name

In modern times, Chinese name has contained a Chinese family name, which is always placed first, with a one- or two-character personal name (given name) (名). Unlike Western personal names, there is great freedom in given name. Chinese names can be almost any character and contain almost any meaning. Unlike Western conventions, it is extremely frowned upon to name a person after someone else, and cases where people have the same name are almost universally the result of coincidence rather than by intention. The common Western practice of naming the children after their parents or ancestor is an impossibility in Chinese culture.

In some families, the first of the two characters in the personal name is shared among all members of a generation and these generational names are worked out long in advance. In some families there is a small number of generational names but these are cycled through. Together, these generational names may be a poem about the hope or history of the family. There also other conventions. It is generally considered unlucky to give a child a name that reflects a desirable personal characteristic such as fame, strength or health. However, it is frequently the case that girls will be given names which reflect "feminine" characteristics or be named after plants or flowers. Chinese females sometimes have reduplicated names. This practice also extends to males, for example, the cellist Yoyo Ma. Also, it is frequently the case that the names of siblings are related. For example, one child may be named "sun" while his sibling may be named "moon."

Chinese personal names also reflect the period. For example, many Chinese born during the Cultural Revolution have revolutionary names such as "strong country" or "eastern wind". And in nationalist Taiwan, it had been common to incoperate one of the four characters of the name "Republic of China" into boys' names.

Within families, adults rarely refer to each other by personal names. Adult relatives and children refering to adults generally use family title (for example big sister, second sister, third sister). As is the case in the West, it is considered rude for a child to refer to parents by their given name, but unlike the West this taboo is extended to all adult relatives.

When speaking of non-family social acquaintances people are generally referred to by a title (for example Mother Li or the Wife of Chu). Personal names are used when referring to adult friends or to children.

Most Chinese also have a "pet name" which their parents refer to them as. Nicknames are usually alteration of the given name, sometimes they are based on the persons' physical attributes, speaking style or even their first word.

In naming animals, Chinese will frequently use a name like "lucky" (福 fu2) or "happy" and will avoid using names similar to those given to humans. It would be unthinkably offensive to name a pet after another human being.

In former times, it was common for males to acquire a zi, or style name, upon reaching maturity, and for prominent people to have posthumous names, and rulers temple names. This is rarely the case, however Chinese writers will frequently take a pen name.

Many Chinese will have a Western name in addition to the Chinese name. For example, the Taiwanese politician Soong Chu-yu is also known as James Soong. Among Chinese Americans, it is common practice to be referred to primarily by the Western name and to using the Chinese name as a middle name.



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