Names and Titles - Introduction

A Chinese personal name consists of two parts: a. surname and a given name. There is no middle name. The order is the reverse of ours: surname first, given name last. 

The most common pattern for Chinese names is a single-syllable surname followed by a two-syllable given name.

Máo Zédōng  (Mao Tse-tung)
Jiāng Zémíng  (Jiang Tse-ming)
Mă Yīngjĭu  (Ma Ying-jiu)

It is not uncommon, however, for the given name to consist of a single syllable:

Jīang Qīng (Mme Mao Tse-tung)
There are a few two­ syllable surnames. These are usually followed by single syllable given names:

Sīmă Guāng (Ssu-ma Kuang)
ōuyáng Xīu (Ou-yang Hsiu)

But two­ syllable surnames may also be followed by given names:

Sīmă Xiāngrú (Ssu-ma Hsing-ju)

An exhaustive list of Chinese surnames includes several hundred written with a single character and several dozen written with two characters. Some single­­-syllable surnames sound exactly alike although written with different characters, and to distinguish them, the Chinese may occasionally have to describe the character or "write" it with a finger on the palm of a hand. But the surnames that you are likely to encounter are fewer than a hundred, and a handful of these are so common that they account for a good majority of China's population. 
Given names, as opposed to surnames, are not restricted to a limited list of characters. Men's names are often but not always distinguishable from women's; the difference, however, usually lies in the meaning of the characters and so is not readily apparent to the beginning limited knowledge of characters.

Outside the People's Republic of China the traditional system of titles is still in use. These titles closely parallel our own "Mr. "Mrs.," and "Miss." Notice, however, that all Chinese titles follow the name--either the full name or the surname alone--rather than preceding it. 

The title "Mr." is XiānSheng:

Mă Xiānshēng
Mă Mínglĭ Xiānshēng

The title "Mrs." is Tâitai. It follows the husband's full name or surname alone:

Mă Taìtaì
Mă Mínglĭ Tàitai

The title “Miss” is Xiăojĭe. The Ma family’s grown daughter, Defen, would be

Mă Xiăojĭe
Mă Défēn Xiăojĭe

Even traditionally, outside the People's Republic, a married woman does not take her husband‘s name in the same sense as in our culture. If Miss Fāng Băolán marries Mr. Mă Mínglĭ, she becomes Mrs. Mă Mînglï, but at the same time she remains Fāng Băolán. She does not become Mă Băolán; There is no equivalent of "Mrs. Mary Smith." She may, however, add her husband's surname to her own full name and refer to herself as Fāng Băolán. At work she is quite likely to continue as Miss Fāng. 

These customs regarding names are still observed by many Chinese today in various parts of the world. The titles carry certain connotations, however, when used in the PRC today: Tàitai should not be used because it designates that woman as a member of a leisure class. 

In the People's Republic, the title "Comrade," Tóngzì,  is used in place of the titles  Xiānshēng, Tàitai and Xiăojĭe.

Mă Mínglĭ would be:

Mă Tóngzì
Mă Mínglĭ Tóngzì

The title "Comrade” applied to all, regardless of sex or marital status. A married woman does not take her husband’s name in any sense. Mă Mínglĭ’s wife would be:

Fāng Tóngzì
Fāng Băolán Tóngzì

Children may be given either the mother's or the father's surname at birth. In some families one child has the father's surname, and another child has the mother's surname. Mă Mínglĭ’s and Fāng Băolán’s grown daughter could be

Mă Tóngzì
Mă Défēn Tóngzì

Their grown son could be

Fāng Tóngzì
Fāng Zìqiáng Tóngzì

Both in the PRC and elsewhere, of course, there are official titles and titles of respect in addition to the common titles we have discussed here. Several of these will be introduced later in the course.

The question of adapting foreign names to Chinese calls for special consideration. In the People's Republic the policy is to assign Chinese phonetic equivalents to foreign names. These approximations are often not as close phonetically as they might be, since the choice of appropriate written characters may bring in non-phonetic considerations. (An attempt is usually made when transliterating to use characters with attractive meanings.) For the most part, the resulting names do not at all resemble Chinese names. For example, the official version of "David Anderson" is Daiwei Andersen.

An older approach, still in use outside the PRC, is to construct a valid Chinese name that suggests the foreign name phonetically. For example, "David Anderson" might be An Dawei.

Sometimes, when a foreign surname has the same meaning as a Chinese surname, semantic suggestiveness is chosen over phonetic suggestiveness. For example, Wáng, a. common Chinese surname, means "king," so "Daniel King" might be rendered Wăng Dànián.

Students in this course will be given both the official PRC phonetic equivalents of their names and Chinese­ style names.


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