NAMES OF THE CHINESE PEOPLE
“HELLO, MR/MS Chin!” That is the usual greeting I find that the Jamaicans give to the Chineselooking people when they meet in the street. But actually, there are about 3,500 Chinese surnames. Among the 100 commonly used surnames, the three most common are Li, Wang and Zhang; Zhuge, Ouyang, Situ and Sima are the common compound surnames.
In China, the surname comes first and is followed by the given name, and the latter has its own traditions and features. It can have one or two characters. In the same clan, the given name is arranged in the order of seniority in the family hierarchy. And the given names of the peers usually have one Chinese character in common if there are more than one character in their given names.
The names of the ancient men were more complicated than those of the modern people. People of literacy and status have both a style name and an alternative name, along with the surname and given name. For example, a man of letter of Su Shi in the song Dynasty had style name Zizhan and the alternative name Dongpo. The poet Li Bai in the Tang Dynasty lived in the Qinglian Village in Sichuan Province in his childhood, and thus he styled himself Qinglian Jushi (retired scholar).
Chinese names usually have certain meaning, expressing some kind of wish. Some names embody the location, time or natural phenomenon when the person was born, such as Jing (Beijing), Chen (morning), Dong (winter), and Xue (snow). Some names indicate the expectation of possessing some virtues, such as Zhong (loyalty), Yi (righteousness), Li (etiquette), and Xin (faith). Some names have the meaning of health, longevity and happiness, such as Jian (health), Shou (longevity), Song (pine, representing longevity), and Fu (happiness).
Male names are different from female ones: men’s names usually have character meaning power and vigour, such as Hu (tiger). Long (dragon), Xiong (grandeur), Wei (magnificence), Gang (steadfastness), and Qiang (strength). And the names of females usually use character representing gentleness and beauty, such as Feng (phoenix), Hua (flower), Yu (jade), Cai (colours), Juan (graceful), and Jing (quiet).
Take my name as an example. Lu Shaogang is my name, my younger brother’s Lu Shaoqiang is my surname. Shao means to inherit and Gang and Qiang mean steadfastness and strength, respectively. So call me Mr Lu rather than Mr Shaogang.
Today, the Chinese do not pay as much attention to naming, as did ancient folk. Generally, a person has an infant name and an official one, and the given names are not necessarily arranged in the order of the seniority in the family hierarchy. However, it’s still the Chinese people’s wish to give their children a name which sounds good and meaningful. LU SHAOGANG Chinese Director, Confucius Institute, UWI, Mona