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Chinese Names — Rules, Meanings, Taboos, and Classic Examples

Chinese names usually consist of a meaningful given name, a surname, and, in historical contexts, a courtesy name.


Each character and phonetic nuance carries profound meaning and historical significance.


Chinese naming incorporates varied considerations, encompassing symbolic and linguistic nuances, drawing inspiration from beautiful ancient classics, and rooted in timeless traditions.

Chinese Names

How Is A Common Chinese Name Composed?


Since the early 20th century, a typical Chinese name consists of a family name and a given name. 


Historically, a person usually had a family name, a given name, and a courtesy name. 

Why Does the Chinese Surname Come First?


In a typical Chinese name, one's family name always comes first, and the most important reason is the Ancestor Worship ideology.


Today's most commonly used last names evolved from the Eight Ancient Chinese Surnames during the Matriarchal period.  


Click to read Origin, History, and Development of Common Family Names in China

What Is the Courtesy Name?


Courtesy Name, or Style Name, was a name a person got on the Coming of Age Ceremony (generally, male on 20, female on 15) in history. 


It was a name to describe one's virtue and was usually connected to one's given name in some ways.  


A courtesy name usually consisted of one or two Chinese Characters, which were given by parents, respectable elders, teachers, or oneself.  


After a person has held the Coming of Age Ceremony, others would start to respect and treat him as an adult, and an important way was only to call his courtesy name.


In ancient Chinese culture, calling someone's name directly was considered not polite. 


Hence, for an adult, only elders and superiors could call his given name. Oneself could also use his given name as a gesture of modesty. 


Since the early 20th century, the courtesy name has gradually disappeared in China. One still can have a courtesy name if they want, but most people don't use it anymore. 

What Are the Taboos of Choosing A Chinese Name?


The most important taboo is not to use characters from parents, grandparents, or other elders' names; in history, the emperors' names were not allowed to be used. 


Today, most people in China still follow this rule, though it is not as strict as before. 


Other taboo characters suggested to avoid are: unlucky, vulgar, arrogant, with derogatory senses, too complicated, too rare, negative, and characters with weird pronunciation or homophony that would remind others of funny puns or bad meanings.  


Meanwhile, names of famous figures from history, legends, and novels are usually not suggested.

Factors Usually Used and Considered in Good Chinese Names.


Besides choosing characters with auspicious meaning and excellent pronunciation or with beautiful hope, there are other factors that traditional Chinese people would consider when naming a baby.


However, not everyone has strictly followed these rules, which are essential to many people. 


Generation Name

In ancient China, big clans would use auspicious, meaningful quotes or poems to identify people's generation. In turn, people of each generation use characters from these classics as their generational names. 

Today, many prominent families still use Chinese generational names (in Chinese Zibei).

The character of a generation name usually lies in the middle of a common three-character Chinese name, right after one's family name.

For example, two emperors of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Hou Zhao and Zhu Hou Cong: Zhu was their family name, and Hou was their generational name. 

Zodiac Signs

Animals of the 12 Chinese Zodiac Signs have particular characteristics, which developed different rules regarding numerology. 

For instance, Rat likes eating grain and digging holes; characters with "rice" or "hole" parts would be good for people with the Rat sign.


However, Rat is usually afraid of humans and daylight, and characters with "people" or "sun" parts are not highly suggested.  


Five Elements and Birth Date

In traditional Chinese numerology, it is believed that factors that may influence one's fate, such as composition and share of the Five Elements, are hidden in one's birth date and hour. 

Therefore, using a name to balance, or supplement those factors, is a widely used method.  

For instance, if one's birth info lacks the element Fire, characters with the "fire" part might be optimal choices to be used in their name, which are believed to bring good luck. 


Chinese Character Strokes


The total number of one's name's strokes is a key factor in some methods regarding naming, though it is not very influential. 

Two Ancient Books that Are Popular to Choose Classic Names.


Two classics have been frequently used to pick beautiful, elegant names till today:


The Book of Songs, or Classic of Poetry, or Shijing

It is the first existing poem collection in China, including poetry from the 11th to 6th centuries BC (early to middle Zhou Dynasty), compiled by Confucius.


In the 311 poems of this book, from royals' solemn worship odes and ritual court hymns to folk songs, many aspects of people's lives during this period were described and documented.

Chu Ci, or Verses of Chu, or Songs of Chu

It is the first existing romantic poetry anthology, mainly including poems of Qu Yuan and Song Yu, two great scholars and politicians of the State Chu during the Warring States Period (403 BC — 221 BC). 

Chu Ci introduces nature, landscape, history, and customs of the State Chu, as well as ancient mythology, legends, mythical beings, etc. 

Some other ancient classics are good to choose a beautiful name from, such as Lun Yu (or Analects of Confucius), Book of Changes (or I Ching), brilliant poems of the Tang Dynasty (618 — 907), Ci Poetry of the Song Dynasty (960 — 1279), and meaningful phrases and proverbs.

Click to Read More About Chinese Poetry and Symbols.

30 Beautiful Chinese Names for Girls From Classic of Poetry

Zhenzhen 蓁蓁: peach leaf, exuberant plants. 


Jingshu 静姝: gentle, quiet, beautiful. 


Weitong 炜彤: tender, rosy, glorious.


Xunmei 洵美: extremely beautiful. 


Bangyuan 邦媛: the beauty of a state.  


Pengpeng 芃芃: exuberant plants which represent hope and vitality. 


Xiuying 琇莹: bright and luminous gem.


Deyin 德音: virtue, morality. 


Wenyin 文茵: tiger skin made seat cushion in a carriage, represents prosperity and wealth.


Qiongju 琼琚: exquisite jade pendant.

Unearthed Exquisite Jade Decoration (Yu Yuan) of Eastern Zhou Dynasty

Exquisite Jade Decoration (Yu Yuan) of Eastern Zhou Dynasty — Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Lingyi 令仪: elegant manner. 


Wentian 闻天: the singing of the crane could be heard in the sky, representing ambition or a well-established reputation.


Jiahui 嘉卉: beautiful flora. 


Yanan 雅南: two types of classic, elegant court music.


Sirou 思柔: delicate, mellow, and tasty alcohol. 


Yuzan 玉瓒: jade-and-gold made ritual wine vessel, used in the grand royal worship ceremony.  


Qichen 其琛: treasure, jewelry. 


Ruying 如英: beautiful as flowers, brilliant as talented people. 


Taotao 陶陶: happy, harmony. 


Huiyin 徽音: virtue, beautiful music, good reputation.

Unearthed Bronze Bell with Inscriptions Carved on of the Western Zhou Dynasty

Bronze Bell with Inscriptions Carved on of the Zhou Dynasty — Shanghai Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Meishu 美淑: beautiful and elegant as a real lady.


Yiyi 依依: willow branches sway in the wind, which also means nostalgia.


Weizhen 维桢: to maintain the pillar, meaning stay solid and capable.


Jingjia 静嘉: pure, tranquil, and beautiful.


Zhecheng 哲成: intelligent, insightful, and accomplished.


Shushen 淑慎: kind, gentle, respectful, and careful.


Ruyun 如云: affluent, beautiful as clouds.


Wanru 婉如: gentle and beautiful.


Junde 骏德: virtue, moral, and beautiful characteristics.


Jinyu 金玉: gold and jade, symbolize cherishing, valuable, and splendid.

Jade Decorated Filigree Gold Hairpin of the Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644)

Jade Decorated Filigree Gold Hairpin of the Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644) — Hubei Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

30 Elegant Chinese Names for Boys From Verses of Chu


Zhengze 正则: fair-minded, righteous, truthful.


Xiuneng 修能: good appearance and ability.


Junmao 峻茂: exuberant plants.


Xinfang 信芳: innocent, pure, and beautiful heart. 


Shengzhe 圣哲: wisdom, virtuous people. 


Wangshu 望舒: the deity that drives carts for the moon in mythology, also represents the moon. 


Yunqi 云旗: flag decorated with patterns of cloud or rainbow. 

Lekang 乐康: happy, safe and sound.


Qiguang 齐光: as bright as the sun and the moon. 


Yuqiang 玉锵: the sound of the impact of the jade represents resonant, strong, and deep.

Unearthed Jade Mythical Animal of the Warring States Period

Unearthed Jade Mythical Animal of the Warring States Period (403 BC — 221 BC) — The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Photo by Dongmaiying) 

Jiming 既明: the bright sky. 


Chengyong 诚勇: sincere, honest, and brave. 


Baolu 宝璐: beautiful, valuable jade. 


Huaijin 怀瑾: holding beautiful jade, represents morality and virtue. 


Yiyao 翼遥: swinging wings, flying in the sky.


Kaifeng 凯风: warm, gentle wind.


Boyan 博衍: melodious music, far, broad. 


Xianrong 显荣: distinguished, glory, impressive, honored. 

Chengyu 承宇: floating clouds that connect to the eaves of mountains.

Jiashu 嘉树: tall, beautiful trees.

big and tall trees

Chenliang 辰良: good time.


Ange 安歌: sing and chant peacefully.


Feilong 飞龙: flying dragon, also means dragon boat.


Duruo 杜若: a fragrant herb believed to help people stay unforgettable.


Qingyun 青云: cyan clouds, symbolize high social status, exceptional achievements, and ambition.


Guangzhi 广志: expand and broaden ambition.


Bingde 秉德: stay moral and virtuous, and hold onto great values.


Xianjun 贤俊: exceptional, brilliant talent.


Chunwen 垂文: talent with brilliant articles that will hand down for generations.


Jingyun 景云: colorful and bright clouds that symbolize brightness, glory, honor, splendor, auspiciousness, and magnificence in the future.

Organized by Xia Lian.

colorful clouds

Colorful and Auspicious Clouds, Picture from Huiyizhuanyong xiaomajia.

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