Basic knowledge of Chinese names
- In China, people state their last names (family names) first, and first names (given names) last. I call myself Li Boxiao in China (Li is my family name), but in western countries, I call myself Boxiao Li, following the western tradition.
- In news articles, famous Chinese figures are often referred in Chinese tradition, e.g., Xi Jinping (Xi is family name) and Yao Ming (Yao is family name).
- Chinese family names usually have one syllable, and given names usually no more than two. Each Chinese character is one syllable.
- Some rare family names have two syllables, such as Ouyang, Sima, and Zhuge.
- It is common for two unrelated Chinese to share the same family name, but sharing the same given name is much less common.
Syllables in Chinese
- Mandarin Chinese only has 408 syllables (consider how many syllables there are in English). In this sense, Chinese is easier than English.
- To say a two-syllable name, you need to break down the syllables. Here are the general rules:
- Most syllables begin with a consonant followed by a vowel sound.
- The consonants are very similar to English: b, c, ch, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, sh, t, w, x, y, z, and zh.
- Six basic vowels are: a, e, i, o, u, ü. The vowel sounds include: a, ai, an, ang, ao, e, ei, en, eng, er, i, ia, ian, iang, ie, in, ing, iong, iu, o, ong, ou, u, ua, uan, uang, ui, un, uo, ü, üan, üe, ün.
- A vowel sound always ends in one of the basic vowels or n or ng. The only exception is er, which is a standalone syllable.
- Sometimes a syllable may simply be a vowel sound that starts with a, e, or o. If it is not the first syllable in a name, it is often preceded by an apostrophe (') to avoid confusion, for example, Xian has one syllable but Xi'an (a city in China) has two.