Chinese names and words are Romanized in Pinyin. To say a two-syllable Chinese name correctly, you need to break down the syllables. Most Chinese words also have two syllables (two characters). Breaking down syllables is easier than you think. Here are the general rules:
- Mandarin Chinese only has 408 syllables.
- 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.
As you can see, these rules are in fact much simpler than English, which has many more variations. Remember, most family names have only one syllable, and it is extremely rare for a given name to have more than two syllables. Below are some examples for you to practice breaking down syllables. You can even extend these rules in multi-syllable words. Once you master this, you can pretty much speak Chinese in an understandable fashion, including people's names and street and city names. With some additional practice in the four major tones (high-flat, rising, dip-rise, and falling tones), you will sound like a fluent Chinese speaker just by reading Pinyin!
- Beijing = Bei-Jing
- Shanghai = Shang-Hai
- Hangzhou = Hang-Zhou
- Shenzhen = Shen-Zhen
- Baidu = Bai-Du
- Huawei = Hua-Wei
- Ali = A-Li
- Baba = Ba-Ba
- Xiaomi = Xiao-Mi
- Ouyang = Ou-Yang
- Sima = Si-Ma
- Zhuge = Zhu-Ge
- Huangfu = Huang-Fu
- Erkang = Er-Kang
- Zixuan = Zi-Xuan
- Jianan = Jia-Nan
- Jian'an = Jian-An
- Ruting = Ru-Ting
Here are some multi-syllable names for you to further practice: