Chinese names usually consist of three characters. The first character is the family name and the other two characters are the given names. Occasionally, a single character is used for the given name.
Chinese people who immigrate to the USA or other Western countries often use the Western standard of placing their family name in the last position. For example, the family name of the famous Taiwanese baseball player, Chien-Ming Wang, is Wang. He is known as Wang Chien-Ming (王建民) in Chinese-speaking countries.
The Importance of Names
Names are very important in Chinese culture. They are chosen carefully (often with the aid of a fortune-teller) to bestow luck and wealth. The guiding principals for choosing a good name include zodiac sign, parental expectations, and harmony among all three characters of the name.
Translating Western Names
Famous Westerners are usually given Chinese names in China and Taiwan. These names are almost always based on the sound of the Western pronunciation. George Bush, for example, is known as bù sī (布希) in Taiwan and bù shí (布什) in China. Elizabeth Taylor’s Chinese name is yī lì shā bái tài lè (伊莉莎白泰勒).
If you are studying Mandarin and plan to travel to China or Taiwan, it’s a good idea to have a traditional three-character Chinese name. You can choose your own name, but this can be risky unless you are familiar with the meanings of the characters. Better to have a Chinese friend give you a good name, or you can try using one of the online tools listed below.