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Chinese Names, Titles and Introductory Expressions

One of the most interesting aspects of Chinese culture is that it has retained its values and hierarchy system inherited from Confucius philosophy and it is deeply rooted in Chinese culture and civilization even today. Due to this profound impact on Chinese society, they take care of many things while addressing people such as age, gender, work place, social status, position/rank etc.

 

Chinese culture has a long history of using family names to represent the origin of family or clan. An ancient text documented the Chinese family names in the book of Classical Chinese Literature “Bai jiā xìng” or "the hundred most common family names". Among more than one billion population in China, 90 percent Chinese people belong to these 100 family names. Around 60 percent of the population in China has only 19 family names. Li, Wang and Zhang are the three most common family names in China which make up 6.93%, 6.49% and 6.19% respectively. According to a survey conducted by “Chinese Ministry of Public Security” on April 24, 2007, the ten most common family names are“ (wáng)” “ (li)” “ (zhāng)” “ (liú)” “ (chén)” “ (yáng)” “ (huáng)” and “ (zhào.)" Wú ( ), and Zhōu ( ).

 

 While the names of Chinese people begin with family name, the other part of the Chinese name is the given name which is usually composed of one or two characters. An example of a full Chinese name is: Family Name + Given Name. Zhāng + Lí huā

 

As we know Chinese language is a non alphabetic language, its earlier forms were pictographs of concrete objects or phenomena such as sun, moon, fire, water, wood, plants, field, sky, nail, person, male, female etc. The simple concepts were communicated through pictures but as time passed there emerged the need to express more abstract and complicated ideas as the pictures were not able to serve the purpose of communication anymore. Therefore, Chinese people developed the system of representing ideas and concepts through characters. The characters which are being used today are the simplified forms and made up of character components called radicals. It is very interesting that the same concept is reflected in the names of Chinese men and women, e.g. generally Chinese females have the radicals related to flower (艹), female (女) or jade (王) in their names whereas the names of males have the radicals related to tree (木), person (亻), etc.

Common Titles

The most commonly used gender specific titles “Sir” and “Madam” are represented by “先生 xiān shēng” (Mr.) and “女士 nǚ shì” (Ms.) respectively. Chinese women marital status is indicated by using terms nǚshì or tàitài. In Chinese society, addressing people by their professional title at workplace environment is considered polite and conveys respect. Usually the title follows the family name, for example the word for teacher is “lǎo shī” and if you want to call a teacher, the family name comes first and then lǎo shī, e.g. wáng lǎo shī, lǐ lǎo shī. Some of the titles including lǎo shī is gender neutral and is used for both males and females. Similarly the word for General Manager is zǒng jīnglǐ, e.g. wáng zǒng jīnglǐ or wáng zǒng (jīnglǐ can be omitted).

 

Note: *The words containing dotted u (u) vowel are difficult to pronounce as this sound (u) doesn’t exist in Urdu and English e.g. nu, lu

Note:

In Chinese language only one word “shì (shir)” is used to express “is/am/are” which connects two nouns. e.g. I am (wo shì), you are (ni shì), he/she is (tā shì).

*Chinese language makes frequent use of measure words to indicate the quantity of a noun.


The writer teaches Chinese Language at NUML, Islamabad. She has studied Chinese Language from Tongji University, China.

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