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Getting to know the name of a Chinese, we can be almost certain that we will never meet anyone who bears the same name. Getting to know her or his surname, we may find that many Chinese people we know have the same surname, even though they are not related.

China is a country, which has the longest history of surname usage. This tradition dates back to the ancient times. The Chinese names are two-segmented. The first element is the ancestral name that is equivalent of our surname, the second element is the individual name, the equivalent of our name. They are followed by words: Mrs. or Mr. In Chinese the first name and surname joined together do not form a semantic string. Each of them separately - does. It is a mistake to write each syllable of the name and surname separately. Chinese name consisting of two syllables is to be written together e.g. Tianjin (add money).

Chinese surnames

Most of the Chinese surnames consist of one character of Chinese writing, only a few of them are two-character. Besides, the Chinese surnames are a closed class - new ones are no longer created. There are about 5,000 popular surnames, of which about 100 are most commonly used. The most common are: Wang, Zhang, Ma, Li, Zhu, Chen, Lin, Huang and Wu. The surname Zhang is used by more than 10% of the Chinese people. Interestingly, they are very attached to their surnames, which are synonymous of tradition and their relation with ancestors. Therefore, in China it is very rare to change one’s surname. Even married women after the wedding keep their maiden name. However, because of the number of inhabitants, there is somewhat a ’deficiency’ of surnames in China, and it is increasingly common that husband and wife combine their surnames and in this way a two-part surname arises. This contradicts a bit the old Chinese formula: `one character for surname + two characters for first name`.

Chinese names

Chinese names are usually symbolic names. Most often they are symbols of strength, happiness, prosperity, wealth and beauty. In China, there are many names that indicate for example success - Joucheng, brightness – Ming or treasure - Bao. Due to the nature of the Chinese language, naming possibilities are extremely wide. Besides coming up with new names is a part of the Chinese culture, especially since they are not related to the calendar. In China name days are not celebrated, as they are in Poland, for instance. In China, there is no tradition of naming children after grandparents or parents. Although names for family members are often interrelated e.g. siblings receive the names related to the forces of nature, names of trees or flowers. Chinese names consist of one or two syllables. One does not use the diminutive form. The first name that is given to a child immediately after birth is the so-called milk name. Parents have a month for official registering of the name. It may differ from the milk name, which is used during the first few years of childhood. It is usually tender such as: Little Treasure. The personal name is a name which is registered and used in the subsequent years of life. Here the choice is unlimited, because each character of Chinese may be a part of the name. Sometimes in China you can also give your child a so-called school name used during the child's education. Once, there also used to be a public name. At the age of 20 the name used to be changed to a sign of maturity. It spoke for the nature of the person. In turn, emperors were given a posthumous name. When choosing a name, the Chinese people pay great attention to astrology, checking the connection between the name and the theory of of the five elements and yin and yang, since they believe it affects the future life of the person. Still very popular in China are also so-called patriotic names: Guofu meaning wealth of the country or Guoqiang meaning power of the country. In China, one can change one’s name, and interestingly this is quite frequent. This is related to the Chinese belief that the name is meant to bring good fortune. If is does not bring such, they consider it has lost its power, and then it is time to change it.

By name with the Chinese

In China, calling someone by their first name is a sign of great intimacy. In a family, one uses rather the terms for family members: mom, dad, older brother, grandmother or grandfather. Children also receive nicknames related to their personality or an event, in which they participated. The Chinese in interactions with the Europeans, to make contacts easier, often adopt Western names, mostly English, which they write on business cards using the Latin alphabet. We can also ask the Chinese for help in choosing the Chinese name for ourselves. It can have a similar character to the sound of our name or can resemble some important event for us.



Introductions in business contacts

In China, connections are very important. No one asks - who a person is, but whom they know and to which group they belong. Upon initial contact, it is thus very important one is  introduced to the business partner by the right person. The best person would be someone of Chinese origin, whom we know from Europe. The Chinese are unlikely to quickly memorise European names, so one should have handy cards, prepared especially for the occasion, that also contain the names translated into Chinese. Business cards are accepted and handed with the use of both hands. The Chinese will read the Chinese translation, smile and nod their head. One should also focus on their business card and behave in a similar fashion. According to Chinese custom, the surname on a business card is placed first. During the meeting, one should address the Chinese business partner by their functional title and surname.