I ve found this sentence between two other sentences in an article about the scholar wang li: 中国语言学家、诗人。字了一。广西壮族自治区博白县人

I understand both sentences before and after 字了一, but i am clueless what this particular sentence mean and if it really is grammatically speaking a real sentence.

3 Answers 3


This is a good question.

字了一 should be understood as:

(and his) (is) 了一

Thousands years ago, many people in China have a special name besides their first name and last name though nowadays most of Chinese don't have one. And this special name is often described after '字'. For example: 刘备,字玄德.

According to some reference in Chinese, 字 sometimes can be changed. For example, 关羽 was using 长生 as his 字 but then changed to 云长 (which is mostly known by all Chinese)

字 can be given by a person himself/herself or his/her friends, mentors. While ordinary names were mostly given by the parents.

  • To be more precise, 字 is the name when you are recognized as an adult.
    – Xiaoge Su
    Nov 12, 2014 at 18:58

字了一 means 表字:了一。

表字: Chinese style name; courtesy name (a name traditionally given to Chinese males at the age of 20 (also called 字))

check http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E8%A1%A8%E5%AD%97


  • I have also heard 字 is given to Chinese males when they get married. Couldn't find reference on this one thou.
    – Alex
    Oct 28, 2014 at 16:41
  • The linguist Wang Li’s name uses very simple characters: 王力. Interesting to learn that his style/courtesy name does too.
    – neubau
    Oct 29, 2014 at 2:23
  • 2
    @Alex 字 is given to someone when he or she reaches adulthood,and yes, a woman can have 字 as well. Oct 29, 2014 at 3:11
  • when he treat himself as adulthood (i.e. his age is < 18), he can be given such name too, i.e. he want to take 科举考试. Nov 12, 2014 at 8:29

姓 is follow with father, 名 sometime comes with two parts: one is seniority in the family(only one word. means 辈分) and one is given by parent.

字 is like a adult name. might be given by your parent or your teacher or others.

In Chinese Culture, only older can call your name and it is very rude to call others name directly. you have to call their 字.

for example my favorite character 赵云 and his 字 is 子龙, his master will call him 赵子龙 instead 赵云.

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