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I've been reading about Chinese writers and apparently they have too many names! For example, in the article of Wikipedia about 黃遠庸 (Huang Yuanyong) there's first this name as the title of the article. Then appear the pen name 黃遠生, and after that it says that his given name is 黃為基, why is that? I understand the pen name but if there's a pen name and a given name, what's the other one? Thanks.

  • More complicate in Ancient China。 李白, 字太白, 号青莲居士, 又号谪仙人,昵称李十二,外号诗仙, 后世与杜甫合称“李杜“ – wolfrevo Dec 14 '15 at 17:36
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You probably know something about the intricacies of Chinese names prior to the downfall of the last dynasty, picking names at different stages of life was common among intellectuals.

In the case of Huang Yuanyong, check the Chinese language version of the Wiki article.

It reads:

原名黄为基,字远庸,笔名远生

Thus, his original name was 为基, his 字 name was 远庸 and his pen name was 远生. In the pre-Republican era, it was common to pick a 字 name (or courtesy name in English). This name was most likely chosen by a teacher, and henceforth an educated person was to be referred to by his courtesy name, the given name was only used within the family. Since Huang Yuanyong was socialized in the late 19th century, there is nothing uncommon with him having three different names.

But having alternate names is not something restricted to China or Chinese writers. Many Western intellectuals, writers or revolutionaries are in the need of an alternate name at some point, some even used multiples (Lenin e.g. was known as Ulyanov, Ilyin, Karpov, Mueller or Frei, just to name a few.) Although it is true that the Chinese name system is more elaborate, but until the modern ages it was common for Western scholars to Latinize (Linné used Linnæus in Latin) their names or pick a Latin name, this is somewhat similar to the Chinese courtesy name.

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