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Most Chinese given names are 1 or 2 characters long. Were there any proper, Han Chinese given names of 3 or more characters, that weren't transliterations or pseudonyms?

Surnames are different; while most are only one character, there are quite a few that are two characters or more. However, I haven't found any example of given names being longer than 2 characters. For example, despite keeping their Manchu surname, the Aisin Gioro clan adopted Chinese naming conventions: Puyi's brother was named 愛新覺羅溥任, with a 2-character given name.

  • In old Hong Kong tradition, when a woman got married to a man, she put the man's surname before her full name, e.g. 陈方安生, 陈冯富珍, 叶刘淑仪, 方黄吉雯, 范徐丽泰. Here comes the problem, say, what's the surname for 范徐丽泰? Since their children's surname is 范, if we consider her surname is also 范 but not 范徐, then 徐丽泰 becomes the given name having 3 characters. – Stan Jul 13 '16 at 16:40
  • And I actually encountered some 3-character given name. This website has a database for all available names in China. It may help you find some examples. – Stan Jul 13 '16 at 16:44
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    this tradition is 冠夫姓, adding husband's surname to the front of wife's surname. technically, the wife's given name is not changed, only the surname changes from 1 character to 2 characters. – 水巷孑蠻 Jul 13 '16 at 17:21
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It is possible, for a Chinese to have a first name longer than 2 characters. I had a classmate like that, but I don't think I should reveal his name here.

It is fully legal and proper, and is becoming more widely accepted in recent years.

However, this wasn't common when you date back. If you look for materials talking about China and Han (汉) people more than a hundred years ago, you probably won't find any.

I guess one reason for having longer names is that as communication approaches improve, people start to learn that there are a lot of other people in China using those common names - if they don't want to think of a creative and unique short name, one way to avoid that is to have a longer-than-usual name.

  • The term first name may be misleading, especially when you are talking about Chinese names in English. The two cultures have different convention in whether to put the suname before or after the given name. I think surname and given name should be used instead of last name and first name to avoid ambiguity, – ltux Jul 15 '16 at 8:29
  • @ltux I agree that is more general. However, English speakers will not read your name in the Chinese way, except for the well-known celebrities/leaders, like Mao, etc. On the other hand, no matter how you read your name, "first name" is always equivalent with given name. – bfrguci Jul 15 '16 at 17:10
  • Not only well-known celebrities. For example, the names of the characters in The Three-Body Problem, a sicence fiction translated from Chinese, are all traslated in their original order. In China, a name translated from English is usually kept its original order. But in English world, the order of a name translated from Chinese is not consistent. You can refer to this question. I insist that the term first name is ambiguous. – ltux Jul 15 '16 at 18:51
  • @ltux Whether the term is ambiguous or not has nothing to do with that inconsistency. – bfrguci Jul 15 '16 at 20:47
  • @ltux Whatever, that's not the point of this question so let's don't worry about it at all. – bfrguci Jul 15 '16 at 20:48
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Traditionally, naming is mostly based on family tree. But in recent years, we are given more freedom to name our children. From people I know with 3+ given names, I understand that there are several considerations from their parents.

1) Literal translation from original names in their ethnic groups other than ethnic Han.

I've seen people with 4 or even 6 characters in their given name.

2) Add mother's surname in it.

I have some friends whose name structure look like father's surname + mother's surname + 2 characters. This is not the traditional way like adding husband's name before wife's whole name, it's more based on some casual reasons like "It means I'm the love of my dad and mom", or "It sounds good".

3) Surname happens to be the initial character of a 4-character phrase/idiom.

One of my friend told me her grandpa loves an idiom so much and the initial character happens to be her surname, so she got her name as it is right now.

  • Another reason that applies to a person I know is that the parents and the two sets of grandparents each added a syllable, which is probably an attractive solution to single-child families. – KWeiss Sep 13 '16 at 9:46
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Here is a real case. He changes his name to "黃宏成台灣阿成世界偉人財神總統(Huang Hung Chen Taiwan Ah Chen World Great Person Rich President)". It is the longest name in Taiwan now.

  • Makes for a great business card at least! – Olle Linge Jul 14 '16 at 20:00
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    That's just a funny special case... Normal people won't do that. – bfrguci Jul 15 '16 at 17:12
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in my experience, in recent years, there're more people with 3 characters given name; from taiwan, or mainland. these characters are just common chinese character, no special meaning when combined together.

sorry, i can't provide any valid, real example here.

guess a is that, with 1 or 2 characters as given name, there're chances that someone else would have the same surname + given name; which made many unnecessary, even unsolvable troubles. so, people start to get a 3 characters given name; in order to distinguish from others.

guess b is the influence of japanese culture. with 1 character surname + 3 characters given name, the combination is 4 characters long; which would look like a common japanese name.

again, i can't prove it :(

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    Even if a Chinese people has 1 character surname + 3 characters given name, his/her name won't look like a common Japanese name. That's because Chinese have very different taste from Japanese when choosing Chinese characters for given names. And, the two countries use totally different surname sets. It's very easy to distinguish a Chinese name from a Japanese one, even if they are both made up of four Chinese characters. – ltux Jul 13 '16 at 16:03
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    yes, only for people understand chinese & japanese. however, for "foreigner" who have no / little knowledge, a 4 characters name in kanji, it's hard to distinguish. anyway, it's a guess, i maybe wrong :) – 水巷孑蠻 Jul 13 '16 at 16:11
  • For example, 王史提芬, a bicycle player for Hong Kong. – SOFe Jul 14 '16 at 8:53
  • well, the question mentioned "that weren't transliterations or pseudonyms" :) – 水巷孑蠻 Jul 14 '16 at 20:23
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Now in China mainland, you can find 4 character names mostly in pediatric departments, kindergartens and primary schools.

For Han people, most patterns are

father's surname+mother's surname+2 given characters OR father's surname+3 given characters

However influenced by popular novels and dramas of Mary Sue style, some young parents give names like all kinds of Zixuan, Yuhan, Zihan, Haoyu, which are too widely used. One jokes says if you call Zixuan in a kindergarten, 1/3 of the children will answer you. Their given names may be 紫萱 子轩 梓萱 紫瑄 子煊. If you call Zihan, another 1/3 will answer you, named 紫涵, 子涵, 子翰, 梓晗.

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