In many languages, you can not be really sure how to pronounce a person's name, so you have to ask them first, and remember. For instance, "Broglie" can be brɔɪ or brɔˈgli, "中島" can be Nakashima or Nakajima.

Newbie question: Are there any Chinese names with different pronunciations in Mandarin?
If yes, what percentage of the population has such ambiguous names?

Or do all Chinese names have only one possible reading in Mandarin?

  • 1
    I guess these answers gave the same statement, no matter how many examples they gave. (1) The pronunciation of a surname is unchangeable, even a given surname character has different pronunciations for different families. We cannot call 覃(Tán)某 as 覃(Qín)某. Right? Or I missed something here? (2) The pronunciation of a given name may be different. Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 4:21

5 Answers 5


Or do all Chinese names have only one possible reading in Mandarin?


Apart from first names (when 多音字 (polyphone) is used they might pronounce differently), even for the last names, there're some (not much) with different pronunciations. Note that these names with different pronunciations almost means different origins. That means you have to confirm with the person about the pronunciation of his/her given name; on the other hand, if you know that you could get more informations, like how the name originated (from where or from who), and the informations about his/her ancestors. e.g.

费(Bì,  Fèi)
覃(Tán, Xún, Qín)
郗(Chī, Xī)
贲(Bēn, Féi)
隗(Kuí, Wěi)
郇(Xún, Huán)
乐(Lè,  Yuè)

一个可能被误读的姓 乐姓

  • I had a Cantonese discussion about how the name Cao Cao is pronounced in Cantonese cantonese.sheik.co.uk/phorum/read.php?4,130404 I would like to know if there are also two different readings of 操 in the name 曹操 in Mandarin
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 18:56
  • 1
    @TangHo Interesting question. AFAIK it's pronounced as Cāo. But according to this post that should be pronounced as Cào for 曹操 according to the 格律 (i.e. the rules and forms of classical poetic composition) of the poems comprising 曹操. I searched 說文解字注 and it was pronounced as 去聲. So I think it's correct that in ancient times it should be pronounced as Cào, but in mordern Chinese it has only one pronunciation (i.e. Cāo) thus using Cāo should be correct (at least not wrong).
    – user4072
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 0:53
  • Interesting, that means the 操 in 曹操 is pronounced as the 操 in 操作(cāo zuò / cou1 zok3) in both modern Cantonese and Mandarin. not the 操 in 情操 (qíng cào) . Can we move these comments into a question and answer?
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 13:50
  • @TangHo Wait, it seems weird. The 字 of 曹操 is 孟德, and 字 usually corresponds to the name, then 操 should be pronounced as 操 of 情操/操守, because 情操/操守 have close meaning of 德.
    – user4072
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 14:14
  • We had discussed this point in our Cantonese discussion, our conclusion was -- ' it is acceptable in modern Cantonese to read it as the 操 in 操作(約定俗成- established by usage) ; Although read it as the 操 in 情操 is more logical. Either way should not be considered wrong
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 14:21

The pronunciation is the same for the last names.

For example, 華 must be pronounced as huà for the family name.

When it is in the first name, it can be pronounced as huā, huá or huà. They can decide it, so we have to ask for the correct pronunciation.

  • Thanks! Can you name some celebrities whose identical given names are pronounced differently?
    – Ludi
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 13:35
  • Interesting! Are the different pronunciations always different tones of the same syllable? Or can it be different syllables? Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 14:58
  • @NicolasRaoul Some are different tones with same syllable, some others are different in tones and syllables.
    – xenophōn
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 4:02
  • @賈可Jacky: Interesting! Could you please give examples of the latter? Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 6:30
  • @NicolasRaoul different tones but same syllable: 任 (rén, surname/rèn, normal), 华/華 (huà/huá), 占/佔 (zhān/zhàn), 燕 (yān/yàn), few characters like this only.
    – xenophōn
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 9:08

The pronunciation of a Chinese name is unique in almost all cases. Here are few particular cases.

  1. There are very few Chinese polyphonic family names, like the above example , it pronounced qín in 90% of the cases, meantime, it also pronounced tán as a family name. This case is rare.
  2. There are also few Chinese family names are polyphonic characters, one pronunciation is used for family name only. Like my family name 贾/賈, pronounce jiǎ as a family name, pronounce in other cases, as well as 单/單, 朴/樸, , etc. Almost all people pronounce these names right.
  3. There are very very very few Chinese family names are made up with two characters at least, like 上官, 诸葛/諸葛, 司马/司馬, etc. A few characters may pronounce differently in different names. 万俟 is a family name, pronounced as mò qí, and 尉迟 pronounced as yǜ chí, but, the family name 万/萬, pronounced as wàn, also, the family name , pronounced as wèi or as a one-character family name. This case is extremely rare, people may mistake the pronunciation.
  4. There are also polyphonic characters in given name, like , . When these characters appears in a person's name, most people may choose a common pronunciation first if they don't know which is right, or ask him/her directly or other persons.
  • Did you accidentally switch the pronunciations in 1? I’ve only ever seen 覃 in (non-name) contexts where it was pronounced tán, so I’m guessing tán ought to be the 90% of the cases, not qín. Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 19:07
  • 覃 should pronounce qín as a surname exactly in most cases.
    – xenophōn
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 3:57

The Chinese names are unique and different in most cases, there are first name and the last name when Chinese choose a name for their kids. so Generally, a Chinese name is composed of two or three characters, Most people tend to have a well-known Chinese family name, and this post will introduce the most popular Chinese family names for you.http://www.hanbridgemandarin.com/article/chinese-learning-tips/most-common-chinese-family-names/

and here you can know the most common and best chinese names for boys,http://www.hanbridgemandarin.com/article/chinese-learning-tips/chinese-name-for-boys

  • Is it your website, or are you affiliated with it in any way? Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 10:30
  1. Family names always have a fixed pronunciation, inherited from ancestry.
  2. For given names, different pronunciations are possible, if a heteronym (多音字) is used. The actual pronunciation depends on the creator of the name.
  3. Parents would avoid to use 多音字 in children's names to keep away from trouble in the future. Because unlike Japanese, Chinese do not list Pinyin in most documents or forms.

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