I simply want to know why Chinese names from Mainland China are only two words (they can be 2 or 3 syllables) when written in their romanised or pinyin form).

Meanwhile almost all Hong Kong names I have come across are 3 words (and obviously 3 syllables).In other words I have not come across a Hong Kong citizen with a two syllable name.

Is there a cultural reason for this? Did Mainland Chinese names used to be 3 syllables long before?

  • It is customary for Mainland Chinese to write their names in first name and last name. For Hong Kong, citizens may simply write their names by syllables.
    – xbh
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 2:44
  • Most Chinese names contains 2-4 characters, with 1-2 characters surname plus 1-2 characters last name 大文. In Hong Kong, the official romanisation is character-by-character with space in between, 陳大文 = Chan Tai Man. This format is used in identity card of HK. In other regions, it may be written in format Chan Taiman (no space) or Chan Tai-man (hyphen). Not much reference could be found yet, so I place it as comment first.
    – wilson
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 3:19

2 Answers 2


Chinese names are made up of "characters", not "words", and pinyin is a way to represent the pronunciation of those characters. Romanized names from Mainland China are written in such a way that the Family name is separated from the Given name by a space. The given name, no matter how many characters it's made up of, is spelled as one unit. The reason is that in the PRC, there are officially approved rules and guidelines regarding the writing of pinyin. See http://www.pinyin.info/readings/zyg/rules.html Scroll down to section 2.3 for an answer to your specific question.

There are no such guidelines for Hong Kong, so people tend to transliterate in the most convenient and logical way to them. In most cases, this would be one character at a time.

This is a convention for orthography, and has little to do with culture.

Also understand that whether you write:

Chan Tai Man

Chan TaiMan

Chan Taiman

Chan Tai-Man

Chan Tai-man

Chen Dawen, or a myriad of other spellings, they are but different ways to represent the sounds of the same Chinese name 陳大文.


I suppose that's mere romanization stuff. Different regions have different romanization rules and/or conventions. In Korean names which usually consist of a one-syllable surname and a two-syllable given name, usually a hyphen is added in the romanized form (e.g. Ban Ki-moon, Moon Jae-in, etc), and that's yet another convention.

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