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chinese people's names


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sorry, i'm not sure what forum this topic should be in.

anyway, is it very common for chinese people to change their names from their birth names? because i have seen it quite a bit, for example, jackie chan with his surname. i have also seen it in situations where the surname stays the same and the given name is changed, not just like jackie chan's situation, where his surname was changed.

if so, why do they do this?

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In China,every one's name is given by their parents at their birth time.

The name is formed by two parts,the first part is thier surname,it is the same with their father and stand for their sept.the second part is their name,stand for themselves.

There is a proverb in China called "行不更名,坐不改姓".It means no matter what happens I will not chang my name.In Chinese history.There is a character called "吕布".He changed his name three times for some benefit.He is lack of loyalty in people's eye and been conspued. So in general we will not chang our names.On the other hand changing name has a very complex process,especially when you grow up.

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wontonsoup, why do you think that Jackie Chan has changed his surname? His real name is 陳港生 and he keeps his surname "Chan". The name "成龍" is a stage name (think "Madonna") that does not consist of a surname.

But if you are talking about his real family name 房/Fang, then it was his father who had it changed. You can find the story here -> http://www.chinese-forums.com/showpost.php?p=115047&postcount=6

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This is called a "courtesy name". See this article:


In my dad's village in China, they use the courtesy name to keep track of the village's geneology as almost everyone is related. There's a short poem written that the village uses, and everyone uses one's surname, one word from the poem for the middle name, and then one word the person chooses himself, to form the courtesy name. The middle name is taken in sequence from the poem, from generation to generation.

For instance, my grandfather used a word "崇" for his middle courtesy name, my dad uses the word "大", for his, the next word taken in sequence from the poem. This helps one knowing if someone else is your cousin, first cousin, second cousin etc.

Why is this important??

For instance, my dad was born to my graddads second wife when his dad was 60 years of age. When he was born, he already has cousins 60 years older than him.

Normally, you call a man much older than you 伯. But he is a cousin, same "generation", you only call him 哥, not 伯. I would be able know how to call someone based on that person's courtesy name. If that person's middle courtesy name is "大", then, it's from the same generation, and is called a 哥, instead of 伯, even if the person is 30 years older than you.

According to the poem, all persons in my generation would have a middle courtesy name of "典", like the dictionary. When I was a small boy, I would call much older men 哥, not the more honorific term 伯, simply because their middle courtesy name is "典", as he's from the same generation as me.

I had not created a "courtesy name" for myself, but based on village tradition, the middle name would be "典", plus another word of my choosing.

There's seems to be agreement that courtesy names are not used anymore, and indeed in the case of our family, it's use ended with my dad. Because I live in the USA, my English name is more important now. And because I hardly run into anyone from the village, knowing geneology is not a relevant factor today.

One complication is reading history books. Some refer to a historical figure by his birth name, then others by his "courtesy name". Unless you know, you could think it's two different people.

In some cases, they are specific, saying it's a 號 "hao", or courtesy name.

For instance, in the "San Zi Jing", in talking about the rise of the "Ming Dynsaty":

太祖興, 國大明, 號洪武, 都金陵

Note that it says the founder of the Ming dynasty has a "hao" 號 of 洪武, his courtesy name, not his given name at birth. If it was was name at birth, it would be referred to as "ming" 名, and not "hao" 號.

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Chinese people rarely change their surname, unless there is a very pressing need for it. Changing the surname, the name of your parents, that you are supposed to pass on to your own kids to continue the family line, is quite disloyal to your parents, and a very bad thing to do.

On the other hand, it seems it's not uncommon to change one's given name. One's name is connected to one's fate and fortune, and sometimes changing it is supposed to help people get better when sick, or make it possible to get rich.

One friend of mine uses a different name at work than among her friends and family.

Another friend told me about a friend of his who had changed his name to change his fortune, and how he kept forgetting to address the friend by his new name.

My teacher told me that at her high school reunion, almost everyone had changed their name and she had to write the old names on the business cards she got, so she could remember who everyone was.

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