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Using personal name instead of pronoun


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Are there any examples of people using their own name instead of a first person pronoun? If there are, how common is it?

Also, are there any examples of people using other people's names, relationships with them, or their status instead of second and third person pronouns, e.g. "brother," "teacher," etc? If there are, how common is it?

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Are there any examples of people using their own name instead of a first person pronoun? If there are, how common is it?

I don't have any statistics to back this up, but my gut feeling is that this is not uncommon. Using your 名 instead of a first person pronoun seems to have indicated modesty. Here are just some examples I remembered from the past few weeks of reading. All show Confucius referring to himself by his 名, which is 丘 (as I'm sure you know).


《禮記 · 檀弓上》


《禮記 · 儒行》


《論語 · 公冶長》


《論語 · 先進》

In the 論語 and the 禮記, at least, you will find many more examples of this. But, as 李佐丰's 古代漢語語法學 does not seem to cover this feature of classical Chinese grammar, I am not sure how common it was or what the exact difference between using your 名 and a first person pronoun was.

Also, are there any examples of people using other people's names, relationships with them, or their status instead of second and third person pronouns, e.g. "brother," "teacher," etc? If there are, how common is it?

There are no third person pronouns in classical Chinese. See this thread for some more information and links.

Here is an example of 微生畝 using Confucius's name rather than a second person pronoun when addressing him:


《論語 · 憲問》

In this story 陽子 addresses his disciples as 弟子:


《莊子 · 山木》

There's bound to be more examples, but I can't think of any at the moment. I hope this helps a bit :)

Edited by Daan
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I heard this many times. Yes, it's very common. It's also quite common in other Asian countries. Definitely in Vietnam and Japan. Vietnamese pronouns are in fact - kinship terms, even if people are not related. The Japanese omit pronouns or use names/kinship terms. However, Chinese pronouns are also quite common and are used more often than names, kinship terms or titles.

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atitarev, I think Hofmann was asking about usage in Classical Chinese (but as far as Japanese is concerned, using your first name to refer to yourself has a girlish touch to it, so men wouldn't usually do that).

Yeah, I've noticed this kind of usage also in some stories of the Zuozhuan, and of course Confucius referring to himself as 丘 many times over, as Daan has already said...

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In Japan, a father may call himself お父さん when talking to his kids or even his wife (even when the kids are not present) but otherwise, yes, you're right but when addressing others, it's only polite and normal to use names or titles instead of personal pronouns.

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atitarev, I was referring to using "first names", not "titles". Titles are not a problem. EDIT: If we really want to talk about Japanese in detail, let's move it to the "other languages" forum...

To get back to the topic, I'm curious about kinship temrs like 兄 or 父. A first cursory search on the CTP didn't really result in meaningful results. Maybe that just doesn't fly...?

Edited by chrix
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It's extremely common. A who is of lower or equal status to B or wants to be polite to B will only refer to B's title, status, etc., never second person pronoun. The following examples are from 红楼梦,not even classical Chinese, but nevertheless follow the same logic.

第十七回 大观园试才题对额 荣国府归省庆元宵

……贾政回头笑道:"诸公请看,此处题以何名方妙?“(贾政 to his 清客)

……众人听了,都赞道:" 是极! 二世兄天分高,才情远,不似我们读腐了书的." (清客称宝玉,宝玉在场。)


……贾政笑道:"诸公听此论若何?方才众人编新,又说不如述古,如今我们述古,你又说粗陋不妥.你且说你的来我听." (贾政称清客为“诸公”,对儿子则可用“你”。)

Also, are there any examples of people using other people's names, relationships with them, or their status instead of second and third person pronouns, e.g. "brother," "teacher," etc? If there are, how common is it?
Edited by zhxlier
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Thank you for your replies. Sorry; I should have said I'm talking about anything that isn't modern Chinese, which can include Middle Chinese. Information from Sinoxenic languages is also interesting.

Why I asked is because my father's side of my family does that. My brother and I call ourselves our given names when talking to our "superiors" and our relationship when talking to "inferiors" in our family. I was wondering if it was a vestige of some older Chinese.

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孔子 - 姓:孔, 名:丘, 字:中尼

Unless you're very friendly since childhood or your families were on friendly terms, otherwise, you won't be addressing 孔子 by his 名, but rather by his 字.

After the age of 20 [Chinese age, or 19 years old, if you go by the Gregorian calendar], people should refer to you by your 字 and nothing else [peers, acquaintances, contemporaries, etc...].

名 is ONLY referred to by family & closest of friends. 名[name given by father on third day of birth, and used by family mostly.],

乳名[baby name, used by family],

小名[name as toddler, used by family],

字[This is a name either given to you by an elder or made up by yourself, by the time of

冠礼, or adulthood, similar to "bar mitzvah" in the Hebrew tradition, but this is in ancient Chinese usage, not modern Chinese, whereas, "bar mitzvah" is still practiced today.],

号[short for 卓号, which is a "nickname" given by others to you or one that you made up to suit yourself.],

Then there's also the "posthumous name", 谥号, which is given as a title to you by court officials or the Emperor himself, after you have passed away, [usually you won't get this, unless there's some merit or you've done some good deeds, before passing away ],


Modern Chinese:

often titles are confusing, especially, if you already have children. Sometimes the "titles" used by children are used by adults to address other adults!

It's confusing because each generation will call X a kinship term. If you called someone Laolao [used to refer to the "mother's mother" by children] in Chinese, you better make sure, it's the kid's grandmother and not your OWN grandmother whom you might be calling.

Your grandmother [mother's mother] might still be alive, and if that's the case, you better just call your OWN grandmother Laolao, and call the children's grandmother, 岳母 or some other term your mother-in-law likes to be called by.

My friend writes to me and addresses me by 兄, because I'm a few years older in age, not because I'm his "older brother."

In ancient China, using your own name is only to show humbleness.

Edited by trien27
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It also contains two paragraphs that might be of interest to you, Hofmann

Thanks. OK, so I know my father's side wasn't making stuff up, but from my sister-in-law's reaction to the way we talked, I assume it isn't common in modern Chinese families.

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  • 2 months later...

Wilkinson 2000, Chinese History: A Manual says this was three months after birth, not three days.


Source: http://5rams.blogspot.com/2008_01_27_archive.html

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  • 1 month later...

people are people, there is no you-cant-touch-this kinda strict rules. it could be a few days to a few months, or it could be thought out before the child is born, both a male and female name for 'full coverage'.

名 or (proper) first names are used by both family elders and teachers. usually not friends unless in a heated argument... literally 'name calling'.

it was also pretty common for the 字 (roughly 'schooling name') part given by the teacher (other than elders in the house) when the kid reached schooling age (anywhere from 6-12), if he can afford to go to school. the reason being 字 was used by peers. classmates addressed each other's 字, not first names. the relation of 字 and 'proper name' was that 字 usually emphasized the meaning/symbolization of the proper name, in direct or opposite manner. but then again, no strict application. sometimes in countryside schools, classmates addressed each other with informal childhood names. 曹操 (cao'cao) during three kingdoms was often called 阿瞒 (a'man), his childhood name, by his peers and enemies alike. liubei's son 刘禅 (liu'shan) had his childhood name 阿斗 (a'dou) used by everyone for 1800 yrs.

号 or 'alias' are usually self given in ancient times, as it reflects the person's character, thinking, beliefs or inclinations. these are rather positive and used among refined people. could be related to nature, arts or religions. 绰号 (chuo'hao) is what we know as 'nicknames', usually connected to shady undertable dealings, like that of a thief, a bandit, a gambler, infamous businessmen/landlords, or sometimes a fighter, a hunter, or laborers that made up the lower classes in city life. honest farmers and vendors dont usually have nicknames.

using own first names when talking to others, if it ever occur, would probably be in taiwan. the reason being old nationalists tends to use their 字 to address themselves when talking to a senior officer in the govt or within the KMT party. in the early days chiang kaishek was the principal of huangpu military academy and his most trusted generals were previously his students. they have to maintain humbleness when talking to him. becomes a tradition within the KMT. in modern days 名 and 字 had merged into one 名字, modern people, if they ever wished to address themselves in a polite manner, used their first name. but in mainland and HK its not common. and yes in japanese it is a girlish or 'acting cute' manner to talk. usualy reserved solely for female toddlers.

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as for confucius, he's got a very interesting namesake cos that commemorates the romantic encounter of his parents. his father, age around 60 then, met his mom, age under 20, during an ancient 'rock concert' (the local fiesta after a religious holiday) and had it done in the hills (尼山) just outside town. so the meaning of his namesake was 'the hills of ni'. 孔 = family name. 丘= hills,schooling name = 仲尼, meaning 'ni the second'. confucius father was 60 and married when he had a one night affair with confucius mother. the old man already had a first son, so confucius was second, thus 仲. in ancient china 孟,仲,季 represents eldest, second and youngest. 仲尼, ni the second. cao'cao as another example, 曹操,字‘孟德’, which is 'de' the eldest.

therefore confucius lost his dad at a young age. his father passed away at 60+ when he was still a toddler. his mom had never seen his dad after the affair, and didnt attend the funeral either. that is why confucius had to refer to his elder neighbors to locate his father's grave when he grew up and became famous.

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