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Rules of thumbs for nick names


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I still find names to be one of the more difficult parts of this language. With one of the largest populations in the world, the Chinese use only about he 100 Sir Names. The amount of ZHANGs and WANGs on my phone makes it difficult to keep track of anyone.

Are there any rules of thumb when calling someone by a nickname or how to structure a nickname for them?  like in English we often shorten it to a 1-syllable name: Matthew (matt), Johnathon (john), etc


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Often nicknames are made by repeating one of the characters in the given name. For example, Zhang Wenxin may become Wenwen, or Wang Lu may become Lulu.


Sometimes one of the characters is taken and an 儿 added to the end. Thus, Zhang Yuxue may become Xue'r.


Often a character from the name is taken and 哥 or 姐 added afterwards. So Wang Jinlai may become Jin Ge.


In southern China, sometimes 阿 is added in front of a character from the name, such as Zhang Tieguang becoming A Tie.


There are probably others, but these are ones I could think of off the top of my head. However, I wouldn't just go calling your friends made-up nicknames unless other people also call them that (an even then, you have to be quite close to be calling them these things).

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7 hours ago, TheWind said:

The amount of ZHANGs and WANGs on my phone makes it difficult to keep track of anyone.

In your phone address book, you can call people anything you want, so I suggest you add something about who they are in your life or how you know them: Zhang landlord, Zhang coffee shop, Zhang delivery etc.

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老 and 小 are common prefixes as well.


Be careful using nicknames. Just because people you know use a friendly nickname among themselves doesn't mean you should necessarily jump in and start using it. And what they call the boss among themselves may be different from how they address him. Etc.


Certainly don't create nicknames either. Ask around.


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I have a friend who made up a Weixin username and took it as her nickname. 小笨笨。It was done in jest. Self deprecating. I would not feel comfortable using it when addressing her or talking about her to mutual friends. Nicknames like this often change rather quickly; they don't necessarily "stick." 


Some friends have more than one nickname. One which is used by one circle of friends and acquaintances, for example those at the gym, and another which is used by those at work. 


I had one friend, a highly-educated and erudite person, whose name was XXX 亚娟 (Family name XXX). Her chums called her either Ya Juan 亚娟 or used the clever nickname 娟子 since she was prone making profound pronouncements. This nickname placed her in the tradition of ancient sages, 孟子,孔子 ,老子 and so on. She was a tea master 茶艺师。 


It was great fun and a privelege to be included with this latter group. At a meal someone would sometimes start a chengyu 成语 and three people would finish it. One guy loved to quote poetry, inserting it into many discussions. He especially did it a lot when consuming 白酒。We always laughed at how much he knew. Once on a car trip after he had done it several times, a member said "他肚子里有很多墨水“ and we all cracked up. Everyone knew that calligrapher/sages sometimes were known to moisten their brush with a touch of the tongue even though it was ill advised. 


Different groups of friends, different humor and different knicknames. 


As a foreigner and non-native speaker I was always very cautious about using nicknames for fear of giving offence through my ignorance. I seldom used nicknames, even though it made me appear stiff and excessively formal. Nuances of nicknames, like subtleties of humor, are one of the trickiest parts of a foreign language, at least in my experience.  

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