Chinese Baby Names follow a naming convention that is very different than the English
Baby Names from the Western cultures.
Chinese Baby Names have three parts to their name: surname, first name, middle name.
tend to drop their middle name from everyday usage unless it is a formal occasion
like weddings and graduation. The Chinese always use all three parts to their name.
The middle names are rarely dropped from everyday usage.
Your friends will be called
Mary Grace Smith and Peter Joseph Smith.
In a society that honors family and the elders, the family name or surname always
So your friend, Peter Joseph Smith when presented to the Chinese should
Smith (Surname) Peter (first name) Joseph (Middle name)
This is important
to westerners when they are introduced to the Chinese. Make sure you know which
is their surname before you start calling them by name.
In properly written Chinese,
my name will be Au Wai Yin. Most Chinese immigrants to North America like myself
will switch the surname order to match western cultures to avoid confusion. So my
friends growing up in Canada knew me as Wai Yin Au. Confused?
In many Chinese families, there is a common first name for all the boys and a common
name for all the girls in the family.
So my friend, Smith Peter Joseph could have
a brother called Smith Peter John. Smith Mary Grace’s sister could be called Smith
In my case, my brother’s name is Au Wai Hung and you now know my name
is Au Wai Yin.
It is the middle name that differentiates two brothers or two sisters. Parents will
call their children by both their first and middle names together.
“Hey, Peter Joseph,
bring m my slippers”
“Peter John. Don’t you go hitting your brother Peter Joseph.
might be thinking that in China, a country with over a billion people, this is leads
to mass confusion. Not really.
It is actually a very logical naming methodology similar
to the way that scientists use family, genus, species to name plants and animals.
Things People do to their Chinese Baby Names
When immigrating to a western culture, the Chinese will more than likely put their
surname last like all their friends in school.
In many instances, the middle name will be dropped over time. I kept telling my
teacher and class friends that my name is Wai Yin but they called me Wai for short
anyway. Eventually, I just had to go with it. So did my brother.
That’s how my brother
and I growing up both had the same names. Our middle names, my “Yin” and his “Hung”
were dropped over time from usage.
Try growing up with the same name as your brother
and in his same class in middle school. Now that was traumatic! Eventually, our
teachers called my brother Wai #1 and I was Wai #2 because he was my older brother.
Chinese immigrants to western countries will often make up an English name and drop
their Chinese name altogether. For instance, you will often hear that Wing Shun
Tom became William Tom upon arriving to the U.S. or Canada.
As for me, I never adopted
a western name even though my neighborhood friends nicknamed me, “Billie”. I am glad.
Try explaining that one to the immigration officer at an international airport.