LOCAL CUSTOMS Chinese Names Chinese names are a complex subject so let’s take the simple approach. Chinese names have two parts. There are a relatively small number of surnames of great antiquity. The surname usually is of one syllable, Wang, Chen etc. There are a small number of two syllable surnames of which the ones that you are most likely to encounter are names such as Ouyang or Situ.
The surname is followed by a given name. It is usually of two syllables although often there is only one. Traditionally the first character is common to all members of a generation of a clan and the second character identifies the individual. Many people of the older generation who were born after the establishment of the People’s Republic have “revolutionary” names such as Red Army or National Construction. But these names are becoming rare.
In Chinese the surname is always sited first. Wang Jianguo has Wang as his surname and Jianguo as his given name. At the moment, when dealing with foreigners, many people will cite their given name first, Jianguo Wang. This is only done when dealing with foreigners.
Many Chinese give themselves an English name. Some of these are bizarre. We once worked in a dealing room with an Adonis Wong and a Venus Cheng. Keep a notebook handy and try not to laugh too loud. They find our attempts at Chinese names equally strange.
The rules covering how Chinese address each other are labyrinthine. The following rules work in most situations. Address most people by their surname with the appropriate honorific. Mr Wang, Mr Wu etc. When they have an English name, they will often expect you to use it. Do not assume intimacy and address a person by his given name. Very close friends and, oddly, members of the Communist Party amongst themselves address each other in this way. You will, for example, see Deng Xiaoping referred to as “Comrade Xiaoping”. Chinese address people with a title, just about any title, by that title. Director Wang, Academician Liu etc. Here’s an odd one. Police here in the south are addressed as “Ah Sir”, a Hong Kong usage from cop movies. Don’t worry too much about these things but be aware of them.