Grammar Lesson 5:

Names in Chinese

The number of Chinese surnames are quite limited and not very unique, unlike first names which can combine a lot of different characters. When writing a Chinese name you put the surname first and then the first name. Bruce Lee's Chinese name is 李小龍, where 李 (Lee or Li) is his surname. His first name 小龍 (xiao3 long2) means "little dragon".

Some of the most common Chinese surnames are:

李 Lǐ
王 Wáng
張 / 张 Zhāng
劉 / 刘 Liú
陳 / 陈 Chén
林 Lín

Most Chinese surnames are single characters, there are exceptions however. For instance Zhuge (諸葛/诸葛) is a two-character surname.

Western names are often written in Chinese characters, so the names sound quite different compared to the normal way to say it. Instead of Marilyn Monroe a Chinese person would say "Mǎlìlián Mènglòu" (瑪麗蓮夢露/玛丽莲梦露), Schwarzenegger becomes "Shǐwǎxīngé" (史瓦辛格)