The evolution of Chinese names

gf writing

This is my Chinese name as written by Melody. I don’t know how to write my own Chinese name except for the middle character (coz it has less strokes and thus, is easier to remember). The translation is “Fu Huai Bin” – pronounced “foo why bin” but it’s written as Poh Huai Bin officially coz that’s how the Heng Hua translate the Chinese character for “Fu”.

Poh (the first character) is my family name a.k.a last name. It’s inherited and does not have any significance to it. Someone told me a very interesting anecdote about family names though – he said that we don’t actually have family names. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (actually, just Ancient China) we only have one name e.g.


Those are feudal times, so the lesser ones amongst us went to work for the richer (land owning) ones. Let’s say that I was born in a very poor family and went to work for a landowner named Poh. Back then, it wouldn’t be a 9 – 5 job but some backbreaking Biblical toil and labor stuff.

chinese name 1

Now, there are probably a lot of Bins out there so I’ll be called Poh’s Bin – to avoid being confused with, say, Tiong’s Bin. Thus, my name will literally be “Poh Ah Bin” e.g. The Bin from The House of Tiong.

Once, I’ve made it big and have my own property, I will have my own plot of land and have slaves working under me e.g. Fong, Tang, Ching, Hong. Tang will be called Bin Ah TangTang from The House of Bin“.

chinese name 2

Over the years, we evolved with the times and started getting customized names. However, the Chinese never dropped the surname (family name) so the ones that are in current circulation were the rich and land owning folks from the feudal times.

I don’t know how historically accurate the anecdote is, but it’s quite interesting nevertheless. Anyway back to my name, the Poh doesn’t actually mean anything – it’s the family name/last name so my name would be Huai Bin.

phb chinese

Huai means Caring
Bin is made up of two words – Wen (Scholar) and Wu (Warrior)

so my name is The Caring Scholar-Warrior from The House of Poh.

…but please, just call me Huai Bin. 😉

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46 thoughts on “The evolution of Chinese names”

  1. 傅懷斌 Actually your Chinese middle name has many strokes too. This is the traditional chinese characters of your name. My brother has the same middle name like yours and I doubt he can write that character too. He too can only write his name in the simple chinese characters.
    Btw.. I never know that story of chinese names. Thanks for sharing.

  2. i still duno wad my names mean.. obviously not really a keen observer… ha ha
    last time, when i was in metho, i always think that your dad’s name is Paul… they keep telling Mr Paul Mr Paul, and the first two years there… i think his name is Paul… ha ha

  3. wow! your chinese name, that’s a good one explanation on poh. I haven’t met many poh yet. I think you are the third poh i know. anyway, so you are a heng hua lang? hehe :p my surname ONG (King) so I am should be the King’s daughter 😉

  4. or u might be descended from noblility or royalty, and has a surname without inheriting it from your feudal lord.
    or an emperor might have given you (your ancestor) a surname because of a deed he has done
    or, that your ancestor took the name of the land that he live in. ancient lands have different names from what we know now.
    or, the ancestors took the surname/ name of a mythical character/ god to honor him/her for some supernatural/ freakish incident that happened to them.

  5. 傅(Fù)姓源出有五:
    1、出于殷商名相傅说(Yuè 音悦)的后裔,以地名为氏。据《史记·殷本纪》和《通志·氏族略》所载,商高宗武丁在位时,国势衰微,于傅岩(今山西省平陆东南)找到说,说帮助武丁兴国,修政行德,使天下大治,说的后裔以其居地为姓,形成傅氏。

  6. My surname is the same as China (current) President. 😉 But we aren’t related, obviously.
    My Chinese name is 晶晶 (J’ng J’ng) meanning twinkling (stars). Yet, my family call me 慧慧 (Huey Huey) meanning ‘wisdom; wise’. It was my late grandpa idea to avoid confusion between me and my grandma’s name. Nana’s name sound very similar to my name in Teow Chew.
    Speaking of the stars and wise.. I am neither of which. >.

  7. I a American born Chinese so I do not know much of Chinese reading and writing but am learning on my own self taught with books and softwares.
    My Chinese name mean Gift From Heaven given to me by my late grandfather. It wonderful you know how to write Chinese. It hard finding a nice Chinese guy which my mother been saying to me. Man, I am New Age Woman at 25.
    PS. You’re Cute.

  8. well I feel strongly about us Chinese knowing how to write our own names – at least, coz though i’m very much Chinese-ed since kindy through high school, i’ve always been influenced by English language since young…
    Your name is actually very ‘auspicious’ you know 🙂 if my Chinese name is literally translated, it’s equivalent to ‘Jade Phoenix’ – so it’s a good name as well (if i may say so myself) ha!

  9. personally to me, it’s important as a Chinese to know how to write our own names, at least.. coz eventhough I’m pure Chinese-ed since kindy through high school, i’m very much influenced by English language and sad to see many so-called ‘bananas’ seem to be proud of not knowing how to write their own chinese names
    btw – your chinese name’s pretty ‘auspiscious’ u know 🙂 seriously… mine’s not too bad either (if i may say so myself), if literally translated, it’s ‘Jade Phoenix’ 🙂

  10. Being ABC does not mean they like to be called “banana” It not easy to have Chinese schools in some States to have this so call Chinese education.
    They still have their pride in them being Chinese and culture too. Mmm Amy being New Age you must be one those who have master degree. I know a lot of New Age ABC womem who have top careers.
    I am medical researcher at Stanford U and New Age women rock.

  11. Are you saying Michelle Yeoh and Maggie Cheung are bananas? Just because they can’t read or write Chinese does not mean they are not Chinese. Many countries and in States have no Chinese schools for children to study their own language. Yet they did became very successful in life still.

  12. LOL, I cannot write my name in Chinese either – apparently my chinese name is a translation of my English name? Or maybe its the Chinese Phonetic version of my English name? LOL You should see my write chinese…OMG, more interesting watching paint dry!

  13. Haven’t heard that explanation before. But I heard of the part where people of the same surnames being not necessarily blood relatives. What I heard was that an entire village of people would have the same surname. And villages would attack each other and the entire people of the losing village would have to change their surnames to the surname of the winning villagers. Congrats on the new gf! 🙂

  14. Haha my name is Tuo Mu (Tom i guess) in chinese i donno the characters. thats about the only thing i rem despite learning chinese for 7 years of my life!

  15. Well, many Chineses really get insulted being called “banana” but they learned many things in life far better. I like Leehom Wang who is an ABC and he also can’t read or write Chinese but is famous and of course very rich now. I readed blog, Jason yes I have a master degree and own a house too. Into researching infants development in educations. Many infants under the studies programs able to speak at 3 months and read well before 2 years old. Working at UCMed and you at Stanford U how interesting.

  16. i think Wang LeeHom can read and write chinese….otherwise how did he come up with those songs and lyrics??
    by the way, 傅 means ‘to teach’
    oh circuit boy, judging from the comments here…i think most of this blog readers would have trouble understanding what you posted.

  17. Well i personally think that ur chinese name has nothing to do with ‘tang’;’fong’;’ching’…so better dont link ur name with those…it seems very uncomfortable to read at…

  18. oopss..
    i am a chinese by name ~ mother a bumi~ oso but i can’t speak or read chinese..
    a bit weird actually..
    but its ok wif me..

  19. Been to his concert. Leehom Wang and saw him on Taiwan tv show. He got someone to coach him in Chinese for shows and acting. He write in English and someone tranlate into Chinese for him and teach him to sing in Chinese. It been done by many other artists also.
    Someone give Leehom something to sing but it was in Chinese so he sang an English song instead. He said he can’t read or write Chinese it no big deal fans still love him.

  20. I known Alex(Leehom)Wang from college in east coast and he told me unable to read or write Chinese. But like Nick wrote fans still love him because he was honest and very talented person. Fans like and respect it very much.

  21. FONG2: I blur.
    JunJun-Riko: Hello there! 🙂
    You don’t actually need to sign up, you can comment anonymously. The only required fields is the name and email.
    BTW, that’s not my writing, I can’t write Chinese. Melody wrote it. 🙂
    Choonie: Interesting. I didn’t know that. I don’t even know how to write Simplified Chinese, much less Traditional Chinese.
    I didn’t know it too, it was related to me by a friend of mine. 🙂
    MI!: Yeah, and a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, since you try to be what your name is. I need to work on the caring part. 😉
    clementwpy: You should ask you parents, they would know. 🙂
    Yeah, that’s what everyone in NZ thought when we went there for our first landing for PR back when I was 13. Everyone thought it was Paul. Heh!
    goolooloo: I intro when you come back. 🙂
    Jeff: Yeah, Chinese names are meant to have a meaning, usually what the parents hope the child will be.
    janel: Yeah, I’m Heng Hua. Most Poh are Heng Huas. 🙂
    Hmm…very auspicious surname you got there. Ong Ka Ting’s relative? 😉
    annant: I’m not very sure, it was related to me by a friend of mine. I just thought it was very interesting.
    circuit boy: Hmm…interesting stuff indeed. I don’t know that much about Chinese history, though I am interested in it.
    Thanks for sharing, buddy! Cheers! 🙂
    Bengbeng: Wah, now I got title. 😉
    circuit boy: I don’t quite understand Chinese though, and Babelfish doesn’t translate it right.
    cynthia: Yeah, you told me your Chinese name. I thought it meant gold. 😉
    I like Huey Huey better, it is more important to be intelligent than to shine. 😉
    Eh, I think you’re intelligent, my pharmacist. 😉
    Amy: Hello there! It’s great that you’re learning the language. I can’t be bothered myself, not having enough time as it is with work, the blog and social life.
    That’s a nice Chinese name…Gift from Heaven.
    Thanks Amy! It’s too bad you’re in the states. 😉
    Cheryl Wee: Yeah, I’ll love to be able to be truly multi-lingual too but it’s really hard to learn languages once you’re past a certain age. It’s been scientifically accepted.
    Jade Phoenix! I love the phoenix, the way it looks and the symbolism behind it. 🙂
    Nice name, Cheryl. Cheers!
    Jason: I agree, I’m proud to be a Chinese even though I can’t read or write Chinese. It’s my identity and I think most people are proud of their heritage despite not being able to write or read the language. It’s just that English is the de facto language now, so it’s what we’re brought up with.
    Shelley: Yeah, a lot of people are proud to be Chinese but just never did learn Chinese. I didn’t go to a Chinese school so I didn’t learn the language although I can speak Chinese relatively well.
    vincent: Haha! Living up to your name eh? 😉
    butterscotch: Thanks! 🙂
    I didn’t think anyone picked that up. Heh!
    Skwermy: Yeah, I’ve seen that happen nowadays too – English names chosen first and Chinese names being translated either literally or semantically from that.
    I can write a little Chinese – characters like one, two, three (but not four). 😉
    Darren: Yeah, ask your parents. They should be able to tell you. 🙂
    Pixeldoll: Yeah, I know a few other Pohs with the same Chinese character (Fu) but we’re not related e.g. we’re not even from the same ethnic group. Interesting anecdote about the changing of surnames. I think it could be true due to the Chinese derogatory expression of “gai xin” (change surname).
    Thanks! 🙂
    Tom: Tuo Mu is some kind of bird, I think. I don’t know if it’s the same characters though. OMG! You did 7 years of Chinese and you don’t know the characters? 😉
    Well, it’s understandable, I took BM and I forgot most of it coz I never use the language.
    k: Haha! High time, very funny. 😉
    Well, prevailing circumstances, my friend. I’m getting enough shit from conservative, narrow minded fucks over here to even think about veritas now. 🙂
    Safe in their own gated communities, they fear to venture out into the wild frontiers and preach to the choir, insulating themselves from, ah too lazy to rant. Pffttt…
    The Bull: Eh, he’s out on bail already? Hmm…the 16th would be interesting for Malaysian politics. 🙂
    Amy: OMG! You have a Master’s degree. I love you already! 🙂
    Intelligance and education rates very highly in my upbringing. Hmm…I spoke early too, according to my mom and started reading at about 4-5 years old. I was reading Stephen King novels by 7 years old. Does it have a corellation to intelligence and IQ?
    BTW, if they start reading before 3 years old, don’t they forget everything? IIRC, memories don’t properly form until 3 years of age.
    suanie: Heh! That’s a very nice name. A bit of an oxymoron. Frosty gratitude. I like. 🙂
    ront: Hmm…I’m not sure about him but a lot of Chinese singers have other people writing lyrics and music for them. They’re just singers, not artists.
    bearie: Nope, it has nothing to do with it. It’s called an example. 😉
    Those are very common Chinese names like John, Tom, Dick, Harry.
    Why would you be uncomfortable with common Chinese names?
    benjy8769: It’s fine. Multi-racial harmony and all that. It’s Malaysia, my friend. 🙂
    circuit boy: Thanks, I shall do some research on my family name and see what it descended from. 🙂
    eugene: Hello there, brother! 🙂
    Nick: Oh, he writes his own lyrics? Very rare for Chinese pop singers. I guess he’s the exception. Interesting information, cheers for that. 🙂
    Steve: Yeah, to write his own lyrics is very rare for HK/Taiwan singers. I can appreciate talent.

  22. Infants who learn to speak at 3 months old and readed before they become 2 years old develop a better habbit of learning anythings fast and early. We have children who could speak 2 to 3 languages before 5 years old. Also by having infants learning with older children they learn ahead with them in many subjects. I researching on down infants to develop them to grow up normal in learning seeing infants brains is growing fast so down infants also could learn and develop as normanl as possible and not classified as handicap person.
    By starting all infants young you be amaze how fast they learn thing.

  23. Amy: Yeah, I’ve always been interested in how fast infants can pick up new things. I wish someone could isolate some enzyme or something involved with the development of the brain and then mass produce it so adults can have the same sharp learning curve too. I’m a big fan of intelligence and have always been looking for ideas to boost productivity or retention of memories despite practising just the opposite (drinking etc).

  24. My surname Lay is a short form of Mclay, a family from Scotland, quite wealthy. They had some internal disagreement and one sect of the group moved out of the family and dropped the Mc away.
    LOL!!! That’s what I found out about my surname. But FML! I still don’t know how to write my Chinese name but I know it’s a guy’s name. That explains why I feel like a man sometimes.

  25. Jerine: Haha! You’re also related to the founder of Lays potato chips too right?
    Your Chinese name means It’s Orange! 🙂
    Ruby: Heh! Yeah I was told this by my ex gf. Don’t know if it’s historially accurate. 🙂
    Cheers! My dad chose it.

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