A typical Chinese name has two or three characters. It usually indicates that the person is of Chinese [Han] origin. The first character is the surname or family name “xing” , the remaining one or two characters is the given name [ming] . Let us take the following name as an example:
Chin Hon Fah
“Chin” would be the surname, “Hon Fah” the given name. Placing the surname before the given name is consistent with the hierarchy of relationships. It is an acknowledgement that the 'ancestor heritage’.
Mistaking the surname as a given name, or vice- versa is often a source of confusion and embarrassment. He should be addressed as Mr. Chin, not Mr. Fah.
To avoid confusion, some people have 2 sets of name cards, one with Surname in front, used in the Asian region, and the other with surname as last name, used in Western countries.
With few exceptions, the second and third characters are normally the given name.
If one chooses to address a Chinese by his given name (usually the Chinese given name consists of two characters), it is important to realise that both words consisting of the given name be used when addressing the person.
It is improper to truncate one of the two words, as we do not know which of the word is common to his / her siblings, and which actually belongs to him.
In the example above Mr. Chin Hon Fah should be addressed as Hon Fah, rather than “Hon”, or “Fah”. It would be better to check with the person himself when in doubt.
The concept of a middle name, as it is known in the Western world, does not exist in the Chinese naming system.
The name can be written in various ways, such as
Chin Hon Fah
Mr. Chin living in the Western society such as a Western society such as Australia, Canada, United Kingdom or United States would probably place his surname last. His name would then become
Hon Fah Chin, or H. F. Chin
To make life easier for their friends, some ethnic Chinese use a Christian name. (In some cases they might not be Christians by faith, even though their Christian names would suggest that they are).
Should Mr. Chin adopt a Christian name, say Peter, then his name becomes
Peter Chin Hon Fah, or
Peter Chin, or
Peter H. F. Chin
This is the common scenario in Western countries, whereby friends know him as Peter; only his parents, family members and close friends are aware of his Chinese name. In certain cases, even Peter himself might not know his Chinese name, he may have great difficulties in writing his own name! He might not even be able to recognise his written name when shown!
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