Taiwanese Culture

Naming

Names in Taiwan generally follow Chinese naming conventions. However, there may be some variation with the of names (see below).

 

Chinese Naming Conventions

  • Chinese naming conventions arrange names as follows: [FAMILY NAME] [given name]. For example, CHEN Wei-Ting (male) and HUANG Hui-Wen (female).
  • The family name (or ‘surname’) is inherited from one’s parents and shared with other members of the individual’s . It always comes before the given name and is usually a single syllable/Chinese character.
  • The given name (or ‘personal name’) is chosen at birth as the individual’s personal identifier. It may contain one or two syllables/Chinese characters. 
  • Given names with two syllables/Chinese characters may be written together, hyphenated or divided into two. For example, 威廷 could be written Wei Ting, Wei-Ting, Weiting. However, the hyphenated version is most common in Taiwan.
  • There are no spaces between a person’s family name and given name when written in Chinese characters, e.g. 黄惠雯 (HUANG Hui-Wen).
  • Many Chinese characters can be used as both family names and given/personal names. Therefore, it is common practice to write family names in capitals to avoid confusion.
  • Chinese names are traditionally patrilineal, whereby children are given their father’s family name at birth. 
  • Women do not change their legal names at marriage. However, some may choose to place their husband’s family name before their full name. For example, if HUANG Hui-Wen married CHEN Wei-Ting, she may be known as CHEN HUANG Hui-Wen.

 

Romanisation

  • Be aware that Chinese names written in the Roman alphabet have all been transcribed from original Chinese characters. There are many different ways to represent these characters in English, which can result in the same Chinese name being written with many different spelling variations. For example, LIU may also be spelt LIOU, LAU and LIEW.
  • The transcription system widely used in Taiwan is called the Wades-Giles system. This results in spelling variations from mainland China. For example, ZHANG is transcribed as CHANG in Taiwan, ZHU is CHU and so on.

 

Westernising Chinese Names

  • Many Taiwanese people use a ‘westernised’ version of their original Chinese name to adapt to international and English-speaking contexts. This may involve changing the arrangement of their given name and family name to suit English-Western naming conventions: [personal name] [FAMILY NAME]. For example, HUANG Hui-Wen may be known as Hui-Wen HUANG.
  • Many Taiwanese have an ‘English name’ that they use on a regular basis, as well as in international and English-speaking contexts. For example, HUANG Hui-Wen may be known as “Susan”.
  • This name may be chosen by a family member or school teacher while they are an adolescent, or by the individual themselves.
  • Some people’s English name may be based on a similarity in sound to their Chinese name, e.g. Míng-Xuan becomes ‘Michelle’.
  • It is common to put the English name as their first name, and use their Chinese given name as a middle name. For example, HUANG Hui-Wen may be known as Susan HUANG or Susan Hui-Wen HUANG.
  • Most people will revert to using their original Chinese name whenever writing in Chinese. The family name always comes first in the Chinese language.

 

Names

  • It is common belief that a good name brings luck, and an unfit name may bring bad luck. Therefore, Taiwanese parents generally prefer names that embody goodwill, prosperousness or seem auspicious.1
  • It is common for parents to see a fortune teller to find the luckiest name for a child.
  • Names may be chosen in accordance with a child’s birth date and time, as well as the number of strokes of the name in Chinese characters.
  • Parents also tend to chose names that have a positive connotation in their meaning and sound. Many given names are either poetic or are instilled with some significant meaning, e.g. Ming-Hui (tomorrow’s flower), Nian-Zu (thinking of ancestors)
  • They commonly symbolise an aspiration for the child, e.g. Fu (wealthy), Huan (happiness), Jian (healthy) Mei (beautiful).2
  • Parents generally avoid giving their children names that have a similar pronunciation to words with negative or unflattering connotations.
  • It is not customary or appropriate to name a child after their elder or family member.3
  • While many Chinese characters have a gender-specific meaning, it may be hard to assume a person’s gender from their name alone once translated into the Roman alphabet.
  • In some families, siblings may share the same character in their personal name – known as a generation name. For example, two siblings may be called CHEN Chang-Hu and CHEN Chang-Wei, in which case ‘Chang’ is the generation name.4
  • Some of the most common family names in Taiwan are CHEN (陳), LIN (林), HUANG (黄), CHANG (張) and LI or LEE (李).5

 

Addressing Others

  • Be aware many Taiwanese have several names that they may use interchangeably to identify themselves across different circumstances. For example, they may have a social name, married name, business name, school name or an English name (see above). A Taiwanese will usually tell you which name to refer to them as.
  • People generally address one another by their full name. It is uncommon to address someone by their given/personal name alone.
  • One’s given/personal name is seen as the most intimate way to refer to someone, reserved for family members, in-laws and couples. Therefore, it can be awkward or disrespectful to address a normal friend or acquaintance this way.
  • Many Taiwanese prefer to use their English name to introduce themselves and address one another on a casual basis, especially amongst the younger generation. This is often seen as the most convenient name to use in educational and commercial settings, as it is neither overly formal or too personal.6
  • Chinese names are generally preferred in communication with older people and with family.
  • People may use titles if wishing to convey respect, e.g. ‘Hsiensheng’ (Mr), ‘Shih’ (Mrs/Ms), ‘Hsiaochieh’ (Miss). This is common practice amongst strangers and in professional/formal settings.
  • The family name comes before the title in Chinese: [family name] [title]. For example, CHEN Hsiensheng (Mr. Chen).
  • It is common to use a person’s title based on their occupation, e.g. Jiaoshou (Professor), Laoshi (Teacher), Laoban (Boss).
  • People may address close friends and relatives by their social status or relationship to one another, e.g. ‘big sister’, ‘second brother’. Such terms often indicate closeness and endearment. For example, someone may refer to friends around the same age or younger than themselves as ‘Xiao’ (small), e.g. Xiao CHEN. A person from an older generation may be called ‘Lao’ (old) – e.g. Lao CHEN.
  • Close friends may address one another by a Chinese nickname. Nicknames are often homonyms or derived from a person’s appearance or behaviour.

 

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1 X, 2012
2 ANA, 2021
3 Wei, 2015
4 Chen, 2012
5 Forebears, 2021
6 Baresova & Pikhart, 2020

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