Chinese given names (Chinese: 名字; pinyin: míngzì) are made up of one or two characters. Unlike Western personal names, there is great variety in assigning Chinese given names. Chinese names can consist of any character and contain almost any meaning. Unlike the Western convention, it is extremely frowned upon to name a person after someone else, and cases where people have the same name are almost universally the result of coincidence rather than intention. The common Western practice of naming the children after their parents, ancestors, or historical figures is an impossibility in Chinese culture.
In some families, the first of the two characters in the personal name is shared by all members of a generation and these generation names are worked out long in advance. In some families there is a small number of generational names through which are cycled. Together, these generation names may be a poem about the hope or history of the family. There are also other conventions. It is frequently the case that girls will be given names which reflect "feminine" characteristics or be named after plants or flowers.
Chinese females sometimes have doubled names (e.g. Xiu-xiu, Xiao-xiao). This practice also extends to males (e.g. Yoyo Ma). Siblings' names are frequently related. For example, one child may be named "sun" while his sister may be named "moon."
Chinese personal names also reflect periods of history. Chinese names often do not just represent the environment or the time. For example, many Chinese born during the Cultural Revolution have revolutionary names such as "strong country" or "eastern wind". In Taiwan, it had been common to incorporate one of the four characters of the name "Republic of China" into boys' names. When writing names in Latin Alphabets, often Singaporean Chinese names are vocalised in Teochew, Hokkien, Hainanese or Cantonese sounds. This is obvious especially in the surname, for example, "Cai" (蔡) is pronouced as "Chua" in Teochew, but "Choi" in Cantonese. From the 1950s until the early 1980s, many Chinese names also included the popular "Fu" (福), which means prosperity, and were often written and pronouced as "Hock" in Hokkien. For some traditional families, generation names are still used.
Within families, adults rarely refer to each other by personal names. Adult relatives and children referring to adults generally use a family title such as big sister, second sister, third sister and so on. As is the case in the West, it is considered rude for a child to refer to parents by their given name, but unlike the West this taboo is extended to all adult relatives.
When speaking of non-family social acquaintances people are generally referred to by a title (for example Mother Li or the Wife of Chu). Personal names are used when referring to adult friends or to children.
Occasionally a person will be referred to as "lao" (old) followed by the last name or "xiao" (young) followed by the last name.
Most Chinese also have a "little name" which their parents refer to them as. These names are generally not used by anyone other than the parents.
Nicknames are usually alteration of the given name, sometimes they are based on the persons' physical attributes, speaking style or even their first word. In Hokkien- and Cantonese-speaking areas, a nickname will often consist of the diminutive Ah, followed by part of the given name (usually the last character). The nicknames are rarely used in formal or semi-formal settings. One exception to this is Chen Shui-bian who is commonly known as A-bian even in more formal settings such as newspaper articles.
In former times, it was common for males to acquire a zi, or style name, upon reaching maturity, and for prominent people to have posthumous names, and rulers temple names. This is rarely the case now, although Chinese writers will frequently take a pen name.
Many Chinese will have a Western name in addition to the Chinese name. For example, the Taiwanese politician Soong Chu-yu is also known as James Soong. Among Chinese Americans, it is common practice to be referred to primarily by the Western name and to using the Chinese name as a middle name.