Chinese Baby Naming Customs



Through the education process most prospective adoptive parents will be made aware of the current thoughts on the naming of adopted children.  The choices available to adoptive parents are to retain the child’s birth name, modify the birth name, or simply replace the birth name.  There are valid arguments for and against each choice and we encourage you to investigate them before making a final decision.  SACAS firmly believe that the naming of an adopted child is a decision for each family to make for itself.

Chinese Customs

The naming of a child is something that the Chinese place great significance on.  Unlike children adopted from other countries, most children adopted from China were not named by their birth parents but by an Official of an Orphanage or Social Welfare Institute.  Nonetheless many still appear to have been named in accordance with the Chinese customs outlined below and many choose to interpret this as a sign that the Officials both cared for them and wished them well for the future.  These naming customs can help us understand the meaning of our child’s birth name and even assist us in choosing a new name.  Indeed they can be applied equally to Chinese or Western names. 

  • The Chinese consider the naming of a baby to be a great event.  In the past, people believed that the name of a baby had magical power on the destiny of the baby.

  • A typical Chinese name has three words.  These are 1) family name, 2) a name indicating the child’s generation and 3) a personal name.  However these days the “generational name” is sometimes not used for that purpose. 

  • In the case of adopted children the family name is often, but not always, one that is attributed to the orphanage or social welfare institute in which the child was placed.

  •  Boy's names should have meanings such as masculine, strong, noble, honest and refined.

  •  Girl's names should have meanings such as pretty, lovely and fragrant. 

  • All names should have a favourable meaning.

  •  A name must sound pleasant when spoken.

  •  The name must be harmonious with regard to yin and yang which basically means that the meanings and sounds should be balanced.

  •  A name must possess one of the five elements of metal, water, wood, fire and wood.  It must also have favourable mathematical calculations.  These are calculated by the number of brush strokes in each character. (Wood - 2 strokes; Fire - 3 & 4 strokes; Earth - 5 & 6 strokes; and Water – 9 & 10 strokes). The total number of strokes in a person’s name can then be used to determine their fortune. Fortune tellers are sometimes used to see if a child is lacking an important element and if so the missing element is incorporated in the child’s name.  The exception is if the missing element is fire or water. That is considered a good omen as it is believed that a child with too much fire or water needs to be watched throughout life to avoid being burnt or drowned.

Finding out More

So how do you find out what you child’s birth name means or what it looks like in Chinese?  Sometimes this valuable information is contained in the report that accompanies the allocation of a child.  Others have had to ask the Officials in China to explain the meaning of the name and to discover who chose the name for the child.  The web link below may also be useful as it contains many common English and Chinese names along with their Chinese Character and meaning.  Further baby name pages are included on the Links page of this web site.