Lesson Two: What’s Your Name?

Taking up where we left off, this lesson shows you how to introduce yourself as well as explaining some important things to bear in mind when speaking to those you respect. Some of the more common Chinese family names are introduced, which will help increase your vocabulary as well as add to the number of characters you should be able to write.

Conversation: 你叫什么名字?


xué sheng: nín guì xìng?

Student: What is your surname?

老师: 我姓刘。你叫什么名字?

lǎo shī: wǒ xìng liú. nǐ jiào shén me míng zi?

Teacher: My name is Liu. What’s your name?


xué sheng: wǒ jiào wáng hóng. tā jiào lĭ dōng. tā shì wŏ de péng you

Student: My name is Wang Hong. He is called Li Dong. He is my friend.

New Words
贵姓guì xìngpolite word your; surname nín guì xìng? = your surname please
什么shén mepron. what? what kind of?
pron. he, him
名字míng zin. name, given name, first name
朋友péng youn. friend
老师lǎo shīn. teacher
学生xué shengn. student
jiàovb. call, name
shìvb. (the verb to be) am, is, are; certainly, indeed
n. Chinese surname
王红wáng hóngn. person's name, wáng = Chinese surname, hóng = red
李东lĭ dōngn. person's name, = Chinese surname, dōng = east
dept. (grammatical word)

Correct Usage

In Chinese the family name always precedes the given name. Surnames consist of one character, and first names one or two characters. China’s late Chairman Mao Tse-tung’s full name is 毛泽东 (máo zé dōng). máo is the surname and 泽东 zé dōng is the given name.

In total, there are only around one hundred surnames in use. The most common family names are:

  • wáng
  • zhāng
  • liú
  • chén
  • yáng
  • huáng
  • zhào
  • zhōu

Conversely, there are an infinite number of given names. Given names can reflect a wish made by the parents or the circumstances and place of birth. As a result given names have meanings.

Sometimes male and female given names cannot be distinguished, though the meaning of the characters will give an indication. Female given names often include a character such as flower, beauty or perfume.

A friendly and familiar way to address someone is to use their family name preceded by xiǎo (little) or lǎo (old). For example, 小王 (Little Wang). First names are rarely used.

For even more on Chinese family names, see Free Chinese Lessons list of Chinese Family names, which shows some of the more commonly used Chinese family names. The names are shown in Chinese, Pinyin and English. Examples of some famous people are also given.

Grammar Points

The verb (to be)

Unlike the English verb “be”, in Chinese does not change form when used after a personal pronoun. For example, “我是 …” wǒ shì …, 你是…” nǐ shì … or “他是…” tā shì …

Grammatical word

The particle de is the most common character in Chinese. It is used with a noun or pronoun to indicate posession. For example, 他是我的朋友 tā shì wŏ de péng you “He is my friend.”

Polite word 贵姓

贵姓 guì xìng is a polite way of asking someone’s surname. This polite form is used for elders and respected people such as teachers. The general usage is 您贵姓? nín guì xìng?


Make at least five new sentences of your own using the following words.

  • 贵姓
  • 名字
  • 朋友
  • 老师
  • 学生

Writing Exercises

As you learn to write more characters, you will see that many characters make up parts of other words.

Chinese Character Wang

wáng is a Chinese surname. It also means king.

Chinese Character Guo

guó is the Chinese word for country.

This is the end of the second lesson. Spend as much time as you need practicing the chracters and their proper pronunciation before moving on to the next lesson.