I'm confused about if I should put my surname after my given name or not when I tell a western people what my name is. I would like to use the Pinyin version of my original name instead of choosing a Christian name as my English name when I communicate with western people. Should I reverse the order? Or is it okay to write my Pinyin name just as it is? If I do, will western people get it wrong and think that my last name is the surname when it's actually my given name.

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    When you have a "non-Western" name which does not follow the basic scheme for Western names, it's up to you how to rearrange it, if in fact you do that at all.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 2:48
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    I disagree... If you want to make it clear which name is your given name and which is your family name, you should follow the conventions of the language you are using. When I took Japanese, we switched our names to be Family Given... you should do the same. Regardless, I'm not sure this is really an "English Language" question. Also, I wouldn't call it a "Christian name"... you should call it a "Western Name". Not all western names are "Christian".
    – Catija
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 3:04
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    That's simply ridiculous... There's no reason to continue to use an archaic term because there's a history of it. I don't know anyone who uses that terminology any more and, as a non-Christian, I feel that describing my name as such is incredibly rude.
    – Catija
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 4:40
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    I am not a Christian. My name is not a "christian" name. Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 8:53
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    As a side note, I email with people from many countries for work, and it is helpful when they use UPPERCASE for their surnames in signature blocks, regardless of the placement.
    – Davo
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 12:14

4 Answers 4


My suggestion is that Mr. Wang introduce himself as he wants to, which I gather is Wang Xing. But, unless he is OK with sometimes being called Wang (e.g., Hi, Wang!), or when the speaker wants to be formal, Mr. Xing, he explain that Wang is his family name and Xing is his given name. In informal settings, he could say just, "My name is Wang Xing, but call me Xing"

Many Westerners know that the family name first is the traditional order for Chinese names, but many do not. Some Chinese give their name in the Chinese order, and some give their name in the Western order. Furthermore, some Chinese are too polite to correct a Westerner who has gotten their name wrong. In my tennis clinic the instructor called a Chinese lady (women are always ladies in tennis) by her last name and the rest of us by our first names. She had introduced herself to me by her first name several weeks earlier, so I asked her how she wanted to be called, and then corrected the instructor. As it happened, she had put her name on the list in the Western fashion, the instructor knew the Chinese convention, and politely re-reversed what she had politely reversed.

  • Actually I'm okay with my friends may call me Wang sometimes, I really understand that, once on my English class our teacher introduced herself and said that her name is Lisa, one of my classmates just said that Ms. Lisa you are so pretty we love you so much!. I believe my classmate knows that it is one's family name should be put after a Mr. or Ms. which is the same as what it should be in Chinese culture, he just said that without any thinking because when we are given a western name like James or Allen, we can't know whether it is a given name or a surname.
    – wangx1ng
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 2:38
  • So I think we all are and should be okay with some harmless mistakes made by people who don't mean to act like that.
    – wangx1ng
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 2:42
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    @Xing You have a good attitude! But people who make a mistake with someone's name, like my tennis instructor, are embarrassed by their mistake. So it is also good to try to make things clear. As for Ms. Lisa, combining a term of respect with a first name is often done by student to teacher or younger person to older person. The older person doesn't want to be called Ms. Smith by young people she knows well and likes, and the younger person feels uncomfortable calling her Lisa, so the compromise is Ms Lisa. It is a very sensible compromise.
    – ab2
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 3:23
  • One of my friends even gives me a nickname with an ie suffix after my family name and always calls me Wangie while she does know that I'm Mr. Wang for formal occasion. Why should I be unhappy if somebody is just trying to be friendly with me? ;) Of course I can tell her that how I want to be called or not, but she doesn't mean to make me uncomfortable which she really didn't. And I accepted the way she calls me as I regard it as some special names for close friends.
    – wangx1ng
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 4:52

I asked my wife who is Taiwanese (and also has a western name) what she would do. She said that if you want to introduce yourself to a westerner as Wangxing then you should do that. It is not a difficult name to hear and remember so you should have luck with that. For official documents, of course you would put Wang as your family name.

Also, do your friends and family call you Xing? I suspect not...my wife's mom and dad don't even call her by her given name (Chiahui.)

When introducing yourself to a Westerner you can choose how to be called. No one will say "Wait, are you giving me last name first or first name first?" They will accept what you tell them.

"Hi, my name is Xing." "Oh, nice to meet you Xing," or "Hello, my name is Wangxing." "Oh, nice to meet you Wangxing."

My wife says that she would never identify herself using her Chinese name and reverse the order when talking to a Westerner to make it fit their standard. I agree with her.

  • What is a "westerner"? Why does Putin keep rejecting "western" civilization? Does he not consider himself a "westerner"? Why did little Italian towns after the world war, keep reminding themselves not to succumb to "western" practices? Is a village in Italy not "western" ? Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 13:11
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    I don't know, dude, I'm just answering a question about a Chinese person and how they should introduce themselves. Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 13:15
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    I'm not a dude. Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 13:17
  • Sorry for using that expression. Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 13:27
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    There are some Chinese people who do identify themselves (and have made names for themselves) using their Chinese names in reverse order, like Ang Lee (李安 Lǐ Ān in Hokkien), Jet Li (李连杰 Lǐ Liánjié in Cantonese—though he did drop the first syllable of his given name), or an ex of mine; but the overwhelming tendency is for someone to either use their Chinese name in full, or to adopt a ‘foreign’ (be it English, Spanish, Russian, or whatever) given name and use that in the order preferred where they are. Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 18:17

When editing, my sympathy lies with the person rather than with received convention. You are Wang Xing and presumably have felt Wang Xing since childhood. Those who know you will realise, or may be told, that your family name is Wang and that your personal name is Xing. If the distinction is important, as in matters such as job applications, you should make it clear by explaining. Those who are ignorant of your conventions will try blockheadedly to fit your name to their own conventions by assuming the opposite; they are beyond your help so I would leave your name as Wang Xing.

  • Very good point. Since I was a child everybody calls me 王兴 , which is pronounced like Wang Shing in English. I may feel weird if some people call me like Shing Wang which doesn't remind me of my own identity. I also agree with what @phoog said, western people probably know that Wang is a very common surname among Chinese people if they have a basic knowledge about Chinese culture. Think I will arrange my name in the family-given order. Thanks for answering.
    – wangx1ng
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 7:27
  • My Malaysian-born Chinese wife, when she uses her Chinese name writes it family-name first. Many Overseas Chinese maintain two names - one being a western-sounding name. In my wife's case she was brought up as a Roman Catholic and had to be given a saint's name at baptism - so that is the name by which she is almost always known. Both names appear in her passport, her western name written given-name first, and Chinese name family-name first.
    – WS2
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 9:57
  • @Xing Just in case you didn’t know already (though your user name here suggests you probably do): most people in Western countries will probably, if they hear your name is Wang Xing, correctly assume that Wang is your family name and Xing your given name—but they will also assume that your given name along (Xing) is how they should address you in informal situations. Given that this is not so in Chinese, where simply addressing you as 兴 would be quite uncommon (and possibly rude), you may have to adjust to being called various mispronounced variations of Xing. Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 18:23
  • @JanusBahsJacquet It is a situation I should concern about. But, if I reorder my pinyin name, they may still have various way to pronounce Xing which is supposed to be pronounced as Shing, reversing my name doesn't change that. I think I'll be okay to do some explaining when my friends pronounce my given name wrong, and I think they will be okay with my correcting since we are friends.
    – wangx1ng
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 2:03

I want to use the Star Trek phrase - Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.

In traditional/medieval European, South Indian, Islamic and Jewish culture, there are actually no surnames. People simply went by son-of or daughter-of (in their respective languages).

But the pressures of economic hegemony from the western hemisphere had most of such people adopt the custom of having surnames, and having the surname as the last-name.

For example, Binladen was actually bin la-din (son of the-law).

I am not sure how it goes, but Scandinavian names such as Petersen, Svensen or Slavic names such as Petrowski, Trojenowski (descendents of Trojan exiles to Poland), were originally meant to be "son-of". Whereas, Petrowska, Trojenowska, "daughter-of".

Even biblical-era Christian naming had followed Jewish and Arabic customs of using "son-of" or "daughter-of". Again, I am not sure exactly how the history went, but the dominance of Roman and Hellenized culture soon had them adopt a last-name surname convention.

There is nothing "western" or "eastern" about last-name surname convention. Just as there is nothing "western" about clocks, guns or cannons, when Manchu officials of the Chinese government first re-encountered those devices, even though their predecessors had invented them hundreds of years ago.

There certainly was pressure from Chinese culture, indirectly mediated thro the peoples living between Europe and China, due to dominance of medieval Chinese economy on Arabs and Europeans to adopt the custom of surnames.

It is a cycle. You reap a measure of what you sow. Your culture participated in pressuring other cultures to adopt having surnames. You have to accept that every effect has a measure of rebound reaction. Those cultures having had to adopt having surnames because of pressures, but as a last-name, now collaborate to pressure the rest of the world to have surname as the last-name.

It is now your decision, whether to participate in this cycle, which your predecessors had participated in. If you do, be proud of what your predecessors had participated in starting.

  • The Slavic suffixes do not denote ‘son’ or ‘daughter’: they're simply adjectivising suffixes added to a name, more or less comparable to -ish or -y in English. Kind of like how the Roman family name Ivlivs (Julius) begat the adjective Ivlianvs (Julianus), and (male) members of the family or anything named after them might be described as Julian in English (like the Julian calendar). Also, the son of pattern was just one common one—another was naming people after their occupation (Smith, Carpenter, Baker, etc.), which is not unlike some Chinese names (王 Wáng = ‘king’, etc.). Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 12:34
  • Seems a bit too opinionated to me. "You have to accept..." etc. Xing doesn't have to accept anything. As commenters and ab2's answer have indicated, many English language speakers are aware of the Chinese name order conventions and perfectly willing to accommodate them. They may even expect them to be followed for a fully Chinese name. Assimilating to given-name surname order is another option, but it seems to me that most Chinese who do this will also take an English (or "Christian") name for their given name.
    – herisson
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 17:25
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    Yeah, that's most Chinese people who take a western name as given name do. Since I don't want to change the way I am called on earth;), so choosing a western name may not be an option to me.
    – wangx1ng
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 1:33

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