Chinese names are quite different from the westerners', so knowledge about Chinese names and how to address a Chinese people may help you a lot during your tour in China.
A name means a lot to every Chinese person. A Chinese name is composed of a family name followed by a given name, such as Zhang San (zhāng sān), of which the family name is Zhang and the given name is San. In ancient China, it is impolite to call a person's name directly, but used to name the Zi or Hao of the person. A Zi is an alias relating to the name of a person, and is usually given by an elder family member. A Hao is also an alias. Given by the person him/herself, a Hao often has nothing to do with the name but expresses his/her emotion, interests, or aspiration.
Family Names in China
According to statistics, there are over 4,100 family names commonly used in China, and most of them contain one Chinese character, such as Zhao (zhào), Qian (qián), Sun (sūn), and Li (lǐ). Some family names comprise two characters, such as Ouyang (ōu yáng), Shangguan (shàng guān), Sima (sī mǎ), Dongfang (dōng fāng), Huyan (hū yán), and Murong (mùróng). Some family names originated from the totems of ancient tribes, such as Xiong (xióng, a bear), Long (lóng, a dragon), and Hu (hǔ, a tiger); some came from the name of the states or countries, such as Qi (qí, a state of the Eastern Han Dynasty), Chu (chǔ, a state of the Eastern Han Dynasty), Zhao (zhào, a state of the Eastern Han Dynasty), and Qin (qín, a state of the Eastern Han Dynasty); some were named after the living places, such as Ximen (xīmén, the western gate), Guo (guō, outer city wall), and Qiu (qiū, hills).
Taboos in Giving a Name
According to Chinese tradition, there are some taboos when given a new name. First, you can not name after the emperor or empress. Second, the name can not be the same as your boss's name. Third, you should avoid the name of saints, such as Confucius, Mencius, or Laozi. Fourth, the name of a child can not contain the same character nor have the same pronunciation as the names of the elder generations.
Nicknames in China
In China, people do not call the other's full name among friends or relatives. Intimate friends usually call each other's nicknames. For relatives, the elder generations call the names or nicknames of the younger generations while the younger generations address the elder generations' ranks in the whole family, such as uncle, sister, and cousin. The nicknames in China fall into the following four categories:
A. Xiao (xiǎo, meaning little or junior) or Lao (lǎo, meaning old or senior) plus the family name, such as Xiao Li (xiǎo lǐ) or Lao Zhang (lǎo zhāng);
B. The last two characters of the full name (if the name contains three characters), for instance, Siyuan (sīyuǎn) is the nickname of Zhang Siyuan (zhāng sī yuǎn);
C. Double read the last character of a name, for example, Yuan Yuan (yuǎn yuan) could also be the nickname of Zhang Siyuan;
D. A (ā, a prefix which has no meaning) plus one of the character in the name, e.g. Zhang Siyuan can also be nicknamed A Yuan (ā yuǎn).
How to Address a Stranger
When addressing a stranger you do not know the name of, you should always show your respect. Ye Ye (yé ye, meaning grandpa), Da Ye (dà ye,meaning grandpa), Nai Nai (nǎi nai, meaning grandma), and Da Ma (dà mā, meaning grandma) are for the seniors; Shu Shu (shū shu, meaning uncle) and A Yi (ā yí, meaning aunt) are for the middle-aged strangers; and Da Ge (dà gē, meaning elder brother) and Da Jie (dà jiě, meaning elder sister) are for the persons who are older than you; to address the strangers the same age as you, Mei Nü (měi nǚ, meaning a beautiful girl) and Shuai Ge (shuài gē, meaning a handsome guy) are commonly used nowadays. Xiao Jie (xiǎo jiě, meaning Miss.), Nü Shi (nǚ shì, meaning madam or lady), Fu Ren (fū ren, meaning Mrs.) and Xian Sheng (xiān sheng, meaning Mr. or Sir.) are often used on formal occasions.