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Courtesy name (Zi)
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese(表) 字
Hanyu Pinyin(biǎo) zì
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese alphabetbiểu tự
tên tự
tên chữ
Chữ Hán表字
Chữ Nôm𠸜字
Korean name
Revised Romanizationja
Japanese name
Revised Hepburnazana

A courtesy name (Chinese: ; pinyin: ; lit. 'character'), also known as a style name, is a name bestowed upon one at adulthood in addition to one's given name.[1] This practice is a tradition in the East Asian cultural sphere, including China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.[2]

A courtesy name is not to be confused with an art name, another frequently mentioned term for an alternative name in East Asia, which is closer to the concept of a pen name or a pseudonym.[1]


A courtesy name is a name traditionally given to Chinese men at the age of 20 sui, marking their coming of age. It was sometimes given to women, usually upon marriage.[1] The practice is no longer common in modern Chinese society. According to the Book of Rites, after a man reached adulthood, it was disrespectful for others of the same generation to address him by his given name.[3] Thus, the given name was reserved for oneself and one's elders, whereas the courtesy name would be used by adults of the same generation to refer to one another on formal occasions or in writing. Another translation of zi is "style name", but this translation has been criticised as misleading, because it could imply an official or legal title.[1]

Generally speaking, courtesy names before the Qin dynasty were one syllable, and from the Qin to the 20th century they were mostly disyllabic, consisting of two Chinese characters.[1] Courtesy names were often based on the meaning of the person's given name. For example, Chiang Kai-shek's given name (中正, romanized as Chung-cheng) and courtesy name (介石, romanized as Kai-shek) are both from the hexagram of I Ching.[citation needed]

Another way to form a courtesy name is to use the homophonic character zi () – a respectful title for a man – as the first character of the disyllabic courtesy name. Thus, for example, Gongsun Qiao's courtesy name was Zichan (子產), and Du Fu's: Zimei (子美). It was also common to construct a courtesy name by using as the first character one which expresses the bearer's birth order among male siblings in his family. Thus Confucius, whose name was Kong Qiu (孔丘), was given the courtesy name Zhongni (仲尼), where the first character zhong indicates that he was the second son born into his family. The characters commonly used are bo () for the first, zhong () for the second, shu () for the third, and ji () typically for the youngest, if the family consists of more than three sons. General Sun Jian's four sons, for instance, were Sun Ce (伯符, Bófú), Sun Quan (仲謀, Zhòngmóu), Sun Yi (叔弼, Shūbì) and Sun Kuang (季佐, Jìzuǒ).[citation needed]

Reflecting a general cultural tendency to regard names as significant, the choice of what name to bestow upon one's children was considered very important in traditional China.[4] Yan Zhitui of the Northern Qi dynasty asserted that whereas the purpose of a given name was to distinguish one person from another, a courtesy name should express the bearer's moral integrity.[citation needed]

Prior to the twentieth century, sinicized Koreans, Vietnamese, and Japanese were also referred to by their courtesy name. The practice was also adopted by some Mongols and Manchus after the Qing conquest of China.[citation needed]


Chinese Family name Given name Courtesy name
Lǎozǐ 老子 Ěr Bóyáng 伯陽
Kǒngzǐ (Confucius) 孔子 Kǒng Qiū Zhòngní 仲尼
Sūnzǐ (Sun Tzu) 孫子 Sūn Chángqīng 長卿
Cáo Cāo 曹操 Cáo Cāo Mèngdé 孟德
Guān Yǔ 關羽 Guān Yúncháng 雲長
Liú Bèi 劉備 Liú Bèi Xuándé 玄德
Zhūgé Liàng 諸葛亮 Zhūgé 諸葛 Liàng Kǒngmíng 孔明
Zhào Yún 趙雲 Zhào Yún Zǐlóng 子龍
Lǐ Bái 李白 Bái Tàibái 太白
Sū Dōngpō 蘇東坡 Shì Zǐzhān 子瞻
Yuè Fēi 岳飛 Yuè Fēi Péngjǔ 鵬舉
Yuán Chónghuàn 袁崇煥 Yuán Chónghuàn 崇煥 Yuánsù 元素
Liú Jī 劉基 Liú Bówēn 伯溫
Táng Yín 唐寅 Táng Yín Bóhǔ 伯虎
Máo Zédōng 毛澤東 Máo Zédōng 澤東 Rùnzhī 潤之
Hồ Chí Minh 胡志明  Nguyễn 阮 Sinh Cung 生恭 Tất Thành 必誠
I Sunsin 李舜臣 I 李 Sunsin 舜臣 Yeohae 汝諧

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Wilkinson, Endymion Porter (2018). Chinese History: A New Manual. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center. pp. 143–145. ISBN 978-0998888309.
  2. ^ Ulrich Theobald. Names of Persons and Titles of Rulers
  3. ^ "Qū lǐ shàng" 曲禮上 [Summary of the Rules of Propriety Part 1]. Lǐjì 禮記 [Book of Rites]. Line 44. A son at twenty is capped, and receives his appellation....When a daughter is promised in marriage, she assumes the hair-pin, and receives her appellation.
  4. ^ Adamek, Piotr (2017). A Good Son is Sad If He Hears the Name of His Father: The Tabooing of Names in China as a Way of Implementing Social Values. London: Routledge. ISBN 9780367596712.