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A posthumous name is a honorary name given to royalty, nobles, and other notable people in East Asia. This title is used after the person's death, and it is used almost exclusively instead of the personal name or official title used during their life. The posthumous name is commonly used when naming royalty of China, Korea, Vietnam, Japan, and Thailand.
Posthumous names in China and Vietnam are also given to honor the lifetime accomplishments of many people who did not have hereditary titles – for example, to courtiers and military generals. A posthumous name should not be confused with the era name (年號), regnal name (尊號) and temple name (廟號).
One or more adjectives are inserted before the deceased ruler's title to make their Posthumous name. Posthumous names are unique in individual states or domains. They might however match the Posthumous names of rulers from a different state or domain. The name of the state or domain is added to avoid ambiguity arising out of identical Posthumous names.
The Chinese format for Posthumous names is "[state][adjective][title]"; When translated into English, they take on the format "[title][adjective] of [state]", such as King Wen of Zhou (lit. "Cultured King of Zhou"), Duke Mu of Qin (lit. "Solemn Duke of Qin"), and King Cheng of Chu (lit. "Accomplished King of Chu"). The literal meaning of the adjective is normally not translated.
The names of living Chinese people may be any combination of characters. Most often the posthumous names are chosen from a rather small pool of stock characters; the literal meaning of which is eroded as a result.
Early mythological rulers such as Emperor Yao had posthumous names.
Archaeological discoveries have shown that early kings of the Zhou dynasty, such as King Wen and King Wu, used "posthumous names" during their lifetime which were altered by their successors upon their death. The use of Posthumous names halted temporarily when emperor Qin Shi Huang of Qin dynasty proclaimed it disrespectful for the descendants, or "later emperors" to judge their elders, or the "prior emperors" (先帝). The Han Dynasty resumed the use of Posthumous names after emperor Qin's demise. Usurpers were not conferred the honor of Posthumous names. The final rulers of state before China became Republic of China were not recognized by Posthumous names either. Both the usurpers and the last generation of Chinese rulers such as Jian, King of Qi; Min, Marquis of Jin; and Chen Tuo are referred to by their personal names.
Posthumous names are used for rulers from the Zhou dynasty to the Sui dynasty. In the Zhou dynasty, the posthumous name was usually only one character, such as "Wen" (cultured) or "Wu" (martial). However, as time went on rulers began to add more and more characters to the posthumous names of their ancestors. By the time of the first emperor of Tang, the length had grown to 7 characters, which was taxing to pronounce or write. Therefore, emperors from Tang on are commonly referred to by either their temple name (Tang through Yuan dynasties) or era name (Ming and Qing dynasties), both of which are always two characters long.
Posthumous names commonly made tracing linear genealogies simpler and kept a bloodline apparent. The rule was also followed by non-Han rulers of Sixteen Kingdoms, Nanzhao, Liao dynasty, Western Xia, Jin dynasty, Yuan dynasty, Qing dynasty, Silla, Japan, and Vietnam. King names of Hồng Bàng dynasty and Mahan also followed the rule but they are thought to be later work.
Some rulers, such as Wu Zetian, or rebel leaders also had similar style regnal names when they were alive.
Most monarchs inherited the throne and did not give bad posthumous names to the previous monarch. Some names were lengthened or changed by later monarchs. Emperor Aizong of Jin and Chongzhen Emperor had different names from different people. Qin Hui, of the Song dynasty, had a good name, was given a bad one, and had the good name later restored. After the Song dynasty few received bad names. Bad monarchs of the Joseon dynasty did not receive posthumous names.
Emperors of China continued to receive posthumous names of increasing length, as a matter of ritual long after the naming convention had been abandoned in casual speech and writing. The Guangxu Emperor, who died in 1908 and was the last emperor to receive a posthumous name, sports the impressive 21-character title of "Emperor Tongtian Chongyun Dazhong Zhizheng Jingwen Weiwu Renxiao Ruizhi Duanjian Kuanqin Jing".
Puyi, the last emperor of China, did not receive a posthumous name upon his death in 1967 since he died at the height of the Cultural Revolution, when such practices would have been thought feudal.
Use of posthumous names ceased in China with the aforementioned Guangxu Emperor, in Vietnam with the Khải Định Emperor (died 1925) and in Korea with the Yunghui Emperor (died 1926). However, in Korea unofficial posthumous names were given to Crown Prince Euimin and Gu, Prince Imperial Hoeun.
Posthumous names are in use to this day in Japan. A deceased emperor is given a posthumous name, which begins with Emperor Meiji (d.1912), is identical to his era name and therefore always two characters long. The most recently conferred posthumous name is that of Emperor Shōwa (d.1989).
A non-royal deceased person may be given a posthumous Buddhist name known as kaimyō, but is in practice still referred to by the living name.
Posthumous names can be praises (褒字) or deprecations (貶字). There are more praises than deprecations, so posthumous names are also commonly called respectful names (尊號 zūnhào) in Chinese. Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian outlines extensively the rules behind choosing the names. Some of those guidelines:
However, most of these qualifications are subjective, repetitive, and highly stereotypical; hence the names are chosen somewhat arbitrarily. Such names are usually given by court historians, according to their good deeds or the bad ones.
When combining an emperor's temple name and posthumous name, the temple name is placed first. For example, the Shunzhi Emperor whose full posthumous title would be "Shizu, the Emperor Zhang" (世祖章皇帝), combining his temple name and the last 3 of his posthumous name, which is the form most commonly seen in traditional documents. A fuller description of this naming convention for royalty appears in the Chinese sovereign entry. The posthumous names of some monarchs and royal members were long, for example Hongwu Emperor, Nurhaci, Crown Prince Hyomyeong, Sunjo of Joseon and Empress Dowager Cixi.
Some monarchs did not follow these guidelines. Some monarchs of Ju, Chu, and Qi used place names. Some monarchs of Yue (state) had Chinese transliterated posthumous names. Some monarchs of Goguryeo, Silla and Baekje had different style posthumous names. Some early Japanese monarchs also had Japanese-style posthumous names (和風諡号).
All Chinese posthumous names for rulers end in one or two of the characters for "emperor", huángdì (皇帝), which can be shortened to Dì; except about a dozen or so less recognized ones who have had only Dì and no Huáng.
Starting with Emperor Xiaowen of Han (more commonly "Emperor Wen"), every single Han emperor, except the first one of the Eastern Han Dynasty, has the character of "filial" (孝 xiào) at the beginning of his posthumous names. "Filial" is also used in the full posthumous names of virtually all emperors and empresses of the Tang, Song, Ming and Qing Dynasties. For Qing emperors, the character xiào is placed in various position in the string of characters. For those Qing empresses who were given posthumous names, xiào is always initial.
The number of characters in posthumous names increased. The emperors of the Tang Dynasty have names in between seven and eighteen characters. Most in the Qing Dynasty have over twenty characters. For instance, the Shunzhi Emperor’s name has 25 characters (體天隆運定統建極英睿欽文顯武大德弘功至仁純孝章皇帝, [pronunciation (help·info)]: tǐ tiān lóng yùn dìng tǒng jiàn jí yīng ruì qīn wén xiǎn wǔ dà dé hóng gōng zhì rén chún xiào zhāng huángdì).
The woman with the longest posthumous name (also with 25 characters) is Empress Dowager Cixi (孝欽慈禧端佑康頤昭豫莊誠壽恭欽獻崇熙配天興聖顯皇后 xiào qīn cí xǐ duān yòu kāng yí zhāo yù zhuāng chéng shòu gōng qīn xiàn chóng xī pèi tiān xīng shèng xiǎn huánghòu), or 孝欽顯皇后 ("the Distinguished Empress who was Admirably Filial") for short.
According to the noble system since the Zhou Dynasty, the immediate family members of the Emperor were given the titles of Kings (or Princes), Dukes, Earls, etc., with or without actual control over a region of land. After their death, they would be referred to by the same title, with the posthumous name (usually one character) inserted in the middle. The characters used are mostly the same ones used for emperors, with the same denotations as described above. For example, Prince Gong of the Qing Dynasty was posthumously named Zhong (忠), and thus is referred to as Prince Gongzhong (恭忠親王 Gongzhong qīnwáng); Prince Chun was posthumous named Xian (賢), hence is referred Prince Chunxian (醇賢親王 Chunxian qīnwáng). As for exception, the posthumous name could consist of more than one character. For example, Prince Shuncheng Lekdehun was posthumously honoured as "Prince Shuncheng Gonghui" (多罗顺承恭惠郡王). Prince Yi of the First Rank Yinxiang was granted a posthumous name consisting of 9 characters "Zhongjing chengzhi qinshen lianming xian" (忠敬诚直勤慎廉明贤).
It was also common for persons with no hereditary titles, especially accomplished scholar-officials or ministers, to be given posthumous names by the imperial court. The characters used are mostly the same ones used for emperors, with the same denotations as described above. The length, however, was restricted to one or two characters. The posthumous name is sometimes rendered canonization in English, for the scholar-official to Confucianism is analogous to the saint in the Catholic Church, though the process is not nearly as long. See List of Posthumous Names for some examples.
Confucius has been given long posthumous names in almost every major dynasty. One of the most commonly used was Zhìshèngxiānshī (至聖先師).
Sometimes a person is given a posthumous name not by the court, but by his own family or disciples. Such names are private posthumous names (Sīshì, 私諡). For example, Tao Qian was given Sishi Jìngjié (靖節).
In Silla, every monarch was given the title of wang (왕, 王, "king") with two characters in posthumous names from Jijeung of Silla. On the other hand, all posthumous names for kings of Balhae were restricted to one character.
Most of the kings of Goryeo and Joseon were more often given temple names than posthumous names, unlike in the dynasties of ancient Korea. All posthumous names for the rulers of Goryeo and Joseon end in two of the characters for Daewang (대왕, 大王, "great king"). This is a longer name, made up of adjectives characteristic of the king's rule. For example, Gwangjong of Goryeo's posthumous name was Hongdoseon Yeolpyeongse Sukheonui Hyoganghye Daeseong Daewang (홍도선열평세숙헌의효강혜대성대왕, 弘道宣烈平世肅憲懿孝康惠大成大王), while his temple name was Gwangjong. Details of the system of the posthumous names were made during the Joseon Dynasty. The deposed king's names were made up of three parts: the temple name (묘호), eulogistic names (존호) and posthumous names (시호). During the Joseon Dynasty, officials discussed and decided the king's posthumous name five days after the king's funeral. The deceased king, who before his temple and posthumous names was decided, was called Daehaeng daewang (대행대왕, 大行大王). The Ministry of Culture and Education (예조, 禮曹) was in charge of the naming. When officials of the ministry of culture and education selected three candidates and reported them to the next king, the next king chose one of those names that he liked best. Also, Shorn of his power, the deposed king has not been given any posthumous names with temple names unless reinstated. They were degraded to the rank of gun (군, 君, "prince"). Yeonsan-gun and Gwanghae-gun were are notable examples. And there are some men who didn't ascend the throne in their lifetime but proclaimed as kings after they died by their descendants who became king. There are nine men who proclaimed as kings in the Joseon Dynasty. In Joseon, there are nine men who raised to the status of emeritus kings.
Gojong of Joseon proclaimed Korea an empire in 1897, receiving the title of emperor, thus the posthumous names of Gojong and Sunjong end in two of the characters for Hwangje (황제, 皇帝, "emperor"). For example, the full posthumous name of Emperor Gojong of Korea is Tongcheonyung-un Jogeukdonyun Jeongseonggwang-ui Myeonggongdaedeok Yojunsunhwi Umotanggyeong Eungmyeongripgi Jihwasinryeol Oehunhong-eop Gyegiseonryeok Geonhaenggonjeong Yeong-uihonghyu Sugangmunheon Mujanginik Jeonghyo Taehwangje (통천융운조극돈윤정성광의명공대덕요준순휘우모탕경응명립기지화신렬외훈홍업계기선력건행곤정영의홍휴수강문헌무장인익정효태황제, 統天隆運 肇極敦倫 正聖光義 明功大德 堯峻舜徽 禹謨湯敬 應命立紀 至化神烈 巍勳洪業 啓基宣曆 乾行坤定 英毅弘休 壽康文憲 武章仁翼 貞孝太皇帝), or Taehwangje for short.
Crown Prince Hyomyeong has been given the longest posthumous name in Korea. He was posthumously elevated in status and given the title Emperor Munjo with 117 characters in posthumous names in 1899.
In Japan, posthumous names are divided into two types: shigō (諡号) or okuri-na (諡), which describe the accomplishments and/or the virtues of the rulers; and tsuigō (追号), which are derived from the name of locations and era names, among others. Those of Japanese emperors are also sometimes called teigō (帝号, "emperor name[s]").
There are two styles in emperors' shigō, namely Chinese-style or Han-style (漢風諡号), and Japanese-style (和風諡号). In addition to the appellation Tennō (天皇, "heavenly sovereign", usually translated as Emperor) that is a part of all Japanese emperors' posthumous name, most of them consist of two kanji characters, although a few consist of three. Some names are given several generations later—this is the case for Emperor Jimmu and Emperor Antoku, for example. Others are given immediately after death, like that of Emperor Monmu.
The posthumous name of some emperors were derived from the combination of characters from two previous emperors' posthumous names:
Since the death of Emperor Meiji (明治天皇 Meiji Tennō) in 1912, the posthumous name of an emperor has always been the era name of his reign. In such cases, the posthumous names belong to the category of tsuigō. For example, after his death, Hirohito (by which he is usually called outside Japan) was formally renamed Emperor Shōwa (昭和天皇 Shōwa Tennō) after his era; Japanese now refer to him by only that name. Hirohito was his given name; most Japanese never refer to their emperors by their given names, as it is considered disrespectful.
Since the death of king Chulalongkorn in 1910, the reign name of a king has always been the name of his era, formally used in Gazette. Some also have petty change as posthumous name such as king Ananda's add title Phra Athamaramathibodin as posthumous name. Only king Ananda and Bhumibol don't have specific reign name, but another king such as Chulalongkorn which are personal name; most of Thais never refer to their king by their personal name and colloquially Chula Chom Klao, as it is considered disrespectful, the personal name of the current King Vajiralongkorn will continue to be colloquially until his death and replaced as reign name Vajilaklao.
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