Students of Chinese history are often confused by the multitudiness of names a person is referred to. This article tries to explain the most basic facts. At the same time, it provides an overview of the most common temple names and posthumous honorific titles of Chinese persons.
One short example (the founder of the Ming dynasty 明, 1368-1644) will highlight the complexity of this issue:
|Personal and family name (xingming 姓名)||Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋|
|Courtesy name (zi 字)||(Zhu) Guorui (朱)國瑞|
|Temple name (miaohao 廟號)||Ming Taizu 明太祖|
|Posthumous title (shihao 謚號)||Ming Gaodi 明高帝|
|Reign motto (nianhao 年號)||Hongwu 洪武|
The ming 名 was a personal name (in addition to a real childhood name, youming 幼名) used until the age of 20 sui, when boys were "capped" (guan 冠) and became an adult. At that time they adopted an adult name or courtesy name, the zi 字. Girls underwent the "pinning" (ji 笄) ritual at the age of 15 sui and were then called with their courtesy name. Both terms are today combined (mingzi 名字) and mean the whole name, "first name" as well as family name (normally referred to as xingming 姓名). The ming was from adulthood on a very intimate name and only used by friends, but also when a person spoke of himself. When addressing someone else in a very polite way, the zi name was to be used. In biographies of famous persons, both names are mentioned, yet the ming name is then preferred to the courtesy name. In rare cases, the zi was the commonly used name (yi zi xing 以字行 "he went with the courtesy name [in public]"), for instance, the Tang-period 唐 (618-907) poet Li Bai 李白 (701-762), who is in Europe better known with his zi name Taibai 太白, or Chiang Kai-shek (Chinese reading Jiang Jieshi 蔣介石), whose original ming was Ruiyuan 瑞元, the chosen ming, Zhongzheng 中正, and the zi (by which he is commonly known) Jieshi.
The courtesy name is used especially in tomb inscriptions or in letters with formal character. The ming name was often a one-syllable word, while the zi could be a one-syllable or a two-syllable word. Sometimes the courtesy name was only an extension of the ming name, like the Ming-period scholar Huang Sheng 黃盛 (fl. 1570), whose courtesy name was Huang Dasheng 黃大盛.
In Chinese biographies, the family name is normally not repeatead when listing the courtesy name, like in:
|韓愈，字退之，鄧州南陽人。||"Han Yu, courtesy name Tuizhi, hailed from Nanyang in the prefecture of Dengzhou."|
Both names, ming and zi, often had a similar meaning. Qu Yuan's 屈原 (c. 343-c. 278 BCE) zi name, for instance, was Yuan 原 "levelled, flat", his ming was Ping 平 "even, flat". Zhuge Liang's 諸葛亮 (181-234) ming was Liang 亮 "bright", and his zi was Kongming 孔明 "enlightened hole" (Kong 孔 standing alone can also be a family name, like that of Confucius). Yue Fei's 岳飛 (1103-1142) ming was Fei 飛 "flying", and his zi was Peng 鵬 "phoenix". Ban Gu's 班固 (32-92 CE) ming was Gu 固 "stable, secure", and his zi was Mengjian 孟堅 "rude and solid".
The zi name of Sun Wen 孫文 (1866-1925), Wen being his ming, was Yixian 逸仙. He is therefore known in the West as Sun Yat-Sen (Yixian in Cantonese pronunciation), but not so in China, because telling him with the courtesy name would be too formal. Some persons have two courtesy names, like Wen Tianxiang 文天祥 (1236-1283), who was formally called Songrui 宋瑞 or Lüshan 履善. Today, personal names (ming) can either be one-syllable long or two syllables.
Some personal names, especially that of girls, consist of a repetitive syllable, like Yuanyuan 圓圓 or Bingbing 冰冰. During history, personal names were also subject to changes à la mode, like Ruzi 孺子, Xiangru 相如 or Shizhi 釋之 during the Han 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) and Wuji 無忌 during the Tang period 唐 (618-907).
There is no fix repertoire of personal names like the "Christian" or biblical names in the West. Instead, families used to name their sons with words used in a certain poem (banci lian 班次聯, paizi ge 派字歌 or xing beizi pai 行辈字派), often written by an ancestor. Each generation obtained a new character - the generation word (zibei 字輩 or banci 班次) - as part of their name. Brothers had often a common character in their name (like the brothers Lü Dazhong 呂大忠, Lü Dafang 呂大防, Lü Dajun 呂大鈞 and Lü Dalin 呂大臨) or at least a character with a similiar graphical element (like the brothers Su Shi 蘇軾 and Su Zhe 蘇轍, both with the element 車).
The use of ming and zi names in Western secondary literature is in some cases deviating from that in China. The most famous case is Wang Yangming 王陽明 (1472-1529), who is in China better known as Wang Shouren 王守仁. Yangming was actually his style, and not a ming or zi.
Young people today often adopt English names, partially because it seems more fashionable, and partly because Chinese names are not easy to pronounce for foreigners. The Hong Kong singer Lau Tak-Wah (Liu Dehua 劉德華), for example, calls himself Andy Lau. On the other hand, foreigners often adopt a Chinese name. Such names can vary in quality and can often at first sight be identified as that of a foreigner. The Jesuits in China accommodated to Chinese culture and had Chinese names. Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), for instance, was called Li Madou 利瑪竇 (Li for Ricci and Madou for Matteo).
Traditionally, the personal names of women are seldomly explicitly told in literature, yet there are also exceptions like Li Dewu qi Pei, zi Shuying 李德武妻裴，字淑英 "Li Dewu's wife Ms Pei, courtesy name Shuying". Even empresses are regularly called only with their family names, like Yehenala shi 葉赫那拉氏 "Ms Yehenala", the Empress Dowager Cixi 慈禧太后 (1835-1908; Cixi is not her personal name but only her title, "Benevolent-Auspicous", as Empress and Empress Dowager), or Xuanzong guifei Yang shi 玄宗貴妃楊氏 "Emperor Xuanzong's honoured consort, Ms Yang", who is known as Yang Guifei 楊貴妃 (719-756) "Honoured consort Yang". Yet some sources say that her personal name was Yuhuan 玉環. A concubine of Emperor Cheng of the Han dynasty was called Zhao Feiyan 趙飛燕 (31-1 BCE) "Flying swallow" because of her dancing talents. Feiyan was surely not her real name.
"Surnames" or family names (xing 姓) in Chinese are standing in front position, while the personal name or "first name" (ming 名) follows at the end. The Chinese actress Gong Li 鞏俐, for example, has the family name Gong and the personal name Li. This is also use in other East Asian names in Japan (Koizumi Junichirō 小泉純一郎, the former Prime Minister), Korea (Kim Yong Il 金英逸) and Vietnam (Hồ Chí Minh 胡志明).
There are only a few hundred family names in Chinese, of which about two dozen are much more frequently used than others. To the most common family names belong Wang 王, Zhang 張, Ma 馬, Zhao 趙, Chen 陳 and Li 李, while names like Diao 刁 or She 佘 are very rare. Chinese family names are also not equally distributed over China. Chen (Chan) 陳, Liang (Leung) 梁 and Lin (Lam) 林 are typical names from the south, Zhu 朱 and Gu 顧 are often seen in the lower Yangtze area, while Cheng 程, Kong 孔 and Guo 郭 are northern names.
Most family names are only one-syllable long, yet there are a few and rarely seen two-syllable family names (fuxing 複姓), the most common of which are Ouyang 歐陽, Sima 司馬 and Zhuge 諸葛. Some of these names are of foreign origin (e.g. Türkic or Mongolian), like Geshu 哥舒, Linghu 令狐 or Yelü 耶律. In ancient China, such names were more common than today.
The term xingming means family and personal name ("first and last name"). The two kinds of surnames are traditionally often used as one term, xingshi 姓氏. They originate in the earliest times of Chinese history, at latest the Zhou period 周 (11th cent.-221 BCE), and are used for the paternal and the maternal line, respectively. The Song-period 宋 (960-1279) history Tongzhi 通志 says that shi 氏 was the name of the paternal family, xing 姓 that for the mother (therefore the radical "woman" 女). There was the rule that a marriage was only possible if the maternal family of two partners was not identical, yet whether the paternal line was the same or not, did not play a role (shi tong xing bu tong zhe, hunyin ke tong 氏同姓不同者婚姻可通).
The xing can be seen as a family name in the modern sense (all persons that descend from a particular ancestor), while the shi is in many cases a single branch of a family, often related to a place name. In other words, the xing expresses descendency from a "large" ancestral line (dazong 大宗, see zongfa 宗法), and the shi the descendency from a particular "lesser" or "lateral" line (xiaozong 小宗). In imperial times, the difference between xing and shi as maternal and paternal lines ceased to play a role. The use of both terms was different from then on. Shi was seen as a distinctive criterion subordinated to the xing, meaning that shi indicated a more concrete branch or location of the family (like Pingyang Zhang 平陽張 "the Zhangs from Pingyang"). Such a distinction was all the more important as the population increased and people often changed the place where they lived.
During the Wei 曹魏 (220-265) and Jin 晉 (265-420) periods the distinction of the shi was connected to a general classification of the family into one of nine ranks that allowed them to enter a certain stage of the bureaucracy (the jiupin system 九品). Among the nobility, the name of the regional states or those of the smaller statelets in the earliest times was transformed into a surname, like the son of the Duke of Zhou 周公 who was appointed ruler of the territory of Xing 邢. His descendants adopted Xing as their surname. A lot of surnames can be derived from the names of states and statelets of the Zhou period (Zhou 周, Qi 齊, Qin 秦, Wu 吳, Cai 蔡, Tang 唐, Song 宋, Wei 魏, Cao 曹 or less oftenly seen names like Xue 薛 or Tan 譚). After the Tang period 唐 (618-907) the term shi became less important and was only rarely used in the original sense.
During the Qing period 清 (1644-1911), the Manchus had a clan system (Man. hala, Ch. shi 氏) which is still imperfectly investigated. A list of Manchu clan names can be found in the compendium Baqi Manzhou shizu tongpu 八旗滿洲氏族通譜.
Already in earlier times, but still in late traditional China, shi was used in the same sense as xing, often replacing the personal name in abbreviations like 呂氏 "Master Lü", instead of the full name Lü Buwei 呂不韋 (d. 253 BCE).
The term shi is also used to indicate the family name of a woman, like in Fang Xuanling qi Lu shi 房玄齡妻盧氏 "Fang Xuanling's wife Ms Lu".
It is not custom in China that women adopt the family name of their husband after marriage.
It was, even after their death, forbidden to tell the personal name (ming) of an emperor. Instead, the personal name is referred to as hui 諱 in imperial biographies, but does actually mean either ming or zi. The characters of their names were often also slightly altered so that it seemed as if the word was not written. The surname of the founder of the Ming dynasty, for instance, was written 硃 instead of 朱, which was the original – but during the Ming period tabooed - character.
|高祖神堯大聖大光孝皇帝姓李氏，諱淵。||"The High Ancestor, Divine Yao, Great Saint, the Filial Emperor of Great Refulgence, family name Li, taboo name (personal name) Yuan."|
In the history Jinshu 晉書, written during the Tang period, Liu Yuan 劉淵 (r. 304-309, a Xiongnu chieftain) is called with his courtesy name, Yuanhai 元海, in order to avoid the name of the founder of the Tang, Li Yuan 李淵 (Tang Gaozu 唐高祖, r. 618-626). The avoidance of an emperor's name could even have influence on book titles like the Taixuanjing 太玄經 that was called Taiyuanjing 太元經 during the reign of the Kangxi emperor 康熙帝 (r. 1661-1722) and even decades later, because his personal name was Xuanye 玄燁. Another trick to avoid the word 玄 was to write it without the last dot, like 𤣥.
During his lifetime an emperor was usually addressed as Shang 上 "Your Highness", Huangshang 皇上 "Your August Highness" or Bixia 陛下 "Below the Steps to the Throne" (in order to avoid a direct addressing).
The hao "style" is a freely chosen alternative name. It was either a cognomen or a nickname, but especially among literati it was common to adopt a style for the own studio (shi 室, ju 居, zhai 齋, xuan 軒, ting 亭, lou 樓 etc.). This studio name (shiming 室名 or zhaiming 齋名) often replaced the real name, like Songxuezhai 松雪齋 as that of the calligrapher Zhao Mengfu 趙孟頫 (1254-1322).
Quite a few scholars used several styles, like the Song-period calligrapher Huang Tingjian 黃庭堅 (1045-1105; Tingjian was his courtesy name, while his ming was Luzhi 魯直) who called himself Fuweng 涪翁 "Old man from Fu (a place name in Sichuan)" or Shangu daoren 山谷道人 "Daoist from the mountain valley". He is therefore also known as Huang Shangu 黃山谷. The Republican scholar Wang Guowei 王國維 (1877-1927) had the studio name Wang Guantang 王觀堂 because his studio was called Guantang 觀堂 "Contemplation Hall". The Song-period writer Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修 (1007-1072) called himself Zuiweng 醉翁 "Old drunkard" or Liu-yi jushi 六一居士 "Scholar of the six ones" (meaning one ten-thousand 一萬 books, one thousand rubbings, one zither, one chess board, one jug of wine, and one old man [himself]). The titles of collected writings of literati often use the style of the author, for instance, like Zhao Ruteng's 趙汝騰 (d. 1261) Yongzhai ji 庸齋集 "Collection of the Ordinary Hut", Zhao Mengjian's 趙孟堅 (1199-1264) Yizhai wenbian 彝齋文編 "Compiled prose writings of the Tripod Studio", Zhao Kan's 張侃 Zhuxuan ji 拙軒集 "Collection of the Simple Dwelling" or Tang Shichi's 唐士恥 (fl. 1225) Lingyan ji 靈巖集 "Collection of the Numinous Cliff".
Place names were also popular hao names, like Yichuan 伊川 (a river near Luoyang) for Cheng Yi 程頤 (1033-1107). Zhuge Liang 諸葛亮 (181-234) called himself Wolong 臥龍 "Sleeping Dragon". Wei Yingwu 韋應物 (737-791) was called Wei Suzhou 韋蘇州 because he hailed from that city.
Important offices a scholar-official had occupied were also often used as styles, like Du Gongbu 杜工部 "Du, Minister of Works" for the poet Du Fu 杜甫 (712-770), or Liu Zhonglei 劉中壘 "Liu from the Capital Guard" for the bibliographer Liu Xiang 劉向 (79-8 or 77-6 BCE). Sun Yat-Sen (Sun Wen 孫文) called himself Zhongshan 中山 "Central Mountain" (probably from the Japanese family name Nakayama) and is therefore in China best known as Sun Zhongshan 孫中山 and also called Guofu 國父 "Father of the Nation". His political heir Chiang Kai-Shek 蔣介石 is called Zhongzheng Xiansheng 中正先生 "Master Central Orthodoxy" (Zhongzheng was his common ming name).
Very common among modern poets is the adoption of an alias name, like Lu Xun 魯迅 (1881-1936) for Zhou Shuren 周樹人 or Lao She 老舍 (1899-1966) for Shu Qingchun 舒慶春. The Ming-period politician, writer and philosopher Wang Shouren 王守仁 (1472-1529) is known by his style Yangming 陽明 or Yangmingzi 陽明子, as Wang Yangming 王陽明. His courtesy name was Bo'an 伯安.
The posthumous honorific title (shi 謚, also written 諡) was granted to an emperor or a grand minister after his death and chosen according to how the respective person performed during his lifetime. The posthumous title of an emperor was chosen by the officials of the Ministry of Rites, and that of a minister by the emperor. Except those official posthumous titles, there are also private honorific titles (sishi 私謚) given to a high-standing person and chosen by his disciples or friends. The use of posthumous honorific titles came up during the Zhou dynasty (e. g. the titles King Wen 周文王 and King Wu 周武王 for the dynastic founders). The Qin dynasty 秦 (221-206 BCE) did not make use of them but the emperors were posthumously to be called with a kind of number going through all (expected) generations, like Shihuang 始皇 "First Emperor", Ershihuang 二世皇 "Second Emperor", etc. Yet after the early demise of the Qin, the honorific titles were reintroduced by the rulers of the Han dynasty 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) and continued being used until the end of the Qing dynasty. Yet not all emperors were given a posthumous honorific title: Liu Bang 劉邦 (r. 206-195 BCE), founder of the Han dynasty, for instance, has only been given the temple name Gaozu 高祖 (miaohao 廟號). His son, Liu Ying 劉盈 (r. 206-195 BCE), on the other hand, was only given a posthumous honorific title (Hui 惠 "the benevolent") but no temple name because he had no surviving descendants.
Posthumous honorific titles were awarded to sovereigns (like Zhou Xuanwang 周宣王 "King Xuan [of Wide-Reaching (virtue)] of the Zhou" or Han Wudi 漢武帝 "Emperor Wu [the Martial] of the Han"), rulers of regional states (Lu Aigong 魯哀公 "Duke Ai [the Lamentable] of Lu"), princes bearing the title of a princedom (Liang Xiaowang 梁孝王 "Prince Xiao [the Filial] of Liang"), as well as private persons of high standing and the class of literati (Ouyang Wenzhonggong 歐陽文忠公 "Ouyang, Duke Wenzhong [the Cultivated-Loyal]", i.e. Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修).
There is a fixed set of names used for posthumous honorific titles with a predefined meaning, some of them expressing the virtue (like Wen 文 "the cultured", Hui 惠 "the benevolent", Huan 桓 "the graceful" or Yuan 元 "the primary virtuous") or martial performance (like Wu 武 "the martial") of the bearer, some of them expressing a rough conduct (like Li 厲 "the unpityful"), licentious behaviour (like Yang 煬 "like roaring fire") or superstition (like Ling 靈 "believer in ghosts"), some bring forward a feeling of pity for an unlucky life (like Ai 哀 "pityable", Min 愍 "lamentable" or Huai 懷 "deplorable"). In older times, posthumous honorific titles consisted of one syllable. From the late Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE) on, there were also combinations or "double titles" (fushi 複諡), like King Wuling of Zhao 趙武靈王 (r. 326-299).
Many scholars see the beginning of double titles in imperial times in the Jin period 晉 (265-420), as posthumous titles for imperial princes like Sima Tai 司馬泰 (d. 299), called Prince Wenxian of Gaoi 高密文獻王, or Sima Teng 司馬騰 (d. 307), called Prince Wu'ai of Xincai 新蔡武哀王. Emperors of the Northern Wei chose double titles, like Emperor Daowu 北魏道武帝 (r. 376/386-408) or Emperor Mingyuan 北魏明元帝 (r. 409-423). Double titles were very popular among Confucian scholars and state officials of high standing, like Master Zhongwen 文忠公 for Su Shi 蘇軾 (1037-1101), Duke Wumu 武穆公 for Yue Fei 岳飛 (1103-1142), or Master Zhongjie 忠介公 for Hai Rui 海瑞 (1514-1587). The scholar Feng Yin 封寅 said that the first character served as a kind of "adornment" (wen 文), the second to describe the "substance" (zhi 質) of the personal character.
From the Tang period on the honorific designations for late emperors became very abundant - not to say bombastic - like Wenwu dasheng daguang xiao huangdi 文武大聖大廣孝皇帝 "Cultured and martial, filial emperor, great saint and great broadminded" for Emperor Tang Taizong 唐太宗 (r. 626-649). This circumstance made honorific titles very impractical for daily use, and they were superseded by the temple names of the rulers.
Not all emperors enjoyed the honour to be granted such a title. This was expecially true for those deposed or dethroned, mostly at the end of a dynasty, or very young emperors whose descendants did not continue the dynastic line. These emperors are commonly referred to as Feidi 廢帝 "Deposed Emperor" or Feizhu 廢主 "Deposed Ruler", Modi 末帝 "Last Emperor", or Shaodi 少帝 "Child Emperor", or Youzhu 幼主 "Infant Ruler". One minor emperor of the Han was called Ruzi Ying 孺子嬰 "Ying the Kid" (Ying was a common ming name of that time, yet it also means "baby"). Rulers that were not bestowed a honorific title or a temple name are called by other means, for instance, the name of their territory before they became emperor, like the Prince of Hailing 海陵王 (who was emperor between 1149 and 胡1160), or according to the reign mottos, like the Gengshi Emperor 漢更始帝 (r. 23-25 CE). Emperor Song Huizong 宋徽宗 (r. 1100-1125) was posthumously called Commandery Prince (junwang of Tianshui 天水郡王 because he died as a prisoner of a foreign power.
This list is based on the titles of ruling persons of the Zhou period (Zhou kings and regional rulers), as well as the rulers of all imperial dynasties. The translations are tentative.
|共||gong||the Common (=恭)|
|違拂不成曰隱，[...]愛民好與曰惠，聖善同文曰宣，聲聞宣遠曰昭，克定禍亂曰武，聰明睿智曰獻，溫柔聖善曰懿，布德執義曰穆[...]||Disobedient and imperfect persons are called "Hidden", [...] those who love the people and like to give are called "Benevolent", the virtuous and erudite are called "Propagator", the famous and far-reaching are called "Prominent", settlers of disorder are called "Martial", smart and farsighted persons are called "Dedicated", soft and virtuous men are called "Modest", and distributors of virtue and conservers of righteousness are called "Respectful" [...]|
The temple name was bestowed upon a deceased emperor and was written on a tablet used during offerings in the dynastic altar (taimiao 太廟). Temple names were first used during the Shang period and continued to be bestowed on dynastic ancestors until the end of the Qing dynasty. It was common that the founder of a dynasty was called Taizu 太祖, Gaozu 高祖 or Shizu 世祖, their successors were often called Taizong 太宗 or Shizong 世宗.
Before the Sui period the use of temple names was restricted to important rulers whose life had a great impact on the empire or the dynasty. The emperors Jing 漢景帝 (r. 157-141 BCE), Zhao 漢昭帝 (r. 87-74 BCE) and Ling 漢靈帝 (r. 167-188) of the Han dynasty, for instance, did not have temple names. From the Tang period onwards, all emperors were given temple names. At the same time the designations for the temple names were combined with that of the posthumous honorific titles (yihao 謚號), like Wenzong 文宗 or Wuzong 武宗. The term zu was practically given up, and all emperors had a temple name including the term zong. Temple names were also granted to an emperor's father and paternal grandfather that had not been rulers. This is called "posthumous investiture" (zhuifeng 追封). These persons of common origin were thus made emperor after their death. The temple name of the founder of the Song dynasty for instance, Zhao Kuangyin 趙匡胤, was Song Taizu 宋太祖 (r. 960-976). His father Zhao Hongyi 趙弘殷 (899-956) was posthumously called Emperor Xuanzu 宋宣祖, his grandfather Zhao Jing 趙敬 Emperor Jizu 宋翼祖, his great-grandfather Zhao Ting 趙珽 Emperor Shunzu 宋順祖, and his great-great-grandfather Zhao Tiao 趙朓 Emperor Gaozu 宋高祖.
Because virtually all dynasties have their Gaozu, Gaozong, Taizu or Taizong (Tang Taizu 唐太祖, Song Taizu 宋太祖, Liao Taizu 遼太祖, Jin Taizu 金太祖, Yuan Taizu 元太祖, Ming Taizu 明太祖, Qing Taizu 清太祖)), it is very important to always add the name of the dynasty to avoid confusion about which Gaozu or Taizong is meant. In this form, the designation Tang Taizong or Song Gaozong is a kind of parallel to the "civilian" name (family plus personal name), and using the lonely name "Gaozong" would be the same as speaking of "King Henry" (which number? English or French?).
The pre-Zhou rulers (Xia and Shang) had other systems to address their ancestors. They called their forefathers with a number according to the Ten Celestial Stems, like Waibing 外丙 "Outer III", Zhongren 中壬 "Middle IX", Taijia 太甲 "Great I", Woding 沃丁 "Fertile IV", Taigeng 太庚 "Great VII" etc. Early Zhou-period rulers also partially use this system, like Qi Dinggong 齊丁公 or Qi Guigong 齊癸公. These numbers are not a counting of rulers with the same name, like Henry I, Henry II, but were given according to a genealogical system.
See more on reign mottos in the article on the Chinese calendar
Reign mottos were adopted by almost all emperors from the early Former Han period on. These mottos had often an auspicious or positive character or expressed the majesty of the ruler's ambitions. Emperor Wu of the Han was the first ruler who regularly proclaimed reign mottos. Reign mottos might change every few years (Empress Wu Zetian used 17 mottos during her 20-years long reign), but there are some examples when emperors changed their motto after a few months, often in connection with a political plan or enterprise. This can be very confusing because one year can be referred to by several different reign mottos, like the year 692 that was the third year with the reign motto Tianshou 天授 "Celestial instruction", yet in the fourth month (approx. May-Jun) the reign motto Ruyi 如意 "As we wish" was chosen, and in the ninth month (approx. Oct-Nov) the motto Changshou 長壽 "Longevity". Similarly confusing is a period of time when several dynasties reigned China. The year 1066, for example, was the third year with the reign motto Zhiping 治平 "Ruling to peace" in the Northern Song empire, the second year with the reign motto Xianyong 咸雍 "Everything in harmony" in the Liao empire and the fourth year with the reign motto Gonghua 拱化 "Towards an all-embracing [policy]" in the Western Xia empire.
From the Ming period on, all rulers only chose one reign motto that was valid for the whole period of their rule. The reign mottos of the Ming and Qing emperors are therefore in the West (and sometimes also in China) erroneously used like a personal name of the ruler, like "Emperor Kangxi" instead of a correct "the Kangxi Emperor" (Kangxi di 康熙帝 "the emperor of [the reign motto] 'Strong brilliance'"). The change of the reign motto was called gaiyuan 改元 "change over to a (new) beginning". When a new emperor mounted the throne it was common that the reign motto of his predecessor (in most cases, the new emperor's father) was retained until the first day of the next year. Such a proclamation was often combined with a great amnesty (dashe 大赦).
In historiography, persons are more likely to be called with their title of nobility (juelu 爵祿) than with their personal name. The most important titles are, of course wang "king/prince" and huangdi "emperor" (in combination with names also shortly called di or huang or enlarged to xiao...di 孝...帝, meaning "filial"). The five titles of nobility (wujue 五爵) through all ages were gong 公 "Duke" (like Lu Aigong 魯哀公 Duke Ai of Lu), hou 侯 "Marquis" (like Jin Wenhou 晉文侯 "Duke Wen of Jin), bo 伯 "earl", zi 子 "Viscount" and nan 男 "Baron".
From imperial times on the title wang is to be translated as "Prince" if the bearer of the title was related to the imperial house (which is in most cases the fact). During the Qing period this title was called qinwang 親王 "Relative Prince" (like Gong qinwang 恭親王 "Prince Gong"). If a ruler was not accepted as a rightful emperor by historiographers he was called zhu 主 "Ruler" (like Shu Qianzhu 蜀前主, Shu Qianzhu 蜀先主 or Shu Houzhu 蜀後主).
A very generic term for ruler is jun 君 "Lord", like in Lord Mengchang 孟嘗君 or Lord Shang 商君. This title was in pre-imperial times bestowed like a title of nobility and was endowed with an estate. With the foundation of the empire the term came out of use and was degraded to a very polite adress, something like "Sir".
During the Spring and Autumn period the personal names of members of the nobility are indeed very complex. Sui Hui 隨會, for instance, had the personal name Shi Hui 士會 and the courtesy name Shi Ji 士季. His estate included the territories of Sui 隨 and Fan 范, for which reason he is also known as Sui Hui or Fan Hui 范會, as head of the house of Fan 范. His posthumous title is Fan Wuzi 范武子 or Sui Wuzi 隨武子.
The term for Queen or Empress is hou 后. The etymology of this word and character is still under discussion. It could either have been a female equivalent to the male si 司 "governor" (which is quite improbable) or a picture of a wife giving birth to a son (a heir), or an alternative writing for 侯 "ruler" (like in the name of the Zhou dynasty's mythological ancestor Hou Ji 后稷, the "Lord of Millet"). After the death of her husband, a queen or empress became a taihou 太后 "Empress Dowager" (or Queen Dowager, in pre-imperial times). After the death of her son a taihuang taihou 太皇太后 "Grand Empress Dowager". Empresses can be called with their family name, like Lü Hou "Empress Lü", but are much more often tied to their husband in the shape of Gaozu Taimu Huanghou Dou shi 高祖太穆皇后竇氏 "Empress Taimu (the Great Respectful) of Emperor Gaozu, Ms Dou". Favourites of an emperor that were not officially given the title of Empress (that was reserved to one person only) were called fei 妃 "consort".
Princesses are called gongzhu 公主, like Yongtai gongzhu 永泰公主 "Princess Everlasting Greatness". Like Empresses, their name was tied to that of her husband, like Lu Yuan gongzhu 魯元公主 "The Princess of [King] Yuan of Lu". Also here, personal names are totally neglected by historiographers. The daughter of a prince was called wangzhu 王主.
For court ladies, there were many different titles corresponding to a certain rank and income. The most often seen of these titles are furen 夫人 "Lady", meiren 美人 "Beauty", jieyu 婕妤 "Lady of Handsome Fairness" and guifei 貴妃 "Honoured consort" (see female officals).
Buddhist monks and nuns adopted with their ordination, like in the West ("Sister Eusebia"), a religious name. These names have traditionally two syllables. The most famous among them are Xuanzang 玄奘 (a special reading, meaning of 奘 not clear), Faxian 法顯 "Evidence of the dharma (the Buddha's teachings)", Jianzhen 鑑真 "Mirroring the truth", or Konghai 空海 "Sea of emptiness". The real names of these persons are only to be found in their biographies but are not used outside of such. It is common that Buddhist names are headed by the term Shi 釋 (from Shijiamouni 釋迦牟尼 "Shākyamuni") to indicate that they were monks, and as a kind of replacement for the missing family name, like Shi Sengyou 釋僧祐 "Monk Sengyou". Monks of the Chan school (Zen) adopted longer names than those of the traditional schools, for instance, Linji Qixuan 臨濟義玄 (d. 866), Xuefeng Yicun 雪峰義存 (822-908), or Dahui Zonggao 大慧宗杲 (1089-1163).
Daoists did not follow such strict rules. Their "patriarchs" continued using their original name. Yet there was an abundant treasure of honorific titles for deities in the Daoist Heaven like Taishang Laojun 太上老君 "Old Lord of the Utmost Heights" for Laozi 老子 or Nanhua zhenren 南華真人 "Perfect Man of the Southern Florescence" for Zhuangzi 莊子. More "human" persons also adopted picturesce epitheta like Qingyuan zhenren 青元真人 "Perfect Man of the Azure Origin", Hunranzi 混然子 "Master of the Primordial Chaos", Chisongzi 赤松子 "Master Red Pine", Haichan dijun 海蟾帝君 "Imperial Lord Sea Cicada" or Zhenyi xiansheng 貞一先生 "Master Pure Unity". Among Daoist patriarchs it was common that they changed their family names, in order to "inherit" the family name of the line.
In ancient China the term sheng 生 "Master" was a common form of polite adress attached to the family name. In modern China it developed into the term xiansheng 先生 "Sir, Mister". Another very polite term of address is gong 公 "Master", also attached to the family name. Old men can be called daye 大爺 or laoye 老爺. A female person is called Taitai 太太 "Ms" and more recently Nüshi 女士 "Lady, Madam". An unmarried girl is called xiaojie 小姐 "Mistress", but recently this term can have a somewhat derogatory meaning.