I have recently posted two articles about well-known Chinese people. Some of my friends asked me after reading the articles, “Which one is right, Peng Liyuan or Liyuan Peng? Guan Tianlang or Tianlang Guan?” They read Peng Liyuan and Guan Tianlang in my articles and Liyuan Peng and Tianlang Guan in most of the articles from U. S. media outlets. Obviously my friends are confused, and I have to say it is confusing.
However, both ways are actually right. Peng Liyuan and Guan Tianlang are the Chinese order, and Liyuan Peng and Tianlang Guan are the English order. In Chinese, the family name goes first, so Peng is Liyuan’s family name, and Guan is Tianlang’s. You’re probably familiar with the famous NBA player Yao Ming. Yao is actually his family name, and Ming is his given name.
When Chinese women get married, they keep their family name; they don’t take their husband’s. The majority of children take their dad’s family name, but there are some that take mom’s family name. There are no specific rules as to why children sometimes take mom’s family name but these are some common situations: 1) On Mom’s side, they need somebody to carry on the family name 2) Dad is not a part of the child’s life 3) The child prefers to take their mom’s family name, and the parents agree.
When you seen a name written in Chinese characters, you might see two characters or perhaps three. Basically, there will be a Chinese character for each syllable. So, Peng Liyuan has three characters, one for each syllable, Peng, Li, and yuan. So, her name is written 彭丽媛. 彭 is for Peng, 丽 for Li, and 媛 for yuan.
I hope this helps everyone to better understand Chinese names.