A courtesy name (Chinese: , zi), also known as a style name,[1] is a name bestowed upon one at adulthood in addition to one's given name.[2] This practice is a tradition in East Asian cultures, including China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam.[3]

Formerly in China, the zi would replace a male's given name when he turned twenty, as a symbol of adulthood and respect.[citation needed] It could be given either by the parents or by the first personal teacher on the first day of family school. Females might substitute their given name for a zi upon marriage. One also may adopt a self-chosen courtesy name.

In China the popularity of the custom has declined to a large extent since the May Fourth Movement in 1919.[citation needed]

A courtesy name is not to be confused with an art name (hào, Chinese: , Korean: 호), another frequently mentioned term for an alternative name in Asian culture-based context. An art name is usually associated with art and is more of a literary name or a pseudonym that is more spontaneous, compared to a courtesy name.

Compare this usage with the Roman practice of supplying a Cognomen like the name Caesar which originally may have only designated someone with a thick head of hair.


The , sometimes called the biǎozì(表字)or "courtesy name", is a name traditionally given to Chinese males at the age of 20, marking their coming of age. It was sometimes given to females upon marriage. The practice is no longer common in modern Chinese society. According to the Book of Rites, after a man reaches adulthood, it is disrespectful for others of the same generation to address him by his given name, or míng. Thus, the given name was reserved for oneself and one's elders, while the would be used by adults of the same generation to refer to one another on formal occasions or in writing; hence the term "courtesy name".

The is mostly disyllabic, consisting of two Chinese characters, and is usually based on the meaning of the míng or given name. Yan Zhitui of the Northern Qi dynasty believed that while the purpose of the míng was to distinguish one person from another, he asserted that the should express the bearer's moral integrity.

The relation which often exists between a person's and míng may be seen in the case of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), whose ming was Zhōngzhèng (中正,Romanized as Chung-cheng) and zi was Jieshi (介石,Romanized as Kai-shek). Thus he was also called 蔣中正 (Chiang Chung-cheng) in some contexts.[clarification needed]

Another way to form a is to use the homophonic character (子) – a respectful title for a male – as the first character of the disyllabic . Thus, for example, Gongsun Qiao's was Zǐchǎn (子產), and Du Fu's: Zǐměi (子美).

It is also common to construct a 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 Kǒng Qiū (孔丘), was given the Zhòngní (仲尼), where the first character zhòng indicates that he was the second son born into his family. The characters commonly used are bó (伯) for the first, zhòng (仲) for the second, shū (叔) for the third, and jì (季) 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).

The use of began during the Shang dynasty, and slowly developed into a system which became most widespread during the succeeding Zhou dynasty. During this period, women were also given . The given to a woman was generally composed of a character indicating her birth order among female siblings and her surname. For example, Mèng Jiāng (孟姜) was the eldest daughter in the Jiāng family.

Prior to the twentieth century, sinicized Koreans, Vietnamese, and Japanese were also referred to by their . The practice was also adopted by Manchus after the Qing conquest of China.


Chinese Family name Given name Courtesy name
Laozi 老子 Li 李 Er 耳 Boyang 伯陽
Kongzi (Confucius) 孔子 Kong 孔 Qiu 丘 Zhongni 仲尼
Sunzi (Sun Tzu) 孫子 Sun 孫 Wu 武 Changqing 長卿
Cao Cao 曹操 Cao 曹 Cao 操 Mengde 孟德
Guan Yu 關羽 Guan 關 Yu 羽 Yunchang 雲長
Liu Bei 劉備 Liu 劉 Bei 備 Xuande 玄德
Zhuge Liang 諸葛亮 Zhuge 諸葛 Liang 亮 Kongming 孔明
Li Bai 李白 Li 李 Bai 白 Taibai 太白
Su Dongpo 蘇東坡 Su 蘇 Shi 軾 Zizhan 子瞻
Yue Fei 岳飛 Yue 岳 Fei 飛 Pengju 鵬舉
Yuan Chonghuan 袁崇煥 Yuan 袁 Chonghuan 崇煥 Yuansu 元素
Liu Ji 劉基 Liu 劉 Ji 基 Bowen 伯溫
Tang Yin 唐寅 Tang 唐 Yin 寅 Bohu 伯虎
Mao Zedong 毛澤東 Mao 毛 Zedong 澤東 Runzhi 潤之
Chiang Kai-shek 蔣介石 Jiang 蔣 Zhongzheng 中正 Jieshi 介石


  1. ^ Tianjun Liu, Xiao Mei Qiang (2013). Chinese Medical Qigong. p. 590. ISBN 1848190964. Mencius (371—289 BCE), born in Zou county (Shandong province), first name Ke, style name Zi Yu, was a famous philosopher, educator, politician, and expert on the Qigong life nurturing of Confucius in the Zhanguo Period. 
  2. ^ Origins of Chinese Names. 2007. p. 142. ISBN 9812294627. In ancient times, besides having a surname and a given name, one would have a courtesy name "Zì" as well. The courtesy name was the proper form of address for an adult. On reaching 20 years of age, young men would "put on the hat" as ... 
  3. ^ Names of Persons and Titles of Rulers