Chinese names, in modern times, have contained Chinese family names, which are always placed first, with a one- or two-character personal names (given names) (名). Unlike Western personal names, there is great variety in assigning Chinese given names. Chinese names can consist of any character and contain almost any meaning. Unlike Western convention, it is extremely frowned upon to name a person after someone else, and cases where people have the same name are almost universally the result of coincidence rather than by intention. The common Western practice of naming the children after their parents or ancestors is an impossibility in Chinese culture.
In some families, the first of the two characters in the personal name is shared among all members of a generation and these generational names are worked out long in advance. In some families there is a small number of generational names but these are cycled through. Together, these generational names may be a poem about the hope or history of the family. There also other conventions. It is frequently the case that girls will be given names which reflect "feminine" characteristics or be named after plants or flowers.
Chinese females sometimes have reduplicated names (e.g. Xiu-xiu, Xiao-xiao). This practice also extends to males (e.g. Yoyo Ma). Also, names of siblings are frequently related. For example, one child may be named "sun" while his sister may be named "moon."
Chinese personal names also reflect the period of history. For example, many Chinese born during the Cultural Revolution have revolutionary names such as "strong country" or "eastern wind". And in Taiwan, it had been common to incorporate one of the four characters of the name "Republic of China" into boys' names.
Within families, adults rarely refer to each other by personal names. Adult relatives and children referring to adults generally use family title (for example big sister, second sister, third sister). As is the case in the West, it is considered rude for a child to refer to parents by their given name, but unlike the West this taboo is extended to all adult relatives.
When speaking of non-family social acquaintances people are generally referred to by a title (for example Mother Li or the Wife of Chu). Personal names are used when referring to adult friends or to children.
Most Chinese also have a "pet name" which their parents refer to them as. Nicknames are usually alteration of the given name, sometimes they are based on the persons' physical attributes, speaking style or even their first word.
In naming animals, Chinese will frequently use a name like "lucky" (福 fu2) or "happy" and will avoid using names similar to those given to humans. It would be unthinkably offensive to name a pet after another human being.
In former times, it was common for males to acquire a zi, or style name, upon reaching maturity, and for prominent people to have posthumous names, and rulers temple names. This is rarely the case, however Chinese writers will frequently take a pen name.
Many Chinese will have a Western name in addition to the Chinese name. For example, the Taiwanese politician Soong Chu-yu is also known as James Soong. Among Chinese Americans, it is common practice to be referred to primarily by the Western name and to using the Chinese name as a middle name.
Now, Chinese names varies from places to places, such as in Singapore, Chinese names often do not just represent the environment or the time, but also sophisticated words and often got to do with luck and fortune. When writting names in Latin Alphabets, often Singaporean Chinese names are vocalised in Teochew, Hokkien, Hainanese or Cantonese sounds. This is obvious especially in the surname, such as in Teochew, "Cai" (蔡) is pronouced as "Chua" or "Chai" in Cantonese. During the 50s to early 80s, Chinese names also includes the popular "Fu" (福), which means prosperity, and often written and pronouced as "Hock" in Hokkien. For some traditional families, generation names are still used. The highly urbanic environment of Singapore have been slowly reducing the need of including the generation prefix, probably due to the increase of literacy..