, variously zibei
, is one of the characters in a traditional Chinese name
, and is so called because each
member of a generation (i.e. siblings
of the same generation) share that
character, unlike surnames
or given names
. Western names do not have an
This table illustrates an example.
Where used, generation names were usually given only to males,
although this does vary from lineage
to lineage and has changed
The generation name is a single character and is typically
prescribed by a generation poem
or paizi ge
in Chinese) specific to each
lineage. These poems can vary in length from around a dozen
characters to hundreds of characters. Each successive character
becomes the generation name for successive generations. After the
last character of the poem is reached, the poem is usually recycled
though occasionally it may be extended.
Generation poems were usually composed by a committee of family
elders whenever a new lineage was established through geographical
emigration or social elevation. Thus families sharing a common
generation poem are considered to also share a common ancestor and
have originated from a common geographical location.
Generation names may be the first or second name to follow the clan
name. Normally its position is consistent for the associated
lineage. However some lineages alternate its position from
generation to generation. This is quite common for Korean names.
Sometimes lineages will also share the same radical
in the non-generation name.
Important examples are the generation poems of the Kong
family. During the Ming Dynasty, emperor Zhu Yuanzhang
respected Confucius and Mencius so much that he honored their families with
generation poems. These generation poems were extended with the
permission of the Chongzhen
Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, the Tongzhi Emperor of the Qing Dynasty, and the Ministry of Interior of the Beiyang Government.
A related, but uncommon, custom is the practice of giving two
children single-character given names from a double-character word.
In Chinese, most words are composed of two or more characters. For
example, the word 健康 (jiàn kāng) means "healthy". A family might
name one 王健 (wáng jiàn) and the other 王康 (wáng kāng). Another
example would be 美丽 (měi lì) which means "beautiful". Daughters
might be names 周美 (zhōu měi) and 周丽 (zhōu lì).