How do native Chinese “spell” their names to others?

Posted by Grace Feng on September 13, 2012

How do native Chinese "spell" their names to others?Why do you need to read this post?

If you’re learning Chinese on this blog like most other readers you can’t skip this post. The reason being the way a native Chinese “spell” his/her name to others is exactly the way the characters of his/her name being memorized. The others would easily get what the name is from the “spelling” because that’s a common way to memorize and recall a character among natives.

What you can gain from this knowledge is that you can gradually train your brain to memorize Chinese characters the same way.

Let’s jump right into an example first. Mr Zhang’s name is 张权宝 zhāng quán bǎo. This is how he would “spell” his name to others:

zhāng quán bǎo, gōng cháng zhāng, quán, mù zì páng jiā gè yòu, bǎo, bǎo gàitóu xiàyīge yù


In English he’s saying:

张权宝,弓长,wood radical (木) plus 又, lid radical (宀) with a 玉 under it.

See how a Chinese character is being deconstructed? As a matter of fact, that is exactly the way a character is memorized in a native Chinese’s mind. When someone is having difficulty recalling a certain character, it’s likely that maybe the radical is being retrieved, or the other part is retrieved in one’s head, but the rest is lost.

Then what does that tells you about how you should memorize Chinese characters? Well, if you have only learned one or two hundreds of characters, you don’t need to bother that much what radicals they have. But if you’re moving towards thousand milestone, then memorizing the commonly used “meaning radicals” would definitely increase your efficiency a lot. So far I’ve introduced 45 radicals in the series of “Chinese radical show“. There are about another 10 more to go, then we’re done. Once I finish, I will post a one page “meaning radical ” table with links to each single one, so you can learn all of them in one place.

After that, you’ll see a new series be published on this blog to help you learn Chinese characters in groups (with connections between meaning radicals, pronunciation and sound radical). A redoable  online quiz will also be included in each lesson. I’m hoping that this series will help ambitious Chinese learners to increase their efficiency in learning, recognizing and memorizing Chinese characters.

Stay tuned!


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4 Responses to “How do native Chinese “spell” their names to others?”

  1. nothing


    09-13-2012 8:00 pm

    That’s really cool Grace! None of my Chinese friends have every explained their names to me in that way (maybe they think I wouldn’t understand :)).

    Oh, I think there is a little mistake in your English explanation: ‘decomposed’ would be better written as ‘deconstructed’. (Decompose = 腐烂)



    • nothing


      09-13-2012 8:40 pm

      Thanks 白睿 for your help with my English :-)

      I did have doubts on that word but was brave enough to move on with the risk like usual :-)

      You know how much I hate to do the look-up thingy :-( Even if it’s just as simple as googling, sigh!

      Guess you don’t get more fun than I do with lookup (for Chinese instead) ;-)

      My Chinese name? Hmn, good question … I’m not purposely hiding it, but also not comfortable to speak it out loud to people from 94 different countries and territories (as shown in my google stats) … hope you understand :-)


  2. nothing


    07-14-2014 7:55 am

    Good post. I have met a lot of people who explain the characters in their name by reference to another word (So if your name was 陈冠希 you could say 冠军的冠 / 皇冠的冠 and 希望的希). In my experience, people don’t spell out their last name if it’s very common. The spelling is to disambiguate, i.e. 张 vs 章, 蒋 / 江 / 姜,or perhaps with names that sound similar for people who speak Mandarin with a regional accent.


    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      07-20-2014 1:23 pm

      Hi Kaiwen, thanks for your note. You’ve shared a very good example on name introduction. :-)



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