Ancient Chinese Names


Imperial China began in 221 B.C., during the time of the Roman Republic, and lasted until the 20th century. The Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties ruled in parts of China before 221 B.C. According to tradition, these dynasties stretch back to the 27th century B.C. During the Neolithic period, the Chinese already knew how to make silk and carved amulets out of jade. The Zhou Dynasty ruled during the Bronze Age. Their rule was seen as a golden age to succeeding generations. Writing became widespread during the Bronze Age (mid-2nd millennium B.C.). Chinese records date back to the 8th century B.C. (2)

Paper was developed during Han times. Hemp paper existed since at least 109 A.D. Cai Lun created a way to mass produce paper from tree bark, hemp, and linen before 121 A.D. By the 3rd century A.D., paper had largely replaced bamboo, wood, and pieces of silk as a writing material. Paper spread to Korea and Japan in the 7th century and reached Europe (through Central Asia and the Arabs) in the 12th century. (2)

Qin Shihuangdi became the First Emperor in 221 B.C. In the process of establishing his power, he burned the books of previous regimes. His dynasty, the Qin Dynasty ruled from 221 to 207 B.C. The Qin capital was at Xianyang, which was destroyed when Xiang Yu killed the entire Qin family. China's Han Dynasty lasted from 206 B.C. to 220 A.D. and was the height of the Silk Road. During the period of the Western Han rulers, the capital was in Chang'an (modern Xi'an). Wang Mang ruled between the Western Han rulers and the Eastern Han rulers. After Wang Mang died, Chang'an was destroyed during the fighting that followed. Guang Wudi, founder of the Eastern Han, moved the capital to the eastern city of Luoyang.

Between 220 and 907 A.D., China went through the Three Kingdoms (when the north became the Wei kingdom, the west became the Shu Han kingdom, and the south became the Wu kingdom), a period of division with Northern and Southern Dynasties, and reunification under the Sui (581 to 618) and the Tang (618 to 907). From 907 A.D. to 1368, China faced the instability of the Five Dynasties, peace under the Song (960 to 1279), and then Mongol invasions. The period from 1368 to 1911 saw the end of Imperial China under the Ming (1368 to 1644) and Qing dynasties (1644 to 1911). (1, 2)

Note: Where there are two names, the family name is listed first. (2)

Family Names

Ban - Family name of an Eastern Han general (1, 2)
Chang - A concubine of Han emperor Gaodi (2)
Chen - Family name of a peasant in 208 B.C. (2)
Chu - Family name during Han times (2)
Dong - Family name of warlord from the west who burned the imperial library at Luoyang at the end of Han times. (2)
Dou - Family name of several Han consorts and an Eastern Han general (2)
Fa - Family name of a Buddhist monk in 399 A.D. (1)
Guo - Family name of a wife of an Eastern Han emperor. (2)
Huo - Empress Huo poisoned her rival, Empress Xu during Han times (2)
Li - Chief Minister under Qin Shihuangdi. (2)
Liang - Family name of an Eastern Han empress who perhaps lived in the north (2)
Liu - Family name of the royal family during Han times (2)
Lu - Family name of a wealthy merchant family and a Han consort (2)
Ma - Family name of a famous Han general (2)
Meng - Family name of a Qin general and a legendary heroine. (1, 2)
Shang - Family name of a general during the time of Qin Shihuangdi's grandfather (2)
Wang - Family name of Han consorts and a Tang poet. Also the family name of Wang Mang, ruler during the brief and unofficial Xin Dynasty. (1, 2)
Wei - Empress Wei was a wife of Han Wudi (2)
Xiang - Family name of a general during Qin/Han times. (2)
Yin - Family name of a wife of an Eastern Han emperor. (2)
Zhao - Family name of the mother of Qin Shihuangdi, several Han consorts and a Han tutor. (2)
Zhuang - Family name of the father of Qin Shihuangdi. (2)
Zuan - Liu Zuan was the birth name of Han Zhidi of the Eastern Han (2)

Female Personal Names

Feiyan - Zhao Feiyan was the consort of Han Chengdi. Feiyan means "Flying Swallow". (2)
Hou - Empress Lu Hou was the mother of Han emperor Huidi (2)
Ji - Zhao Ji was the mother of Qin Shihuangdi, the First Emperor, 3rd century B.C. (2)
Jiangnu - Meng Jiangnu was a legendary Chinese heroine (1)
Lihua - Yin Lihua was a wife of Guang Wudi of the Eastern Han dynasty (2)
Na - Liang Na was an Eastern Han empress (2)
Shengtong - Guo Shengtong was a wife of Guang Wudi of the Eastern Han dynasty (2)
Zhi - Lu Zhi was the birth name of Empress Lu Hou (2)

Male Personal Names

Ao - Liu Ao was the birth name of Han Chengdi (2)
Bang - Liu Bang, king of Han, was the founder of the Han Dynasty (2)
Buwei - Lu Buwei was a wealthy merchant during the time of Qin Shihuangdi's father (2)
Changdong - Liu Changdong was the father of Han Lingdi (2)
Chao - Ban Chao was a general during the Eastern Han Dynasty (1, 2)
Fuling - Liu Fuling was the birth name of Han Zhaodi (2)
Gao - Zhao Gao was a tutor of Er Shi. Er Shi reigned from 210 to 207 B.C. (2)
Guang - Huo Guang, the very wealthy father of Empress Huo, was buried in a suit of jade. (2)
He - Liu He reigned very briefly during the uneasy post-Wudi period (2)
Hu Hai - Birth name of Er Shi, son and successor of Qin Shihuangdi (2)
Jizi - Liu Jizi was the birth name of Han Pingdi (2)
Ju - Liu Ju was the name of one of Wudi's sons, the father of Han Zhaodi (2)
Kang - Liu Kang was the father of Han Yuandi (2)
Long - Liu Long was the birth name of Han Shangdi, Eastern Han (2)
Lun - Cai Lun created a way to mass produce paper. He died in 121 A.D. (2)
Mang - Wang Mang was Empress Wang, wife of Han Yuandi (2)
Qi - Liu Qi was the birth name of Han Jingdi (2)
Qian - Zhang Qian was a Chinese ambassador and traveller during the reign of the Han emperor Wudi. He died in 113 BC. (1)
Qing - Liu Qing was Han Zhangdi's first heir apparent (2)
She - Chen She was a poor peasant who sparked a rebellion in 208 B.C. China (2)
Sheng - Liu Sheng lived in 2nd century B.C. Hebei (2)
Si - Li Si was the chief minister of Qin Shihuangdi, 3rd century B.C. (2)
Tian - Meng Tian was a Qin general (1)
Wan - Wang Wan was the father of Wang Mang. Wang Mang briefly ruled during the Xin Dynasty between the Western and Eastern Han dynasties. (2)
Xian - Dou Xian was an Eastern Han general and brother of a Han empress. Fa Xian was a Buddhist monk who travelled to India in 399 AD. and wrote A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms (1, 2)
Xie - Liu Xie was the birth name of Han Xiandi of the Eastern Han (2)
Xin - Liu Xin was the birth name of Han Aidi. Xin means "New"?. (2)
Xing - Liu Xing was the father of Han Pingdi (2)
Yang - Shang Yang was the chief minister of Qin Shihuangdi's grandfather (2)
Ying - Liu Ying was the birth name of Han emperor Huidi. Gan Ying was an envoy who learned about Ta Ts'in (the Roman Empire) although he never reached there. He died in 101 AD. (1)
Yu - Xiang Yu was a general during the end of the Qin and beginning of the Han dynasties (2)
Yuan - Ma Yuan was a Han general (2)
Yun - Chu Yun was a minor official who asked Han Chengdi to dismiss corrupt officials. Instead, Chengdi ordered Chu Yun executed. Chu Yun hung on to a balustrade and one of Chengdi's generals offered to be killed in Chu Yun's place. Chengdi spared Chu Yun's life. (2)
Zhao - Liu Zhao was the birth name of Han Hedi, Eastern Han (2)
Zheng - Birth name of Qin Shihuangdi, First Emperor of China, b. 259 B.C. (2)
Zhuang Xiang - Father of Qin Shihuangdi, who in 221 B.C. became the first Emperor of China (2)
Zhuo - Dong Zhuo was a western warlord who destroyed the imperial library at Luoyang at the end of Han times. (2)
Ziying - Nephew of Emperor Er Shi (210 - 207 B.C.) (2)

Geographical Names

Da Qin, Ta Ts'in - Rome/Roman Empire (1, 2)


(1) The Silk Road: Retracing the Ancient Trade Route, Judy Bonavia, Lincolnwood, Illionois: Passport Books, 1988.

(2) Chronicle of the Chinese Emperors: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers of Imperial China, Ann Paludan, New York: Thames and Hudson, 1998.

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Updated November 30, 2009