The original Chinese names
In Chinese, names consist usually of two, three, or occasionally four monosyllabic characters.
Surnames, or xìng (姓), generally come first and in most cases consist of one character. The most common one-character surnames are Li, Zhang, Chen, Wang, and Liu (as written in the romanization system used in mainland China and Singapore, ping). There are a handful of two-character surnames, but they are rarely encountered. The most common of those are Ouyang and Sima; prior to the Song Dynasty (c. 960-1279) they were more common, but fell out of fashion and were often simplified to one-character names (frequently Hú 胡, which means something close to “Barbarian,”) to denote their often non-Han origins.
The xìng is followed by a one-, two-, or in some cases three-character míng (名), or given name. One-character míng are far more common in mainland China than in other parts of the Chinese-speaking world. Because of the huge number of people with the same name (names like Zhang Hong, or my wife’s name Zhang Fan — so common that I personally know four people by that name), two-character míng are now encouraged.
The meaning of Chinese people’s names
Chinese, unlike many other language, doesn’t have some names so you can choose. When parents in China named the babies, they will consider the meaning of the name.
For example, one of my roommates(a girl) called 胜男. The character ‘胜’ means ‘win’ or ‘exceed’. The character ‘男’ means ‘male’. Her name literally means ‘better than male’. It shows the wish of her parents. And I have to say, she perfectly fits her name.
As each Chinese character has dfifferent meaning, some parents will put together some character with good meaning to named their kids.
One of my friends, ‘慧莉’, would be a good example. Her name is combined of two character, ‘慧’ and ‘莉’. The character ‘慧’ means ‘intelligent’ or ‘wisdom’. And the character ‘莉’ is refers to a kind of flower called ‘jasmine’, usually used by parents who want their girls become beautiful.
And many well-educated parents will reference some ancient Chinese books such as The Analects of Confucius, Menzi, Daodejing, The Book of Songs, Lisao, to named thier babies.
One of my friend’s name is ‘思齐’, comes from the famous saying ‘见贤思齐焉，见不贤而内自省也’. This saying means: when you meet some one outstanding, you should think of equaling them; when you meet someone of a contrary character, you should examine yourself not to be like him. So that’s what her parents expect of me.
In Germany or anywhere else, when someone is named André/Andrew/Андрей/etc. you do not usually think “Ah, a brave and manly person, okay”. In the same way, Chinese people do not always think of the meaning of someone’s name.
Family names all have a meaning, like King (王, Wang), Plum (李, Li), Forest (林, Lin), Horse (马, Ma). Personal names also have, often a desirable attribute like rich, beautiful, strong, intelligent. Girls often have names of flowers. If you think about their meaning, it sometimes sounds silly… like Cloudhero, Fragrant-Duckweed, Happy-Lily or things like that… but so do some western names if you look up their etymology.