Chinese given names are almost always made up of one or two characters and are written after the surname. Therefore, Wei (伟) of the Li (李) family is called "Li Wei" and not "Wei Li". Given names can theoretically include any of the Chinese language's characters and contain almost any meaning.

It is considered disrespectful in China to name a child after an older relative, and both bad practice and disadvantageous for the child's fortune to copy the names of celebrities or famous historical figures. An even stronger naming taboo was current during the time of the Chinese Empire, when other bearers of the emperor's name could be gravely punished for not having changed their name upon his ascension.

There are also other conventions. It is frequently the case that children are given gender-based names, with boys acquiring 'masculine' names implying strength or courage while girls receive 'feminine' names concerning beauty or flowers. Since doubled characters are considered diminutives in Chinese, many girls also receive names including a doubled pair of characters or two characters with identical pronunciation.

As of 2017, the most common Chinese last names (surnames) are:

  lǐ  / (a surname) / plum /

  wáng  / king / Wang (proper name) /

张 /   zhāng  / (a measure word) / (a surname) / open up /

刘 /   líu  / Liu (Chinese surname) /

陈 /   chén  / arrange / exhibit / narrate / tell / old / stale / a surname / to state / to display / to explain / (surname) /

杨 /   yáng  / (surname) / poplar /

赵 /   zhào  / (surname) /

黄 /   huáng  / (surname) / sulfur / yellow /

  zhōu  / (surname) / complete / encircle / circuit / lap / week / cycle / all / every / attentive / thoughtful /

zhōu  / bestow alms /

吴 /   wú  / (surname) / province of Jiangsu /