How should I address you – Self Introduction in Mandarin

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How should you introduce yourself in Mandarin, and how should you ask people for their names? Here are the audio files, and below, the explanation.

Get the order right

First of all, in Chinese, surnames come first, given names come last. This is why sometimes there is confusion with the terms ‘first name’ and ‘last name’, because in Chinese, ‘last names’ come first, while ‘first names’ come last!

This can be quite annoying when filling up online forms. Take my name for example. My name is 黄方麒 Huáng Fāngqí – 黄 Huáng is my family name, 方麒 Fāngqí, my given name. I am called ‘Huáng Fāngqí’, not ‘Fāngqí Huáng’. After correctly inputting my last name and first name, I end up becoming ‘Fāngqí Huáng’. Sometimes, knowing there will be such an automatic switch by the system, I purposely enter my first and last names the other way round, but magically the system knows this is a Chinese name, and so I still end up becoming ‘Fāngqí Huáng’. Hmm, maybe getting the order right is a tall order?

Well, that was intended as a joke. I’m used to it!

Play safe

Second, when asking for names of people of higher status, or when you want to be polite, you probably wouldn’t want to ask for their first names, nor would you want to call them by their first names. First names are used only in casual situations and for closer relationships. Even though I’ve noticed that people are getting more and more relaxed with this, I think it would still be good to play safe at the beginning.

Start using them!

Now let’s get started with the actual phrases to use. There are two essential words you need to know – 姓 xìng and 叫 jiào. ‘Xìng’ means surname, ‘jiào’ means ‘to be called’.

Again let’s use my name as an example. (Now you won’t forget me, hehe!) These are the ways you can introduce yourself:

Wǒ xìng Huáng.
My surname is Huáng.

Wǒ jiào Huáng Fāngqí.
My name is Huáng Fāngqí.

Wǒ jiào Fāngqí.
My name is Fāngqí.

As you can see above, when you introduce yourself with your surname, you use ‘xìng’, and when you say your full name, or only your first name, you use ‘jiào’.

What about the way to ask? As I said earlier, it’s always good to be polite, so the most usual form of asking for a name… is actually to ask for the surname.

Nín guìxìng?

‘Nín’ is the polite form of ‘nǐ’ (you), while ‘guì’ means honorable, so this literally means ‘What’s your honorable surname?’

In reply, since the person is asking you for your surname, answer with ‘Wǒ xìng Huáng’ – tell the person your surname. (Remember that ‘guì’ means honorable, so you don’t want to use this when talking about your own surname!) If you don’t want to be so formal, you can always add on something after that:

Wǒ xìng Huáng, jiào Fāngqí. Jiào wǒ Fāngqí hǎo le.
My surname is Huáng, my first name is Fāngqí. Just call me Fāngqí.

In a casual setting, you can ask:

Nǐ jiào shénme (míngzi)?

‘Shénme’ means what, and ‘míngzi’ means name, so this question means ‘What is your name’, or literally, ‘What (name) are you called by?’

To this question, you can reply with just your first name or your full name.

Wǒ jiào Fāngqí./ Wǒ jiào Huáng Fāngqí.

One thing to note about ‘Nín guìxìng’ is, we use this only when we’re asking the person directly. So when we’re asking about someone else, for example, ‘tā’ (he), we don’t say ‘Tā guìxìng?’ Instead, we ask:

Tā xìng shénme?
What’s his surname?

You can also use this less formal way of asking directly with someone you’re already friends with. For example, you have a classmate or colleague and like everybody else you call him by his first name, but one day you realize you don’t know his surname. In such a case, you can ask him directly ‘Nǐ xìng shénme?’

Actually there’s a way to use neither ‘xìng’ nor ‘jiào’ when asking for a name. You can ask:

Zěnme chēnghu nín?
How should I address you?

This is considered more polite than ‘Nǐ jiào shénme míngzi?’ Since this doesn’t specifically ask for your surname or name, you can reply with your surname, full name or first name, depending on how formal or how casual you think the situation is.

One final note. For foreigners, since they are foreign names, perhaps, anything goes! You can use ‘jiào’ even if you’re telling someone your surname, it won’t sound odd since they probably won’t realize whether it’s a surname or a given name. However, if a foreigner tells me, ‘Wǒ xìng ___, jiào ___’ I’ll be totally impressed. Cool, they know the difference! And it does make me more eager to get to know them better, because they seem to care about our culture and language.

So, there you have it.

Wǒ xìng Huáng, jiào Fāngqí. Jiào wǒ Qíqí hǎo le. Nín guìxìng?

Let me know in the comments! And, check out the audio files to start practising!

See you next time…

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