‘My name is’ and ‘what’s your name’, this would often be the very first interaction between you and a native Chinese speaker. An appropriate self-introduction starting with your name is the first step for people to know you.
In this article, we’ll help you master the art of introducing your name in Chinese right away with the word 叫 (jiào). We’ll also look at various ways of asking “What’s your name” in Chinese. Last but not least, we’ll explore the Chinese social etiquette when meeting someone for the first time, and you’ll see why asking people’s names in Chinese is not always a good idea and what you should say instead.
Let’s jump right in!
Most Common way of Introducing Your Name in Chinese
我叫 (Wǒ jiào)…
The verb 叫 (jiào) is considered one of the most basic words in Chinese. It’s included in the first chapter in pretty much every Chinese textbook and course. It’s the easiest way to introduce your name and ask “What’s your name?” in Chinese.
Depending on the context, 叫 (jiào) can be used to express both “call” and “be called”. Let’s have a look at each one in turn.
叫 (jiào): call
You can use 叫 (jiào) to express the action “call”, it works the same way as in English.
Jiào wǒ Xiǎomíng.
Call me Xiaoming.
- 请叫我 David。
Qǐng jiào wǒ David.
Please call me David.
Nǐ kěyǐ jiào wǒ Dàwèi.
You can call me Dawei (David).
叫 (jiào): be called
This may be the most common use of 叫 (jiào). You use the word to introduce your name (or any one’s name) in Chinese. It’s equivalent to “be called” in English.
subject + 叫 (jiào) + name
Just as any verb in Chinese, 叫 (jiào) does not have any conjugations and has a single form for all subject pronouns.
Wǒ jiào Zhāngmíng.
I am called Zhangming. (my name is Zhangming)
Wǒ jiào Lìshā.
I am called Lisha (Lisa).
Tā jiào mǎlǐ’ào.
He’s called Mali’ao (Mario).
Wǒ de bàba jiào Wáng Jiànguó.
My dad is called Wang Jianguo.
- 我的妈妈叫 Jenny。
Wǒ de māma jiào Jenny.
My mom is called Jenny.
Nàge rén jiào Hàokè.
That guy is called Haoke (Hulk).
Wǒmen de shīfu jiào Yè Wèn.
Our master (mentor) is called Ye Wen (Ip Man).
You can use the structure to introduce both your full name and first name. For those of you who have chosen a Chinese name, take note that it’s not customary to introduce your first name with 叫 (jiào) if it’s just one character.
For instance, if you choose to name yourself 李白 (Lǐ Bái) in Chinese, with 白 (Bái) being your first name.
- × 我叫白。
Wǒ jiào Bái.
I am called Bai.
It’s grammatically correct, but it sounds strange to native speakers.
It’s better to introduce your full name instead.
- √ 我叫李白。
Wǒ jiào Lǐ Bái.
I am called Li Bai.
If your first name in Chinese consists of two characters, then it’s totally fine to introduce it with 叫 (jiào). For instance, your name is 李大白 (Lǐ Dàbái),
- √ 我叫大白。
Wǒ jiào Dàbái.
I am called Dabai.
Of course, the use of 叫 (jiào) is not just limited to people names, you can use it to introduce anything as long as it has a name.
Wǒ de māo jiào Tǔdòu.
My cat is called Tudou (potato).
Zhè jiào liǎnjīní.
This is called ‘face-kini’.
Nà jiào guǎngchǎng wǔ.
That is called ‘square dancing’.
Zhège dìfang jiào Gùgōng.
This place is called the Forbidden City.
Nàge yóuxì jiào bǎolěi zhī yè.
That game is called Fortnite.
Other Ways of Introducing Your Name in Chinese
“我叫 (Wǒ jiào)…” means “I am called…” literally. It’s the most common way of saying your name in Chinese, but there are other ways to introduce your name too. Let’s find out.
我的名字叫 (Wǒ de míngzì jiào)…
名字 (míngzì) means name, it could refer to both full name and first name. If you want to add a formal element to the name introduction, then go with this expression.
Dàjiā hǎo, wǒ de míngzì jiào Lǐ Dàwèi.
Hi everybody, my name is called Li Dawei (David Lee).
Tā de míngzì jiào Zhāng Quándàn.
His name is called Zhang Quandan.
The structure can be applied to anything that you want to introduce.
Zhège dìfang de míngzì jiào Gùgōng.
The name of the place is called the Forbidden City.
我的名字是 (Wǒ de míngzì shì)…
This is pretty much the same as 我的名字叫 (wǒ de míngzì jiào), only with a different word choice. In fact, it’s the exact equivalence to the English “My name is…”. You’ll mainly want to use the expression in formal speech situations.
Wǒ de míngzì shì Lǐ Dàwèi, nǐ kěyǐ jiào wǒ Dàwèi.
My name is Li Dawei. You can call me Dawei (David).
Nàge yóuxì de míngzì shì bǎolěi zhī yè.
The name of that game is ‘Fortnite’.
How to ask “What’s your Name” in Chinese?
Now you can say your name in Chinese for sure, but how do you ask people’s names in Chinese? To get to that, we’ll need to look at the word order of a Chinese question first.
In English, you need to reconstruct the sentence by putting the question word at the very beginning. For instance.
Your name is David.
→ What is your name?
You are called David.
→ What are you called?
The word order of the Chinese question is to keep the word order of the statement and then change the “asked part” to the corresponding question word, and in this case: 什么 (shénme), meaning what.
Nǐ jiào Dàwèi.
You are called Dawei.
Nǐ jiào shénme?
Literally, “You are called what?” (What’s your name?)
It may sound abrupt in English, but in Chinese, it sounds perfect.
Let’s make it official.
你叫什么 (Nǐ jiào shénme)?
You can also add a 名字(míngzì) after the question word 什么 (shénme) to make it sound slightly more formal.
你叫什么名字 (Nǐ jiào shénme míngzì)?
Nǐ jiào shénme míngzì?
What’s your name?
Literally, “You are called what name?”
Remember 我的名字叫 (wǒ de míngzì jiào)… and 我的名字是 (Wǒ de míngzì shì)… the two alternative ways of telling your name? You can swap out the name with the question word (什么 shénme) as well to raise the question “what’s your name” in Chinese.
你的名字叫什么 (Nǐ de míngzì jiào shénme)?
Nǐ de míngzì jiào shénme?
What’s your name?
Literally, “Your name is called what?”
你的名字是什么 (Nǐ de míngzì shì shénme)?
Nǐ de míngzì shì shénme?
What’s your name?
Literally, “Your name is what?”
By far, 你叫什么 (nǐ jiào shénme) and 你叫什么名字 (nǐ jiào shénme míngzì) are the most common ways of asking people’s name in Chinese. If you are a beginner in Chinese, you might want to stick to these two expressions.
你的名字叫什么 (nǐ de míngzì jiào shénme) and 你的名字是什么 (Nǐ de míngzì shì shénme) convey a more serious tone and you’ll most likely hear them in formal occasions, for instance, when you are making a transaction at a bank in China, and the bank staff needs to identify who you are. If you say the expressions with the wrong tone, you could sound more like interrogating rather than trying to make new friends.
Asking “Who are you” in Chinese
你是谁 (Nǐ shì shéi)?
Sometimes, you don’t really want to know the name of the person, you just need to find out who that person is, then this phrase will come in handy.
Nǐ shì shéi?
Who are you?
Literally, “You are who?”
Wǒ shì nǐde línjū.
I am your neighbor.
您是哪位 (Nín shì nǎ wèi)?
Now, a straight “who are you” may sound a little too abrupt, you can change it to 您是哪位 (nín shì nǎ wèi) to make it more polite and friendly. 您 (nín) is the honorific form of 你 (nǐ), and 哪位 (nǎ wèi) means “which person”. (位 wèi is the polite measure word for people)
Qǐngwèn, nín shì nǎ wèi?
Excuse me, may I know you are?
Literally, “you (honorific) are which person?”
Wǒ shì nǐ bàba de tóngshì.
I am a colleague of your dad.
When Not to Ask People’s Name in Chinese
Here’s what you should know. A Chinese person’s name consists of a family name and a given name (first name). The family name always comes before the given name. Compared with western names, the order of Chinese names is reversed.
A person’s full name: 王建国 (Wáng Jiànguó)
His family name: 王 (Wáng)
His given name: 建国 (Jiànguó)
When you ask a person 你叫什么 (nǐ jiào shénme) and 你叫什么名字 (nǐ jiào shénme míngzì), you are essentially asking his full name or first name. However, in Chinese culture, only people having a close personal relationship can address each other by their full name or first name. Other people should just live on a family-name basis. (e.g. Mr. Wang, Teacher Zhang, Manager Li)
Casual information exchange on names is okay when you are talking to a kid, introduced to a friend of a friend, meeting peers at school, workplace or a party, or going on a blind date. But other than these occasions, you are not supposed to ask for their names when you first get to know someone. You definitely don’t want to use 你叫什么(名字) ‘nǐ jiào shénme (míngzì)’ to your client, people who are older than you, or senior in rank than you in an organization.
If you somehow, unfortunately, break the social etiquette and ask directly people’s names, the Chinese people will just reply with their family name, for instance , “我姓王 (wǒ xìng Wáng) – my surname is Wang” to let you know that you have already trespassed their territory, and they are not ready to be your friends yet.
Instead of asking strangers 你叫什么(名字) ‘nǐ jiào shénme (míngzì)’, you should go for their family name. There are two ways to do it.
Nǐ xìng shénme?
What’s your surname?
Nín guì xìng?
What’s your noble family name?
We’ve written a detailed post on how to appropriately ask people’s family names in Chinese, read here.
‘我叫 (wǒ jiào)…’ is the most common way of introducing your name in Chinese. Alternatively, you can say ‘我的名字叫 (wǒ de míngzì jiào)…’ or ‘我的名字是 (wǒ de míngzì shì)…’. To ask people’s name, simply say ‘你叫什么 (nǐ jiào shénme)?’ or ‘你叫什么名字 (nǐ jiào shénme míngzì)?’. Keep in mind that it’s not always polite to ask directly Chinese people’s names when you meet them for the first time, instead, you should ask their family name.
What are the most common names in China? And what are the most popular baby names in China? You’ll be surprised! Read this article to find out!