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blastfromthepast 31st March 2006 07:23 AM

Chinese Naming Taboo
Naming taboo

Simplified Chinese: 避讳
Traditional Chinese: 避諱
Pinyin: bìhuì
Wade-Giles: pi4hui4

Naming taboo was a taboo of saying or writing names (specifically characters) of the emperors and ancestors in China and neighboring nations in the ancient Chinese cultural sphere.

Name taboos:
• The naming taboo of the state (国讳; 國諱) was the taboo against using name of the emperor and his ancestors. For example, during the Qin Dynasty, Qin Shi Huang's name Zheng(政) was avoided, and the first month of the year "Zheng Yue" (政月: the administrative month) was rewritten into "Zheng Yue" (正月: the upright month) and furthermore renamed as "Duan Yue" (端月: the proper/upright month). Generally, ancestor names going back to seven generations were avoided.
• The naming taboo of the clan (家讳; 家諱) was the taboo against using names of one's own ancestors.
• The naming taboo of the holinesses (圣人讳; 聖人諱) was the taboo against using the names of respected people. For example, Confucius' name was a taboo during the Jin Dynasty.
In diplomatic documents and letters between clans, each clan's naming taboos were observed.
In 1777, Wang Xihou (王錫侯) wrote Qianlong Emperor's name in his dictionary without leaving out any stroke as required, resulting in the executions of him and his relatives and the confiscation of his property.
There were three ways to avoid a character:
• Changing the character to another one, which usually was a synonym or sounded like the character being avoided. For example, the Xuanwu Gate (玄武門:the northern gate) of the Forbidden City was renamed as "Shenwu"(神武門:Gate of Divine Might) in order to avoid the Kangxi Emperor's name Xuanye (玄燁).
• Leaving the character as a blank.
• Omitting a stroke in the character, especially the final stroke.
Although these taboos are not strictly followed now, they are still practiced by many people who avoid giving their children names exactly the same or having similar sound to the ancestors'. (This is in direct contrast with the Japanese practice of having a son inherit a character from his given name from his father.) This can explain why even the modern Chinese find disrespectful calling elders by name, and why it is rare to find a Chinese person with "Jr." or "the third" in his name.
Throughout Chinese history, there were emperors whose names contained common characters who would try to alleviate the burden of the populace in practicing name avoidance. For example, Emperor Xuan of Han, whose given name Bingyi (病已) contained two very common characters, changed his named to Xun (詢), a far less common character, with the explicit stated purpose of making it easier for his people to avoid using his name. Similarly, Emperor Taizong of Tang, whose given name Shimin (世民) also contained two very common characters, ordered that name avoidance only required the avoidance of the characters Shi and Min in direct succession and that it did not require the avoidance of those characters in isolation. (However, his son Emperor Gaozong of Tang effectively made this edict of Emperor Taizong ineffective after his death by also requiring the avoidance of Shi and Min.)
The custom of naming taboo had a built-in contradiction; without knowing what the emperors' names were, one could hardly be expected to avoid them, so somehow the emperors' names had to be informally transmitted to the populace to allow them to learn them but not use them publicly. In one famous incident during the Northern Wei Dynasty, Korean ambassadors made a formal request that the imperial government issue them a document containing the emperors' names so that they could avoid offending the emperor while submitting their king's petition. The emperor agreed and issued them such a document. However, the mechanism of how the regular populace would be able to learn the emperors' names remained generally unclear throughout Chinese history.

touchring 31st March 2006 07:30 AM

Re: Chinese Naming Taboo
I learnt about this on TV shows, when the Manchu crown prince became the emperor, his brothers have to change their names - it is common practice for brothers to share a common character in their first name.

One smart emperor decided to change his own name instead so that his 15 odd brothers need not change their names.

Rubber Duck 31st March 2006 07:42 AM

Re: Chinese Naming Taboo
Is anyone speculated in Chinese Personal and Family Names?

59domain 8th April 2006 06:24 PM

Re: Chinese Naming Taboo

Originally Posted by Rubber Duck
Is anyone speculated in Chinese Personal and Family Names?

Yes, would be interesting to know.
They are the first thing I search when I started just last month. All are gone.

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