Change your name after marriage in China? | Speaking of China

36 Responses

  1. ellis
    ellis April 16, 2010 at 4:52 am | | Reply

    Jocelyn, thanks for posting this! Though I am not in any sort of situation that would dictate a name change, I’ve always been curious about the intricacies of doing so in a more international context. I’m also curious about Western women who married Chinese men: what did their husbands think about the Western practice of the woman changing her name?
    .-= ellis´s last blog ..Visceral Overcrowding =-.

  2. melanie gao
    melanie gao April 16, 2010 at 5:43 am | | Reply

    Oh what a great topic!

    Originally I wasn’t planning to change my last name but then I thought about our future children. They might not fit in in America because they wouldn’t be completely American, and they might not fit in in China because they wouldn’t be completely Chinese. And I wondered if even our own family consisted of some “Parsons” and some “Gaos”, would they wonder how they fit in to that picture as well? I wanted them to have at least one place where they knew they belonged, and that place should be the “Gao Family” so I decided to change my last name.

    But then I realized I would need to ask my future in-laws if they were okay with that, since it wasn’t their expectation. They were very gracious about it, basically open to whatever I wanted. Which is, God love them, how they are about just about everything. But the whole thing made me more aware of the significance of taking someone else’s name. Maybe because it wasn’t a given for my husband’s family. I felt like I should take good care of the name and be sure to live up to the “high” reputation it has.

    Finally, I love it when people are surprised that I’m not Chinese. I say, “I know, you expected Melanie Gao was a Chinese woman with a Western first name. But I’m a Western woman with a Chinese last name!”
    .-= melanie gao´s last blog ..Do I need a breathalizer for playdates now? =-.

  3. Gerald
    Gerald April 16, 2010 at 7:17 am | | Reply

    Well, glad others find it an interesting point too – and I’m with Melanie and the feminists on that. I did decide to put up a post on the issue, too…

  4. George
    George April 16, 2010 at 8:52 am | | Reply

    “They might not fit in in America because they wouldn’t be completely American, and they might not fit in in China because they wouldn’t be completely Chinese.”

    Try Hawaii…

  5. Susan Chi
    Susan Chi April 16, 2010 at 10:34 am | | Reply

    I’ll add a reason which could either land in the “for” or “against” category: It changes how your name sounds!

    Not that Chi doesn’t conjure up some goofy pronunciations (Chai and Kai, please!) or spellings (Chee? Shee?) But it happens much less than it did with my maiden name, and I think it sounds better 🙂

  6. Crystal
    Crystal April 16, 2010 at 1:18 pm | | Reply

    Indeed, changing your name in China is a very very big issue.
    From looooong time ago my mom wanted to change my first name (Chinese name – not “Crystal”): she went through so many complicated bureaucratic procedures, but all in vain.
    So now – I have one name which is written in IDs and another by which I am called by friends, family and colleagues.
    Sad, huh? 🙁
    .-= Crystal´s last blog ..Chinese Girls Want To Be Whiter =-.

  7. melanie gao
    melanie gao April 16, 2010 at 8:07 pm | | Reply

    It is so sweet how George is always on the lookout for the perfect place for me to live. 🙂 Hawaii sounds nice and George I will gladly move there if you will put up the down-payment for my beach villa.
    .-= melanie gao´s last blog ..Do I need a breathalizer for playdates now? =-.

  8. George
    George April 17, 2010 at 7:47 am | | Reply

    “It is so sweet how George is always on the lookout for the perfect place for me to live. Hawaii sounds nice and George I will gladly move there if you will put up the down-payment for my beach villa.”
    I will move there if I had the money myself. Right now I range between Washington DC and Singapore. Singapore is actually more expensive than Hawaii except food. Unfortunately, tolerant places are costly..and the two tolerant places in the world now are Hawaii and Singapore, San Jose, CA and perhaps Arcadia, CA and Shanghai, China….all of them very expensive.
    The reason I responded was the broad statement you made about kids not being accepted in China and the US..there are pockets of tolerance in this country and I believe in China…but I do understand that Alabama and the South are definitely not welcoming to mixed race children, particularly as many of them are very smart or super-smart! My boss’s boss, a tenured Professor from Berkeley on leave and working in my organization…her father’s side is from Alabama (outside Mountain Brooke) and mother from France. The girls who are teens…15 and 13 are already attending NYU and Berkeley, but their grandfather’s (paternal) sisters and nieces would not accept them as they are mixed…father is Filipino, although his family is multi-millionaire and own huge properties in Singapore.

  9. Chinamatt
    Chinamatt April 17, 2010 at 9:24 am | | Reply

    My wife told me about the tradition of not changing her name after marriage, and I didn’t mind. I thought the biggest obstacle would have been applying for her immigrant visa, but it didn’t matter. Only problems we’ve run into are when people send us checks with the wrong last name.
    .-= Chinamatt´s last undefined ..If you register your site for free at =-.

  10. Laura
    Laura April 19, 2010 at 12:03 am | | Reply

    I changed my surname after I married my Chinese husband for a couple of reasons – my former surname was troublesome in China as it was translated to “wer-er-jing-si”, something of a mouthful. My husband’s surname, Li, seemed dead easy by comparison. Also I didn’t want to the the odd one out when we had kids (as I knew in Chinese tradition any kids would take their dad’s surname).

    However, when we moved back to the UK my new surname was more troublesome than expected as nobody knew how to spell it – Hong Kong style Lee was suggested lots, as was British style Leigh, but nodoby hearing my lovely Scottish accent would believe my surnam was spelt “L I, yes, that’s right, L I nothing else”.

    And now I am back in China again I use a hyphenated version of old and new surnames because of the “racism/discrimination” mentioned in one of the quotes in the article – although I live here, I want people in the industry that I work in (media/communications) to know I am a native speaker of English and I found that too often that assumption was that I was Chinese.

    As for my husband, he didn’t expect me to change my name, just like he didn’t expect to wear a wedding ring as neither of these are Chinese customs, but when I explained my thinking about name and ring he was very happy to go along with me.

  11. Ericka
    Ericka April 20, 2010 at 12:55 pm | | Reply

    Nice post. I was actually just writing something about name changes as I just changed mine. I’m really not sure if it made things more confusing or less.

  12. Hao Hao Report April 21, 2010 at 10:11 pm |
  13. Ryan
    Ryan April 22, 2010 at 7:16 pm | | Reply

    Great post, and good food for thought.

    When I came to China I gave myself a Chinese name, complete with a chosen surname (“lei é›·”) and used it for several years in a semi-official capacity. But when I married my wife I assumed her surname as my own, as it contained an infinitely larger connection than the name I chose for myself.

    We’ve pretty much decided that if ever there is need in China, we’ll use our Chinese names, but if/once we move to my home country, she’ll be using my last name and her English name. The same will go for our child. Officially his passport (non-Chinese) will have his English name, but his grandparents and grandaunts/uncles will all call him by his Chinese name.

    I see Jessica’s point from the post about it not being as much an issue of judgement when in a Western country — but as we learned when my wife’s name was called at the Toronto airport recently, Westerns have a long way to go with Chinese name pronunciation.

  14. skreader
    skreader May 24, 2010 at 8:34 pm | | Reply

    I had a Chinese name on my local ID before I married. I decided to not to legally change my name to my husband’s name after marriage (for convenience & feminist reasons) & it was basically a non-issue for him and his family (my m-i-l’s legal name is her father’s family name).

    After the kids came, I noticed that doctors and school officials would cal me Mrs. Husband/Children’s family name. I am OK with that. In fact, I enjoy having different names for my different personas and roles. But, legally my name remains the same as on my birth certificate.

  15. Jett
    Jett April 4, 2011 at 1:28 am | | Reply

    In my religion it says that when a woman gets married she is not permitted to change her family name to her husband’s name upon marriage. She is always known by her father’s name, as a mark of her own identity. That is what it say in mines :)_

  16. Dennis
    Dennis August 18, 2011 at 8:18 am | | Reply

    I am a Chinese who has a family book for 17 generation. I can say that in the shanghai area all my family member’s wife changed their last name. That goes back 17 generations.

  17. Mark
    Mark October 16, 2011 at 1:04 am | | Reply

    You can use online services like to complete your marriage name change process online

  18. Barrett
    Barrett December 4, 2011 at 11:06 am | | Reply

    I was curious. I’m an American man married to a Chinese wife. I was thinking about hyphenating my last name so that when we have a baby, our kid would feel a connection culturally to both of our cultures. But, after reading the post and the comments from responders, I have a couple of questions for you guys.
    I was wondering, if I hyphenated my last name, could I just verbally tell Chinese citizens my European last name for job opportunities to avoid skepticism of being an American for teaching jobs, or would a copy of my passport photo create a lot of barriers and problems for me?
    Also, in the U.S., would my hyphenated last name marginalize me and make me “that weird guy” that nobody wants to talk to and create problems for social networking opportunities?
    Any helpful responses would be appreciate, thanks 🙂

  19. Chelan
    Chelan December 8, 2011 at 3:54 am | | Reply

    I am currently living in China right now with my chinese boyfriend. We are planning to get married, and my thoughts with changing my surname came up. I know I want to change my last name, but what about my chinese name? If I am changing my surname, I want to change it for both of them. Though actually in my case I have my English name, Chelan, and two chinese names! MuLan is registered with my residency files, and Chen Ke Jia is registered with the university I am attending….. sooo, I think it is kind of a burden to have so many different names. I hope there is a way to create just one chinese name if I am able to change my surname? Is there any thoughts or advice for this?

  20. Sarah
    Sarah December 10, 2011 at 11:08 pm | | Reply

    I didn’t know that women don’t change their last name in China…I never thought about that. I just assumed I would change my last name…Well, I never planned to get married but my boyfriend and I do talk about it but the name thing never came up. The ring thing did, he didn’t want to wear wedding rings which up until then I never knew I would have a problem with that. But now I need to talk to him about this too…

  21. askdsk
    askdsk October 22, 2012 at 7:26 am | | Reply

    I am with you on this one. How come nobody mentioned it used to be a Chinese tradition for women to go with husband’s last name too?
    Please don’t over use feminism. Plenty of independent women change their names in western countries to go along with the tradition.
    The problem with discrimination is real. But people can be pleasantly surprised if you are a woman with a Chinese last name. I think it is more of a trouble for children with a Chinese father. They can be categorized by their last name. I knew some Chinese women happily adopted their husband’s last name for this reason too.

    I applause those women who change to their husband’s last name. They choose to stand out and go with the tradition. They are better feminists in my opinion.

  22. Jules
    Jules October 22, 2012 at 9:24 pm | | Reply

    Really helpful information! I am still trying to decide whether or not to keep my name!!

  23. Krizia
    Krizia November 12, 2012 at 4:30 am | | Reply

    wow! sounds like a hassle process to change names.
    I also have a chinese boyfriend and one time, we suddenly talked about that topic.
    he even told me ‘i don’t need to change names’
    but i wanted to!! haha, now i know it’s really a part of their culture.. but if ever i’d be married with him someday, i want to change my surname!:)

  24. Jin
    Jin November 29, 2012 at 12:51 pm | | Reply

    I’m so glad I found your blog here! I’m from Tianjin, and living in NC currently. I was talking with my boyfriend yesterday about how I did not want to change my name after marriage. Well he said he understood, but he looked pretty confused to me. I gotta let him read your blog post on this :).

  25. ram ninawe
    ram ninawe June 20, 2014 at 6:44 pm | | Reply

    after marriage whose last name will be given to new born baby father last name or mother last name.

  26. Michael Edgar
    Michael Edgar March 5, 2017 at 5:21 am | | Reply

    My Chinese wife tells me married women started keeping their own name after the Communists took over. It seems right to make a name change because, in Chinese culture (I am told) the woman is leaving her own family and joining the husband’s.

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