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Generation name

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Generation name
Chinese name
Chinese字輩 or 班次
Hanyu Pinyinzìbèi or bāncì
Jyutpingbaan1 ci3
Hokkien POJchū-pòe or pan-chhù
Korean name
Hangul돌림자 or 항렬자
Hanja돌림字 or 行列字
Revised Romanizationdollimja, hangnyeolja
McCune–Reischauertollimcha, hangnyŏlcha

Generation name (variously zibei or banci in Chinese; tự bối, ban thứ or tên thế hệ in Vietnamese; hangnyeolja in Korea) is one of the characters in a traditional Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean given name, and is so called because each member of a generation (i.e. siblings and paternal cousins of the same generation) share that character.

Generation poem[edit]

The sequence of generation names is typically prescribed and kept in record by a generation poem (Chinese: 班次聯 bāncì lián or Chinese: 派字歌 pàizì gē) specific to each lineage. While it may have a mnemonic function, these poems can vary in length from around a dozen characters to hundreds of characters. Each successive character becomes the generation name for successive generations.[1] After the last character of the poem is reached, the poem is usually recycled, though occasionally it may be extended.

Generation poems were usually composed by a committee of family elders whenever a new lineage was established through geographical emigration or social elevation. Thus families sharing a common generation poem are considered to also share a common ancestor and have originated from a common geographical location.

Important examples are the generation poems of the descendants of the Four Sages (Confucius, Mencius, Yan Hui, Zengzi): the Kong, Meng, Yan, and Zeng families (the Four Families, 四氏). During the Ming dynasty, Emperor Jianwen respected Confucius and Mencius so much that he honored their families with generation poems. These generation poems were extended with the permission of the Chongzhen Emperor of the Ming dynasty, the Tongzhi Emperor of the Qing dynasty, and the Ministry of Interior of the Beiyang government.[2][3]


The generation poem used by the Song dynasty House of Zhao was "若夫,元德允克、令德宜崇、師古希孟、時順光宗、良友彥士、登汝必公、不惟世子、與善之從、伯仲叔季、承嗣由同。"[4][5][6] The 42 characters were split into three groups of 14 for the offspring of Song Taizu and his two brothers.[7]

Another notable generation poem is the Nguyễn dynasty's Đế hệ thi (帝係詩 'Poem of the Generations of the Imperial Family'), created by Emperor Minh Mạng.


Generation names may be the first or second character in a given name, and normally this position is kept consistent for the associated lineage. However some lineages alternate its position from generation to generation. This is quite common for Korean names. Sometimes lineages will also share the same radical in the non-generation name.

A related custom is the practice of naming two children from the characters of a common word. In Chinese, most words are composed of two or more characters. For example, by taking apart the word jiàn-kāng 健康 ('healthy'), the Wang family might name one son Wáng Jiàn (王健) and the other Wáng Kāng (王康). Another example would be měi-lì 美丽 ('beautiful'). Daughters of the Zhous might be named Zhōu Měi (周美) and Zhōu Lì (周丽).

Besides the Han majority, the Muslim Hui Chinese people[note 1] have also widely employed generation names, which they call lunzi paibie;[note 2] for instance, in the Na family, the five most recent generations used the characters Wan, Yu, Zhang, Dian, and Hong. This practice is slowly fading since the government began keeping public records of genealogy.[8]

The Yao people of Guangdong has also adopted the Chinese name system, albeit with extensions known as "sub-family-names" to indicate branches. Some groups have more recently (circa Song Dynasty) adopted the generation name system with little modification.[9]


The following is a fictional family to illustrate how generation names are used.

Family member Chinese form Full name
Family name Generation name Given name
Father Li Yu Feng Li Yufeng
Father's sibling Li Yu Yan Li Yuyan
Mother Wang De Mei Wang Demei
Mother's sibling Wang De Song Wang Desong
First child Li Wen Long Li Wenlong
Second child Li Wen Feng Li Wenfeng
Third child Li Wen Peng Li Wenpeng
Wang Desong
Wang Demei
Li Yufeng
Li Yuyan
Li Wenlong
Li Wenfeng
Li Wenpeng

Affiliation character[edit]

In place of a biological generation, the character could be used as an indicator of seniority and peer groups in religious lineages. Thus, in the lay Buddhist circles of Song and Yuan times, it could be Dào ( 'dharma'), Zhì ( 'prajñā, wisdom'), Yuán ( 'complete, all-embracing'[10][note 3]), Pǔ ( 'universal'[note 4]), Jué ( 'bodhi, enlightenment'), Shàn ( 'skillful, virtuous'[11]). The characters demonstrated belonging to a devotionalist group with a social status close to the family one. The affiliation character Miào ( 'profound, marvelous') usually was used by women, relating them to Guanyin, as Miàoshàn (妙善) was her name at birth.

In the same way, taking the monastic vows meant the break with the family lineage, which was shown by application of the Buddhist surname Shì (, Thích in Vietnam) in one's Dharma name, the first character of Gautama Buddha's title in Chinese: Shìjiāmóuní (釋迦牟尼, 'Śākyamuni', lit. 'Sage of the Śakyas').


  1. ^ Some authors consider the Hui people to be a Han Chinese subgroup.
  2. ^ [sic], possible corruption of lùnzì páibèi 论字排辈, an alternate term for 字辈. Not to be confused with 论资排辈.
  3. ^ 圓 corresponds to pūrṇa ('teeming, filled') in Sanskrit, as in the Complete Enlightenment (Pūrṇabuddha 圓覺).
  4. ^ 普 is the equivalent of viśva in Sanskrit.[10]


  1. ^ Michener, James A. (1959). "IV: From the starving village". Hawaii. Fawcett Crest Book. New York: Ballantine Books. pp. 480–85. ISBN 0-449-21335-8.
  2. ^ (in Chinese) 孔姓 (The Kong family, descendants of Confucius) Archived September 3, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ (in Chinese) 孟姓 (The Meng family, descendants of Mencius) Archived January 16, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ "浙江趙建飛_新浪博客".
  5. ^ 梁永樂、趙公梃 (1 July 2014). 八爪魚家長──孩子愛玩不是罪. 明窗. pp. 107–. ISBN 978-988-8287-38-3.
  6. ^ Chaffee, John W (1999). Branches of Heaven: A History of the Imperial Clan of Sung China. Harvard Univ Asia Center. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-674-08049-2.
  7. ^ Lee, Thomas H. C. (January 2004). The New and the Multiple: Sung Senses of the Past. Chinese University Press. pp. 357–. ISBN 978-962-996-096-4.
  8. ^ Susan Debra Blum; Lionel M. Jensen (2002). China off center: mapping the margins of the middle kingdom (illustrated ed.). University of Hawaii Press. p. 121. ISBN 0-8248-2577-2. Retrieved 2011-04-09. ma surname hui.
  9. ^ YU, Xiao (2011-08-10). "瑶族的汉式姓氏和字辈制度" [Chinese surname and generation names in Yao people]. China Folklore Network / China Folklore Society (in Chinese). Retrieved 23 December 2022.
  10. ^ a b William Edward Soothill & Lewis Hodous, 1937, A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms.
  11. ^ A. Charles Muller, Digital Dictionary of Buddhism.

External links[edit]

Examples of generation poems: