Generation name

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Generation name
Chinese name
Chinese 字辈 or 班次
Hanyu Pinyin zìbèi or bāncì
Jyutping baan1 chi3
Korean name
Hangul 돌림자 or 항렬자
Hanja 돌림字 or 行列字
Revised Romanization dollimja, hangnyeolja
McCune–Reischauer tollimcha, hangnyŏlcha

Generation name, variously zibei or banci, is one of the characters in a traditional Chinese name, and is so called because each member of a generation (i.e. siblings and cousins of the same generation) share that character, unlike surnames or given names.

Where used, generation names were usually given only to males, although this varies from lineage to lineage and has changed over time.

Generation poem[edit]

The sequence of generation is typically prescribed and kept in record by a generation poem (banci lian 班次聯 or paizi ge 派字歌 in Chinese) 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 Kong and Meng families. 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] 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 Minh Mạng emperor.


Generation names may be the first or second character in a given name. Normally this position is 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, but uncommon, custom is the practice of giving two children characters from a multiple-syllabic word. In Chinese, most words are composed of two or more syllables. 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 names Zhōu Měi (周美) and Zhōu Lì (周丽).

Besides the Han majority, the Muslim Hui also widely employed generation names, which they call lunzi paibie; 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.[4]

Table with example family[edit]

This table illustrates an example.

Family member Chinese form Full name
Family name Generation name Given name
Father Xia Zhou Jin Xia Zhoujin
Father's sibling Xia Zhou Sui Xia Zhousui
Mother Shang Qin Tang Shang Qintang
Mother's sibling Shang Qin Song Shang Qinsong
First child Xia Han Zheng Xia Hanzheng
Second child Xia Han Li Xia Hanli
Third child Xia Han Yong Xia Hanyong
Shang Qinsong
Shang Qintang
Xia Zhoujin
Xia Zhousui
Xia Hanzheng
Xia Hanli
Xia Hanyong

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 (wisdom’), Yuán ( ‘Complete/All-embracing’[5][N.B. 1]), Pǔ ( ‘universal’[N.B. 2]), Jué (Enlightenment’), Shàn ( ‘Skillful/Virtuous’[6]). The characters demonstrated belonging to a devotionalist group with a social status close to the family one. The affiliation character Miào ( ‘Profound/Marvellous’) usually was used by women, relating them to Guanyin, as Miàoshàn (妙善) was her name at birth.

In a same way, taking the monastic vows meant the break with the family lineage, which was shown by application of the surname Shì (, Thích in Vietnam) in one's Dharma name, the first character of the Shakyamuni Buddha's name in Chinese, Shìjiāmóuní (释迦牟尼).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 圆 corresponds to pūrṇa (‘teeming/filled’) in Sanskrit, as in the Complete Enlightenment (Pūrṇabuddha 圓覺).
  2. ^ 普 is the equivalent of viśva in Sanskrit[5]
  1. ^ Michener, James A. (1959). "IV: From the starving village". Hawaii. Fawcett Crest Book. New York: Ballantine Books. pp. 480–485. ISBN 0-449-21335-8. 
  2. ^ (Chinese) 孔姓 (The Kong family, descendents of Confucius)
  3. ^ (Chinese) 孟姓 (The Meng family, descendents of Mencius)
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ a b W.E. Soothill & Lewis Hodous, 1937, A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms.
  6. ^ Charles Muller, the Digital Dictionary of Buddhism.

External links[edit]

Examples of generation poems: