A modern Chinese name includes a surname/family name (姓), and a given name (名).
Let's take the famous Chinese basketball player, YAO Ming (姚明) for example.
Surname (姓):YAO (姚)
Given name (名):Ming (明)
You may notice that Chinese put the surname first, which often causes confusion among those from cultures where the family name usually comes last. That is the reason why Chinese people prefer English words surname, or family name, to last name - it is weird to refer last to something put first. So, if you meet YAO Ming in Huston someday, call him Mr. YAO instead of Mr. Ming.
Chinese people are used to being called by their full name, even between acquaintances. Call "Yao Ming" instead of his first name "Ming" only, this western usage will confuse your Chinese friends.
Today, there are over 700 different Chinese surnames, while only about 100 are commonly used, referred to as 百家姓. Here is the list of top 10 most common last names in China.
(1) 李; (2) 王; (3) 张; (4) 刘; (5) 陈; (6) 杨; (7) 黄; (8) 赵; (9) 周; (10) 吴
The great majority of Chinese family names have only one character, but there are a few with two, which is called compound surname. Many of these surnames derived from noble and official titles, professions, and place names. Only a few of these names survive in modern times. Some famous ones include:
司马; 诸葛; 欧阳; 司徒
Chinese Given Name
Generally speaking, Chinese given names have one or two characters, and are written after the family name. With a limited supply of family names, given names introduce variety in naming. Actually, Chinese names are all custom-made instead of choosing one from a stock of names like Tom, Mike, Mary or David.
Chinese Women's Names
Chinese names are not differentiated into masculine and feminine names in the way that they are in western traditions. It’s often not possible to tell the gender of a person from the name they have been given.
Today, married Chinese women usually retain their maiden names as their family name, rather than the adopted surname of their husband, and children usually inherit the father's last name.
Learn more about Confucius
Ancient Chinese Name
Ancient Chinese names were far more complex. They often included three parts: first the family name, followed by the given name, and then the alias (字).
Take the great Chinese thinker and social philosopher, Confucius (孔子) for example.
Surname (姓):KONG (孔)
Given name (名):Qiu (丘)
Alias (字):Zhong Ni (仲尼)
But the tradition has lapsed. Most Chinese today have the last name and first name only.