Vol. 69 No. 3 (2021)

The Use of a Matching Preference Index to Empirically Examine Distribution Imbalances in Beijing Citizens’ Names

Ziming Zhao
Beijing Normal University
Xiaomeng Li
Beijing Normal University
Qinghua Chen
Beijing Normal University

Published 2021-08-16


  • Chinese names,
  • random matching,
  • Zipf's Law,
  • anthroponymy


Personal names contain considerable meaningful information about biological and social characteristics of the name-bearer. They also routinely contain important data about cultural preferences in the naming process. Access to this level of information has been limited in the past by a lack of access to large-scale empirical data. As this investigation demonstrates, by utilizing a reliable large-scale sample of Beijing citizens, it is possible to empirically demonstrate onomastic imbalances in the occurrence of Chinese surnames, given names, and full names. In particular, this paper explores the matching imbalance between Chinese surnames and given names, a phenomenon which has as yet received scant attention in onomastic literature. As this article demonstrates, our innovative quantitative approach makes it possible to reveal statistically significant differences between real names and “random-matching names” that reflect a matching imbalance and imply the probable existence of underlying cultural preferences in Chinese naming processes. The key to this approach is generating a matching preference index (MPI) for names in a dataset. Alongside explaining how this approach is used, this paper offers possible reasons to explain why specific names have higher or lower MPI rankings. As this paper argues, one of the main reasons for these empirical differences may be found in special associations name-givers have within Chinese culture.


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