My niece and I have the same family name (Eng) and the same given name (Ting). Yet the written character, meaning and pronounciation of our ‘Ting’ are different in Chinese.
A Chinese name is written with the family name (surname or last name) first and the given name (usually one or two characters) next.
Chinese family names are patrilineal, passed from father to children. Although there are thousands of Chinese family names, the 100 most common surnames are shared by 85% of the population. Historically, it was considered taboo to marry someone with the same family name — even if there is no direct relationship between those concerned, though in recent decades this has no longer been frowned upon.
Some families have generational names whereby one of the two characters in the personal name is shared by all members of a generation. Eg. Ong Siew Poh, Ong Siew Hong, Ong Siew Chuan...
Nowadays, many Chinese choose to adopt a Westernized name which is usually written before their family name. Eg. John, Ong (family name) Siew Poh (given name).
Some of my non-Asian friends get so confused, they coin the strangest names. In the example above, you can either call him John or Siew Poh, but not Ong Siew or Ong Poh.
Confused already? It’s ok, we understand.