Chinese name chops and how to use them


This is my neighbour Chen Qi. Since he was fifteen he has been carving soapstone stamps (“chops”) with peoples names on, which traditionally you put on paintings and calligraphy next to your signature. He very kindly gave me one of my own for Spring Festival, with my Chinese name in seal script.

There is an art to using a stamp properly, and I’ve definitely been doing it wrong. So Chen Qi’s son Chen Jiahe showed me how…

1. Tap the stamp into the ink. Don’t press the stamp directly down, this will force ink into the concave gaps, leaving a stamp that blots and is difficult to clean. Tap in different directions, checking that the ink has adhered evenly across the stamp.

2. Breath on the stamp. The warmth of your breath will ensure the ink has a better flow, cold ink does not adhere as well.

3. Make sure the stamp does not shift on the paper, press with circular motion. But before that, make sure you’re pressing on to a surface that gives (like this pad of paper, or the thick cloth used in calligraphy practice, a hard surface like a wooden table won’t work). Once the chop hits the paper you have to be really careful it stays in one place, otherwise it will blur. To ensure the ink spreads evenly, shift the pressure in a circular motion.

4. Lift straight up. Otherwise it will smudge, obviously.

Just a couple other things, the best ink is from the Xiling Academy of Traditional Arts in Hangzhou, which though over a century old now has a taobao shop (link). This ink will last for longer than you need, it’s the same stuff you see on scroll hundreds of years old that still have a bright red chop on them. The ink from local art shops (let alone stationery shops) barely lasts a year before fading out in my experience.

Once you’ve used your chop, cleaning is just a matter of wiping it on paper. If you need to change colours (traditionally it’s red, but you can get a range of ink colours) better to clean it thoroughly with alcohol.

Chen Qi also makes these amazing miniatures (below), each one is smaller than your little finger, carved in soapstone.

If you would like your own stamp, Chen Qi now has his own taobao shop too… It’s called the Studio of Ten Thousand Stones (Edit: They’ve closed the shop now, but you can contact them here, jiahechen@qq.com, Jiahe has great English).

Notes on the Chinese:
My Chinese name 万哲生 Wàn Zhé shēng
Chen Qi 陈旗 Chén Qí
chop 印章 yìn zhāng
seal script 篆书 zhuàn shū (Chinese calligraphic style)
Chen Jiahe 陈嘉禾 Chén Jiā hé
(Jiahe is a presenter on Chinese Central Television’s economic’s channel)
Xiling Academy 西泠印社 Xī Líng yìn shè
Studio of Ten Thousand Stones 万石斋 Wàn Shí Zhāi

33 Comments

  1. Sure,what would you like? Something close to your English name? Chinese names are usually three characters, so you could choose something that sounds the same (Cynthia is usually 辛西雅 Xīn xī yǎ “Shin-Shee-Ya”, meaning “the 8th Divine Symbol – West – Elegant, this would be the most obvious choice). Or you could have Goddess of the Moon (as Cynthia is the epithet of Artemis, wikipedia tells me) (so 月光女神 yuè guāng nǚ shén “Yoo’ei-gwang-noo-shen”, literally Moonlight Goddess).

  2. Thank you for your excellent information. I have chops but I never could get them to print clearly. I will use this technique. Also, my red paste ink is rather old.
    Thank you.
    宝美玲

  3. I would like name chops for each of my 2 granddaughters.
    We have some purchased on visits to Hong Kong and Taiwan

    I want their full name Alexa Carswell + Chinese name + zodiac symbol on top (2008)
    Clare Carswell + Chinese name + zodiac symbol on top (2006)

    That is what we have on ours

    Thank you

    Regards

    Barrie

  4. Hi Barrie,

    Just as a caveat, if I make a suggestion here better to double-check with whoever is carving your seals that my translation is all right: I’m not a native speaker, and though I speak and write Chinese fluently there may be some double meanings I’m not aware of.

    With that said :) … Carswell would work well as 卡 kă (Chinese surnames are single syllable, and come first), and the standard transliteration for Alexa is the four character 亚历克莎 yà lì kè shā. This works out at the long:

    卡亚历克莎

    Chinese names are usually three characters long. More fun and poetic I think would be to take the original Greek meaning of Alexa as “defender” and choose a Chinese equivalent. One of the Taoist female protector divinities is a red bird associated with fire, sometimes known as the vermilion phoenix.

    So Alexa’s would be:

    Alexa Carswell 卡朱雀 (kă zhū què, pronounced “kaa joo choo-eh”)

    2008 is year of the rat (鼠), but I haven’t seen this on chops, though it’s quite common to have a carving of your zodiac animal on the top – better to ask the carver about how to do this, it could be 鼠年 or the name of the year on the Chinese lunar calendar (戊子).

    The standard Chinese for Clare is 克雷尔 kè lěi er, but again I’d personally prefer to go back to the original meaning: Bright, clear in Latin. In Chinese there’s a poetic description for a girls bright beautiful eyes, which is “like autumn waters” (秋水).

    So for Clare this would be:

    Clare Carswell + 卡秋水 (kǎ qiū shuǐ, pronounced “kaa chee-oo shuay”)

    And 2006 is year of the dog (狗).

  5. I have recently returned from a tour of Yunnan province, where I purchased a custom made chop and I have had difficulty getting a good imprint. Thanks to Chen Jiahe’s wonderful instructions I have created a perfect imprint.
    Many thanks to you all.
    Regards. Margaret

  6. I was so pleased to find your helpful advice. When I visited China a few years ago, like many tourists I bought chop carved with my name and my wife’s name. I have never actually used the chop but have recently become keen on Chinese calligraphy and would like to be able to sign successful work with an authentic chop. I have ordered some proper seal ink so that I can practise with the chop I already have.
    I really like the advice you have given others regarding the meaning of their names and the Chinese names and characters you derive from this. If you can spare the time, I would really grateful for your suggestion on how to convert my name, Richard Moorman, into Chinese characters for a new seal.
    Thank you for making such helpful advice available to everyone

  7. Gah, I just wrote a reply and it disappeared when I pressed submit. The quick answer is, Richard has the standard translation ‘理查’, Moorman means ‘a man who lives by a moor’. Moor is ‘高沼’ in Chinese (‘highland marsh’) so you could put it together as:

    沼理查 zhǎo lǐ chá Zhao Licha

    Which sounds very foreign (as their is no surname 沼). On the other hand, it does fit the 1 character surname 2 characters for given name that Chinese uses.

    How’s that?

  8. Thank you so much for your suggestion and for the time you spent on my behalf.
    I will now try to design a Chinese seal based on the characters you have suggested. I may even try to carve my own chop – but that is a bit more of a challenge!
    Thanks again
    Richard

  9. Jason,

    Is it possible to sign with a chop an acrylic painting on canvas? on board?

    Thanks

    Roger

  10. Hi Roger, I’ve never tried, but if you have a jade chop it wouldn’t hurt to try out red acrylic paint (try it out before using it on the actual painting I mean). If the paint was of a consistency that could be soaked up by a sponge, then you pressed the chop into the sponge, that should work I think.

    This would work better on canvas than board I should think, as the canvas has more give.

  11. Here is what I have found. My paintings are mostly on pre-stretched canvas. Right now I am using the standard seal mud that came with the chop. It adheres well and makes a clean impression on a smooth acrylic surface. The best success is with a surface painted with a heavy body acrylic with some heavy gel added and then smoothed with a palette knife.

    On the primed or lightly painted canvas, the texture of the canvas impairs the ability to get a clean stamp.

    On a plywood or MDF board that is just Gessoed it works pretty well also.

  12. I bought chinese seal paste from Aliexpress.com.. it has more oil content in it. when i place the seal mark on my sketch book or watercolor paper, the oil adheres and spreads slightly around the seal mark. please tell me a solution for this or should i use any other seal paste?

    Thanks in advance.

  13. Hi Vishnu, I haven’t heard of that before, that sounds wrong. Even if you stirred it I imagine over time something with that much oil content would eventually bleed out onto the page. You’re probably better off getting another seal paste.

  14. Hi Jason- I would like to order 2 name chops for my daughters with their zodiac sign, snake and monkey and their Chinese names carved on it. Can you advise what color the chops will be and what is the fee? I was hoping this would be ready by Christmas. Thank you.

  15. Hi Mabel, I’m sorry I don’t sell/carve chops, I’m just interested. As far as the colour goes, as far as I know it’s just personal preference – red sandstone, white jade, just pick the one you like I think.

  16. Thank you so much for the printing info and pics! I was just given my aunt’s chop she had made in the 1980’s when she, my mom and friends, traveled to China. I was named for this aunt, we are (were in her case) both artists and I wanted to use a chop for my prints. My cousin found her mom’s chop and sent it to me today. Your blog is marvelous!!

  17. Hi, I’m in Shanghai and am looking around for some nice chops in YuYuan (Yu Gardens).

    What is the benchmark for a reasonable quality chop? How much should I expect to pay a chop with my name engraved on it?

    By the way, not sure if it is because I’m trying from China to access the Studio of Ten Thousand Stones store link you provided but it does not seem to work.

  18. I have a name stamp that I got while visiting China over a decade ago. My question is: Where should one place the stamp for instance on correspondence; to the left of a name at the end of the letter? What is the correct position for the stamp on a letter, envelope, book, gift or anything one would want to stamp?

  19. Hi Arni, the good news is there are no rules so you can stamp pretty much wherever you like. The only common custom is to place it just after your name, but as you can write top to bottom, right to left, or left to right your name could be anywhere.

  20. Hi Jason, Good evening. May I ask about the photo of the chop at the beginning of your blog? Is it a red sandstone? (Absolutely beautiful). I tried your link to Chen Qi’s, “The Studio of Ten Thousand Stones”, but as I only read English…… Do you think Chen Qi will ever have an English version available? Thanks Donna

  21. Hi Donna, their online shop is now closed but you can still get chops by contacting Chen Qi’s son Jiahe at jiahechen@qq.com. Jiahe has excellent English. I asked him about the sandstone and he wasn’t sure (but I’m pretty sure it is red sandstone, yes).

  22. Hello, could you guide me to where I could buy real red paste online? The reason for this is because I have brought many fake pastes before and the colour fades within a year, and the print looks rough and slightly smudged. Also, are there any rules to where you stamp the seal after writing a peice of calligraphy? Also, do you know what the rules are for calligraphy after writing, for instance do I write out the date, season of the year, as well as my name , then the stamp underneath?

  23. Hi Xavier, in China the Xiling Academy has real red paste that won’t fade.

    I wondered about whether there were rules about where the seal should be placed too, but so far the answer has always been ‘not really’. If you put your name and date at the end, then yes the stamp will usually go after that. But if it doesn’t, no big deal apparently.

    The inscription with your name and date at the end is called a ‘落款 luò kuǎn‘ , this inscription is usually divided into two, the upper bit has the name of the work (a poem’s title, for example), the source (the book the poem is from) of the calligraphy, and the name of the person you’re giving the work to. The lower section has the date, the location where it was written, and your own name.

    Note that for inscriptions there is a special way to write the date (书法落款年月) according to the lunar calendar, so for example early May (桃浪) 2018 (戊戌) would be something like 戊戌桃浪, but it gets more complicated – there’s a list here but I haven’t quite figured it out. For amateurs like us I think writing the regular date (2018年5月 etc) would be fine – you could do it in characters (一八年五月).

  24. I asked Chen Jiahe about the dates – the year goes in sixty year cycles, so 2018 is called 戊戌, and 2078 will also be 戊戌. The thing is in imperial times you’d also write the name of the emperor (光绪戊戌年) so you’d know exactly what year it was, but now we don’t have that. That means in 300 years time you won’t know which 戊戌 year it was.

    To be honest, it’s easier to stick to the Western callendar (二零一八年五月十三日), if you want the traditional lunar date you can search on Baidu for 阴历日期, this will give you something like 戊戌年三月廿八【狗年】丁巳月乙巳日.

  25. Hello Jason, I have a doubt about a chomp or signature in a water color, may you can help me an clarify me if this is a chinese or not. thank for you time and nice blog!

  26. Hi Jason,
    I had an artist stamp their work with their chop and even after weeks of sitting out in air the paste has not dried. I touch the stamped area and red still lifts onto my finger. Is there anything to help “set” the paste? I’m afraid to frame the art aince it may just smudge. Thank you!

  27. Hi Jason, I recently bought a chop and ink/paste from The New Unique
    Shop in San Fran. The transaction was all long distance via text and photos. There is language/communication barrier and so, if you will please…my ink/paste will not dry. I want to use it for my art work. I’ve tested it on a doz different papers and none make a difference. And so, what could be wrong? A remedy ? Also, if you do not mind I would like to send a photo for a possible translation of my chop? Your blog has been very very helpful, Thank you. (The website is for my jewelry, not my art)

  28. Hi Marie,

    Your chop has the characters 馬麗斯威特 , which in pinyin is “mǎ lì sī wēi tè”, as close as you can get to “Sweet Marie”. These are the characters commonly used to transcribe sounds from foreign languages into Chinese, so the meanings are not so important, but if you’re interested they are:

    馬 = Horse
    麗 = Beautiful
    斯 = This
    威 = Prestige
    特 = Special

    I have no idea on the paste – I haven’t seen green paste before, and I haven’t heard of it not drying. Better to ask at the shop.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *