Posthumous Name
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Posthumous Name
Posthumous name
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese/
Simplified Chinese
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese alphabetth?y hi?u
Ch? Hán??
Korean name
Japanese name
Hiragana /

A posthumous name is an honorary name given to royalty, nobles, and sometimes others, in East Asia after the person's death, and is used almost exclusively instead of one's personal name or other official titles which had been used during the person's life. The posthumous name is commonly used when naming royalty of China, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan.

Posthumous names in China and Vietnam were also given to honor lifetime accomplishments of many people who did not have hereditary titles – for example, to successful courtiers.

A posthumous name should not be confused with the era name and temple name.


The posthumous name consists of one or more adjectives inserted before the ruler's current title. As rulers from different states might share the same posthumous name, but rulers within a state would usually not repeat an already used name, the name of the state or domain is usually also given to avoid ambiguity. In Chinese the whole construct is therefore "[state][adjective][title]", which in English is typically translated as "[title][adjective] of [state]", such as King Wen of Zhou, Duke Mu of Qin, and King Cheng of Chu. The literal meaning of the adjective is normally not translated.

While the names of living Chinese can be just about any combination of characters, the posthumous name was chosen from a rather small pool of stock characters; the literal meaning of which eroded as a result.



Early mythological rulers such as Emperor Yao are considered to have posthumous names.[1] All rulers of Shang Dynasty are known only by their posthumous names, as their personal names were not recorded in classical texts.

Archaeological discoveries have shown that early kings of the Zhou dynasty, such as King Wen and King Wu, used "posthumous names" during their lifetime, but later they became chosen by successors after the ruler's death. As a result, final rulers of states and rulers seen as illegitimate (such as usurpers) often do not have posthumous names and are referred to by their personal names, e.g. Jian, King of Qi; Min, Marquis of Jin; and Chen Tuo.

The use of posthumous names was stopped in the Qin Dynasty, because Qin Shi Huang proclaimed that it is disrespectful for the descendants, or "later emperors" to judge their elders, or the "prior emperors" (). The practice was revived in the Han Dynasty after the demise of Qin.

Decline in use

Posthumous names are the conventional way of referring to rulers from the Zhou dynasty to the Sui dynasty. In the Zhou dynasty the posthumous name was usually only one character, such as "Wen" (cultured) or "Wu" (martial). However, as time went on rulers began to add more and more characters to the posthumous names of their ancestors. By the time of the first emperor of Tang the length had grown to 7 characters, which was taxing to pronounce or write. Therefore, emperors from Tang on are commonly referred to by either their temple name (Tang through Yuan dynasties) or era name (Ming and Qing dynasties), both of which are always just two characters long and therefore easy to remember and use.

Later developments

Posthumous names commonly made tracing linear genealogies simpler and kept a blood line apparent. The rule was also followed by non-Han Chinese rulers of Sixteen Kingdoms, Silla, Japan, Kingdom of Nanzhao, Liao dynasty, Vietnam, Western Xia, Jin dynasty, Yuan dynasty and Qing dynasty. King names of H?ng Bàng dynasty and Mahan also followed the rule but they are thought to be later work.

Some rulers, such as Wu Zetian, or rebel leaders also had similar style regnal names when they were alive.

Most monarchs inherited the throne and did not give bad posthumous names to the previous monarch. Some names were lengthened or changed by later monarchs. Emperor Aizong of Jin and Chongzhen Emperor had different names from different people. Qin Hui, of the Song dynasty, had a good name, was given a bad one, and had the good name later restored.[2] After the Song dynasty few received bad names.[3] Bad monarchs of the Joseon dynasty did not receive posthumous names.

Emperors of China continued to receive posthumous names of increasing length as a matter of ritual long after the naming convention had been abandoned in casual speech and writing. The Guangxu Emperor, who died in 1908 and was the last emperor to receive a posthumous name, sports the impressive 21-character title of "Emperor Tongtian Chongyun Dazhong Zhizheng Jingwen Weiwu Renxiao Ruizhi Duanjian Kuanqin Jing of Qing".

Puyi, the last emperor of China, did not receive a posthumous name upon his death in 1967 since he died at the height of the Cultural Revolution, when such practices would have been thought feudal.

Use of posthumous names ceased in China with the aforementioned Guangxu Emperor, in Vietnam with the Kh?i nh Emperor (died 1925) and in Korea with the Yunghui Emperor (died 1926). However, in Korea unofficial posthumous names were given to Crown Prince Euimin and Gu, Prince Imperial Hoeun.

Contemporary Japanese use

Posthumous names are in use to this day in Japan. A deceased emperor is given a posthumous name, which beginning with Emperor Meiji (d.1912) is identical to his era name and therefore always two characters long. The most recently conferred posthumous name is that of Emperor Sh?wa (d.1989).

A non-royal deceased person may be given a posthumous Buddhist name known as kaimy?, but is in practice still referred to by the living name.



Posthumous names can be praises () or deprecations (). There are more praises than deprecations, so posthumous names are also commonly called respectful names ( z?nhào) in Chinese. Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian outlines extensively the rules behind choosing the names. Some of those guidelines:

  • Praises
    • Those having a persistent and reasonable governance (?) are called "Martial" (? w?). (This is one of the most honourable names.)
    • Those who sympathize with the people and recognize their needs (?) are called "Civil" (? wén). (This is one of the most honourable names.)
    • Those who respect the talented and value righteousness (?) are called "Reverent" (? gòng).
    • Those who are kind and benevolent in nature (?) are called "Benign" (? yì).
    • Those who aid the people out of righteousness (?) are called "Admirable" (? j?ng).
    • Those who treat the people compassionately with a gentle quality (?) are called "Compassionate" (? huì).
    • Those who eliminate destructions and purge cruelty (?) are called "Tang" (? t?ng). Possibly named after the revered ruler Cheng Tang (), the founder of the Shang Dynasty.
    • Those who make the people feel satisfied with their policies (?) are called "Constructive" (? chéng). Again, possibly named after Cheng Tang.
    • Those who are considerate and far-sighted (?) are called "Brilliant" (? míng).
    • Those who preach their virtue and righteousness to the people (?) are called "Majestic" (? mù).
    • Those who are aggressive to expand their realm (?) are called "Exploratory" (? huán).
    • "Highly (respected)" (? g?o) is particularly reserved for the founders of dynasties.
  • Deprecations
    • Those who lived short lives without much accomplishment (?) are called "Passed Away Prematurely" (? sh?ng).
    • Those who have a constant twinge of depression (often due to political plights) during their governance (?) are called "Pitiful" (? m?n).
    • Those who lose their spouses and pass away at their early age (?) are called "Lamentable" (? ?i).
    • Those who are obliged to make sacrifices to their ancestors (?) are called "Mournful" (? dào).

However, most of these qualifications are subjective, repetitive, and highly stereotypical; hence the names are chosen somewhat arbitrarily. Such names are usually given by court historians, according to their good deeds or the bad ones.

When combining an emperor's temple name and posthumous name, the temple name is placed first. For example, the Shunzhi Emperor whose full posthumous name would be "Shi Zu - Zhang Huang Di" (), combining the last 2 characters of his temple name and the last 3 of his posthumous name, which is the form most commonly seen in old documents. A fuller description of this naming convention for royalty appears in the Chinese sovereign entry. The posthumous names of some monarchs and royal members were long, for example Hongwu Emperor, Nurhaci, Crown Prince Hyomyeong, Sunjo of Joseon and Empress Dowager Cixi.

Some monarchs did not follow these guidelines. Some monarchs of Ju, Chu, and Qi used place names. Some monarchs of Yue (state) had Chinese transliterated posthumous names. Some monarchs of Goguryeo, Silla and Baekje had different style posthumous names. Some early Japan monarchs also had Japanese-style posthumous names (?).


Emperors and empresses

All Chinese posthumous names for rulers end in one or two of the characters for "emperor", Huángdì (, i.e. emperor), which can be shortened to ; except about a dozen or so less recognized ones who have had only and no Huáng.

Starting with Emperor Xiaowen of Han (more commonly "Emperor Wen"), every single Han emperor, except the first one of the Eastern Han Dynasty, has the character of "filial" (? xiào) at the beginning of his posthumous names. "Filial" is also used in the full posthumous names of virtually all emperors and empresses of the Tang, Song, Ming and Qing Dynasties. For Qing emperors, ? xiào is placed in various position in the string of characters, while those Qing empresses who were given posthumous names, ? xiào is always initial.

The number of characters in posthumous names was increasing. The emperors of the Tang Dynasty have names in between seven and eighteen characters. Those in the Qing Dynasty have twenty-one characters. For instance, that of the Shunzhi Emperor was "The Emperor of Order who Observes the Heavenly Rituals with a Solemn Fate, Destined to Unify, Establishes with Extreme Talented Insights, Admires the Arts, Manifests the Might, with Great Virtue and Vast Achievement, Reaches Humanity, Purely Filial" (?, About this soundListen to pronunciation : t? ti?n lóng yùn dìng t?ng jiàn jí y?ng ruì q?n wén xi?n w? dà dé hóng g?ng zhì rén chún xiào zh?ng huáng dì).

The woman with the longest posthumous name is Empress Dowager Cixi, who is "The Empress who is Admirably Filial, Initiates Kindness, with Blessed Health, Manifests Much Contentment, Solemn Sincerity, with Longevity, Provides Admiration Prosperously, Reveal Adoration, Prosperous with a Merry Heaven, with a Holy Appearance" (? xiào q?n cí x? du?n yòu k?ng yí zh?o yù zhu?ng chéng shòu g?ng q?n xiàn chóng x? pèi ti?n x?ng shèng xi?n huáng hòu), or for short.

Imperial family

According to the noble system since the Zhou Dynasty, the immediate family members of the Emperor were given the titles of Kings (or Princes), Dukes, Earls, etc., with or without actual control over a region of land. After their death, they would be referred to by the same title, with the posthumous name (usually one character) inserted in the middle. The characters used are mostly the same ones used for emperors, with the same denotations as described above. For example, Prince Gong of the Qing Dynasty was posthumously named Zhong (?), and thus is referred to as Prince Gongzhong (? Gongzhong q?nwáng); Prince Chun was posthumous named Xian (?), hence is referred Prince Chunxian (? Chunxian q?nwáng).


It was also common for persons with no hereditary titles, especially accomplished scholar-officials or ministers, to be given posthumous names by the imperial court. The characters used are mostly the same ones used for emperors, with the same denotations as described above. The length, however, was restricted to one or two characters. The posthumous name is sometimes rendered canonization in English, for the scholar-official to Confucianism is analogous to the saint in the Catholic Church, though the process is not nearly as long. See List of Posthumous Names for some examples.

Confucius has been given long posthumous names in almost every major dynasty. One of the most commonly used was Zhìshèngxi?nsh? ?.

Sometimes a person is given a posthumous name not by the court, but by his own family or disciples. Such names are private posthumous names (S?shì, ). For example, Tao Qian was given Sishi Jìngjié .


In Korea, Goguryeo kings were mostly given posthumous names after their burial places, or in case of Gwanggaeto, the name described his life.[4] In Silla, every monarchs were given the titles of wang (?, ?, "king") with two characters in posthumous names from Jijeung of Silla. On the other hand, all posthumous names for kings of Balhae were restricted to one character.

Most of the kings of Goryeo and Joseon were more often given temple names than posthumous names, unlike in the dynasties of ancient Korea. All posthumous names for the rulers of Goryeo and Joseon end in two of the characters for Daewang (, , "great king"). This is a longer name, made up of adjectives characteristic of the king's rule.[5][6][7] For example, Gwangjong of Goryeo's posthumous name was Hongdoseon Yeolpyeongse Sukheonui Hyoganghye Daeseong Daewang (?, ?), while his temple name was Gwangjong. Details of the system of posthumous name were made during the Joseon Dynasty. The deposed king's names were made up of three parts: the temple name (), eulogistic names () and posthumous names (). During the Joseon Dynasty, officials discussed and decided the king's posthumous name five days after the king's funeral. The deceased king, who before his temple and posthumous names was decided, was called Daehaeng daewang (?, ?). The Ministry of Culture and Education (, ) was in charge of the naming. When officials of the ministry of culture and education selected three candidates and reported them to the next king, the next king chose the one of those names that he liked best. Also, Shorn of his power, the deposed king has not been given any posthumous names with temple name unless reinstated. They were degraded to the rank of gun (?, ?, "prince"). Yeonsan-gun and Gwanghae-gun were are notable examples. And there are some men who they didn't ascend the throne in their lifetime, but proclaimed as kings after they died by their descendants who became king. There are nine men who proclaimed as kings in the Joseon Dynasty. In Joseon, there are nine men who raised to the status of the emeritus kings.

Gojong of Joseon proclaimed Korea an empire in 1897, receiving the title of emperor, thus the posthumous names of Gojong and Sunjong end in two of the characters for Hwangje (, , "emperor"). For example, full posthumous name of Emperor Gojong of Korea is Tongcheonyung-un Jogeukdonyun Jeongseonggwang-ui Myeonggongdaedeok Yojunsunhwi Umotanggyeong Eungmyeongripgi Jihwasinryeol Oehunhong-eop Gyegiseonryeok Geonhaenggonjeong Yeong-uihonghyu Sugangmunheon Mujanginik Jeonghyo Taehwangje (?, ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ), or Taehwangje for short.

Crown Prince Hyomyeong has been given the longest posthumous name in Korea. He was posthumously elevated in status and given the title Emperor Munjo with 117 characters in posthumous names in 1899.


In Japan, posthumous names are called shig? (), okuri-na (?), or tsuigo (). Those of Japanese emperors are also sometimes called teig? (, "emperor name[s]").

There are two styles in emperors' posthumous names, namely Chinese style and Japanese style. In addition to the appellation Tenn? (, "heavenly sovereign", usually translated as Emperor) that is a part of all Japanese emperors' posthumous name, most of them consist of two kanji characters, although a few consist of three. Some names are given several generations later--this is the case for Emperor Jimmu and Emperor Antoku, for example. Others are given immediately after death, like that of Emperor Monmu.

Many have Chinese-style names, for example:

Some have Japanese-style names. For example:

Since the death of Emperor Meiji (? Meiji Tenn?) in 1912, the posthumous name of an emperor has always been the name of his era. For example, after his death, Hirohito (by which he is usually called outside Japan) was formally renamed Emperor Sh?wa (? Sh?wa Tenn?) after his era; Japanese now refer to him by only that name. Hirohito was his given name; most Japanese never refer to their emperors by their given names, as it is considered disrespectful.

See also



  1. ^ Yiwen Leiju, vols. 014
  2. ^ ----?
  3. ^ , Archived 2007-09-30 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ "Of tombs and posthumous names". Korea JoongAng Daily. 2015-07-09. Retrieved .
  5. ^ "Rediscovering aesthetics of Jongmyo Shrine". Korea Times. Retrieved .
  6. ^ "Korea: Notes". Archived from the original on 2015-12-22. Retrieved .
  7. ^ "? The Kinds and Meaning of King's Name in the Chosun Dynasty". (in English and Korean). NRF (52): 46-67. 2004. Retrieved .


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