What are Chinese Name Chops (name seals)?
What? Lamb chops? No, not something you bought out of a butcher shop, a name chop is developed in ancient Chinese times to symbolize and validate a person’s identity. A name chop is an artefact hand crafted out of a choice of beautiful precious stones; the full name of a person or a family emblem is engraved on the flat smooth surface of the stone. A name chop was regarded as one of the most important possession a person can hold.
When are name chops used?
A name chop serves similar purpose to that of a signature we use today; however a name chop can bear the identity of an organization or a government entity. Name chops were used when an agreement or contract was approved, and parties in agreement would dip the carved edge of their seals in bright red ink – symbolizing a signature written in blood! A name chop provides a consistent image of the person, family or authorities signing a contract.
Chinese painters and calligraphers would use their name chops, after a work is completed, to give the work validation and authenticity.
Name chops survived till this day, and are still widely used in Asia. They are used in contract signing, banking, document authenticity, and in other artistic practices.
Can name chops be forged?
It is impossible to forge a name chop, as textures on the stone surface, and little flaws of craftsmanship made each name chop unique! Usually only one name chop is made for one person or family, and it need to be well looked after, not to be lost or stolen.
How big are Chinese name chops?
Very portable, fits in your pocket, the printable engraved face is usually square in shape, no bigger than 2cm; sometimes round or irregular shapes are used. Name seals used for a company or government entity would appear larger, and yes, the Emperor had the biggest and chunkiest name seals of all, and of course the emperor has big pockets!
What do name chops have anything to do with design?
The process – The process of making the name chop is the process of design. The designer is required to design or choose an appropriate Chinese typeface for the client, this is typographic design, then a suitable stone is selected for engraving; it takes a lot of skills to perfect and master the art of engraving.
Visual identity – As a graphic designer, we often talk about ‘identities’ or ‘branding’, the mark made for a name chop served the same purpose. Name chops can be comparable to what we call a ‘logotype’ today. The purpose of a name chop is to identify a person, a family, a trade or an authority. To put it into a design perspective, the name chop is the standardization of a logo / logotype design, briefed within a set of guidelines / objectives:
- To be engraved out of a stone.
- To include a person’s full name (or design of a family emblem, or a company name) in stylized Chinese font / typeface.
- To use red pigment when making the impression.
- To serve the purpose of identifying a person, a family, a company, or an authority.
Example of modern rubber seals
kudesign rubber seal: Sorry I didn’t have any red pigment ink with me, and I didn’t want to use my own blood… if you are interested in making a name chop, let me know.
Logo designs inspired by Chinese name seals
Designer: Han Meilin, the 70-year-old man who led the Chinese Olympics team, whom also designed the five mascots: a fish, a panda, a Tibetan antelope, a swallow and a “child of fire”. There was a rumor to say he only got paid $0.13 for his work!
Designer: Joseph Ku @ kudesign
Client: Christchurch Zhonghua Chinese Society
Concept: Constructed out of 2 Chinese Characters ‘中華’ ‘Zhon’ & ‘Hua’ meaning China. Red symbolizing blood, and the color used for making a name seal impression. This identity says “There are Chinese people from all corners of the Earth”