I was recently contacted by a reader who said they were researching the various nicknames of Sun Wukong. I had never thought about this before, so I thought I’d write an article to help them out. I am indebted to Irwen Wong of the Journey to the West Library blog for helping me with some of the more obscure terms. If you know of others that I missed, please let me know in the comments below or by email (see the “contact” button).
The vast majority of the terms listed here come from the standard 1592 edition of Journey to the West (Xiyouji, 西遊記; hereafter JTTW). I have also added a few terms from a precursor, The Story of How Tripitaka of the Great Tang Procures the Scriptures (Da Tang Sanzang qujing shihua, 大唐三藏取經詩話, c. late-13th-century) (Wivell, 1994). I did this to show that certain variations of names or titles have existed for centuries.
I. Mentioned in the narrative
These are names or titles mentioned by the narrative.
- Shihou (石猴, “Stone Monkey”) – Monkey’s first name according to chapter one (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 104). This is related to his birth from stone (fig. 1).
- Tianchan Shihou (天產石猴, “Heaven-Born Stone Monkey”) – His real name as listed in the ledgers of hell in chapter three (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 140).
- Xinyuan (心猿, “Mind Monkey/Ape”) – A Buddho-Daoist allegorical term for the disquieted thoughts and emotions that keep man trapped in Saṃsāra. It is used numerous times in chapter titles (e.g. ch. 7) and poems to refer to Monkey (see the material below figure three here).
- Jingong (金公, “Squire of Metal or Gold”) – A term used mainly in poems to refer to Monkey. It is an alternative reading of the component characters making up lead (qian, 鉛), namely jin (金) and gong (公). Lead was an important ingredient in immortal elixirs of external alchemy, and metal/gold (jin, 金) is connected to the earthly branch shen (申), which is associated with monkeys (see no. 9 here) (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 83 and p. 532 n. 3).
- Taiyi Sanxian (太乙散仙, “Minor or Leisurely Immortal of the Great Monad”) – A term used to describe Monkey’s place within the cosmic ranks of transcendents (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 471, for example). It essentially means that he is a divine being without a heavenly post.
- Taiyi Jinxian (太乙金仙, “Golden Immortal of the Great Monad”) – A seemingly embellished version of the previous term (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 2, p. 264, for example). It speaks of a higher rank. 
- Lingming Shihou (靈明石猴, “Stone Monkey of Numinous Wisdom”) – The name of his magic species according to the Buddha in chapter 58 (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 3, p. 115).  He is the first of four spiritual primates.
- Nanbian Mihou (難辨獼猴, “Indistinguishable Macaques”) – A term referring to both Sun Wukong and the Six-Eared Macaque. 
These are names, titles, or insults that are given to or directed at our hero by other characters.
- Hou Xingzhe (猴行者, “Monkey Pilgrim”) – Monkey’s original religious name in the 13th-century JTTW. It is given by Tripitaka at the beginning of the journey (Wivell, 1994, p. 1182). The Xingzhe (行者) portion of this name would carry over to the 1592 edition. See nos. 11 and 12 below.
- Gangjin Tiegu Dasheng (鋼筋鐵骨大聖, “Great Sage Steel Muscles and Iron Bones”) – His divine title in the 13th-century JTTW. It is bestowed by Tang Emperor Taizong at the end of the journey (Wivell, 1994, p. 1207).  The Dasheng (大聖) portion of this name would carry over to the 1592 edition. See sec. III, nos. 8 and 9 below.
- Sun Wukong (孫悟空, “Monkey Awakened to Emptiness”) – The religious name given to him in chapter one by his first master, the Patriarch Subodhi (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 115). It predates the 1592 JTTW, first appearing as early as the early-Ming zaju play (see here, for example). It’s important to note that the name “Wukong” (悟空) might have been influenced by a Tang-era monk who traveled throughout India just like Xuanzang (on whom Tripitaka is based).
- Pohou (潑猴, “Reckless or Brazen Monkey”) – An insult used throughout JTTW (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 118, for example).
- Shangxian (上仙, “High or Exalted Immortal”) – A respectful title used by the Dragon King of the Eastern Ocean in chapter three (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 134).
- Huaguo Shan Shuilian Dong Tianchan Yaohou (花果山水簾洞天產妖猴, “Heaven-Born Demon Monkey from the Water-Curtain Cave of the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit”) – An insult used by King Qinguang, a Judge of Hell, in a memorial to the Jade Emperor in chapter three (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 142).
- Xiandi (賢弟, “Worthy Little Brother”) – A nicknamed used by the Bull Demon King (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 156, for example). Monkey is the smallest and therefore the last of seven sworn brothers (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 2, pp. 223-224).
- Yaoxian (妖仙, “Bogus Immortal”) – A category of nigh-immortal beings. He is called this by the Jade Emperor in chapter four and the Buddha in chapter seven, respectively (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, pp. 147-148 and p. 193).
- Bimawen (弼馬溫, “To Assist Horse Temperament”) – A minor post overseeing the celestial horse stables. Monkey is given this position in chapter four by the Jade Emperor. Yu (Wu & Yu, 2012) translates this as “BanHorsePlague” (vol. 1, p. 148, for example).  This is sometimes used as an insult (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 354, for example).
- Yaohou (妖猴, “Monster or Demon Monkey”) – An insult used numerous times throughout the novel (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 154, for example).
- Sun Xingzhe (孫行者, “Pilgrim Sun”) – Monkey’s second religious name. It is given to him in chapter 14 by Tripitaka (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 309). Xingzhe Sun (行者孫) is a less common variation. Refer back to no. 1. See also sec. III, no. 10 below.
- Xingzhe (行者, “Pilgrim”) – He is more commonly referred to by this name than Sun Xingzhe or Sun Wukong combined.  See section III here to learn about the significance of this title. Refer back to no. 1.
- Sun Zhanglao (孫長老, “Elder Sun”) – A respectful title used by people he has helped (Wu & Yu, vol. 2, p. 85, for example).
- Dashixiong (大師兄, “Elder Religious Brother”) – A term used by Zhu Bajie and Sha Wujing (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 2, p. 74, for example).
- Houtou (猴頭, “Monkey/Ape Head”) – An insult used by various characters, especially Tripitaka (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 2, p. 26, for example).
- Maolian Heshang (毛臉和尚, “Hairy-Faced Monk”) – A term that describes his features (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 407, for example).
- Maolian Lei Gong Zui de Heshang (毛臉雷公嘴的和尚, “Hairy-Faced, Thunder God-Beaked Monk) – A term that compares his elongated simian face to the beak of the bird-like thunder god Lei Gong (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 351, for example). Variations include Lei Gong Zui Heshang (雷公嘴和尚, “Thunder God-Beaked Monk”) and Lei Gong de Nanzi/Hanzi (雷公嘴的男子/漢子, “Thunder God-Beaked Man”).
- Dou Zhansheng Fo (鬥戰勝佛, “Buddha Victorious in Strife or Victorious Fighting Buddha”) – His Buddha title bestowed by the Tathagata at the end of the journey in chapter 100 (fig. 2) (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 4, p. 381).
These are names, titles, or pseudonyms taken by Monkey himself. These do not include the names of the innumerable gods, monsters, or humans that he disguises himself as. They only refer to him personally.
- Huaguo Shan Ziyun Dong Bawan Siqian Tongtou Tie’e Mihou Wang (花果山紫雲洞八萬四千銅頭鐵額獼猴王, “Bronze-Headed, Iron-Browed King of the Eighty-Four Thousand Monkeys of the Purple Cloud Grotto on the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit”) – How he introduces himself to Tripitaka in the 13th-century JTTW (Wivell, 1994, p. 1182). The “Monkey King” (Mihou Wang, 彌猴王) portion of his name would carry over to the 1592 edition but is represented with different Chinese characters. See nos. 2 and 3 below. This article discusses the term mihou (獼猴).
- Meihou Wang (美猴王, “Handsome Monkey King”) – The title that he takes upon ascending the throne in chapter one (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 106).
- Hou Wang (猴王, “Monkey King”) – He is more commonly referred to by this name than Meihou wang. 
- Huaguo Shan Shuilian Dong Dongzhu (花果山水簾洞洞主, “Lord of the Water-Curtain Cave in the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit”) – How he introduces himself in chapter two to a demon king plaguing his people (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 127).
- Huaguo Shan Shuilian Dong Tiansheng Shenren (花果山水簾洞天生聖人, “Heaven-Born Sage From the Water-Curtain Cave in the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit”) – How he introduces himself to the Ten Kings of Hell in chapter three (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 140).
- Lao Sun (老孫, “Old Sun”) – A term that he uses many, many times throughout the novel. Yu (Wu & Yu, 2012) translates this as “Old Monkey” (vol. 1, p. 128, for example).
- Liu Xiao Ling Tong (六小龄童) – Monkey’s name in the human world.
- Qitian Dasheng (齊天大聖, “Great Sage Equaling Heaven”) – The seditious title that he takes during his rebellion against heaven (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 151). Monkey is worshiped by this name in modern Chinese Folk Religion (fig. 3). Refer back to sec. II, no. 2.
- Dasheng (大聖, “Great Sage”) – He is more commonly referred to by this title than Qitian dasheng.  Variations include Dasheng Yeye (大聖爺爺, “[Paternal] Grandpa Great Sage”) and Sun Dasheng (孫大聖, “Great Sage Sun”). Refer back to sec. II, no. 2.
- Zhexing Sun (者行孫, “Grimpil Sun”) – A pseudonym taken in chapter 34 when Monkey secretly escapes imprisonment and then presents himself as his own brother in an attempt to trick demons (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 130). The strange English rendering is Yu’s (Wu & Yu, 2012) way of accounting for the change from Xingzhe Sun (行者孫, “Pilgrim Sun”) to Zhexing Sun (者行孫, “Grimpil Sun”). Refer back to sec. II, no. 11.
- Sun Waigong (孫外公, “([Maternal] Grandpa Sun”) – A name that he uses to taunt demons (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 407, for example). It’s a cheeky way of saying, “I’m your elder, so you better submit to me.”
- Sun Yeye (孫爺爺, “([Paternal] Grandpa Sun”) – Same.
- Sun Erguan (孫二官, “Second Master Sun”) – A pseudonym taken in chapter 84 in order to investigate an anti-Buddhist kingdom under the guise of a horse trader. The other pilgrims take similar names (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 4, p. 132).
Fig. 3 – A Great Sage idol from Shengfo Tang (聖佛堂, “Sage Buddha Hall”) in Beigang Township, Yunlin County, Taiwan (larger version). It is one of many Monkey King Temples on the island. Photo by the author.
1) The Jinxian (金仙) of Monkey’s title Taiyi Jinxian (太乙金仙, “Golden Immortal of the Great Monad”) is associated with far more lofty figures. For example, a poem in chapter one refers to the Patriarch Subodhi as the Dajue Jinxian (大覺金仙, “Golden Immortal of Great Awareness”) (see section 2.3 here).
2) I’m placing the name in this category because the Tathagata is stating a fact instead of bestowing it as a proper name.
3) Yu (Wu & Yu, 2012) translates this as the “macaque hard to distinguish” (vol. 4, p. 360). But I think that the original Chinese term is likely referring to both Sun and Six Ears. Their battle across the cosmos is counted in chapter 99 as the 46th of 81 hardships that Tripitaka was fated to endure (Wu &Yu, 2012, vol. 4, p. 360).
4) Wivell (1994) translates the name as “Great Sage of Bronze Muscles and Iron Bones” (p. 1207). But the gang (鋼) of Gangjin tiegu dasheng (鋼筋鐵骨大聖) means “steel.”
5) This references the homophonous term Bimawen (避馬瘟, “avoid the horse plague”), the historical practice of placing monkeys in horse stables to ward off equine sickness (see the 02-26-22 update here).
6) The term Xingzhe (行者, “pilgrim”) appears 4,355 times, while Sun xingzhe and Sun Wukong appear 239 and 127 times, respectively. Xingzhe is used numerous times to refer to other characters, such as Guanyin’s disciple Hui’an (惠岸行者, 6 times; a.k.a. Mucha or Mokṣa, 木叉行者, 9 times), but the vast majority refer to Monkey.
8) The term Dasheng (大聖, “Great Sage”) appears 1,273 times, while Qitian dasheng (齊天大聖) appears 103 times. I believe Dasheng is also used to refer to the Buddha a few times, so please keep this in mind.
Wivell, C.S. (1994). The Story of How the Monk Tripitaka of the Great Country of T’ang Brought Back the Sūtras. In V. Mair (Ed.), The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature (pp. 1181-1207). New York: Columbia University Press.
Wu, C., & Yu, A. C. (2012). The Journey to the West (Vols. 1-4) (Rev. ed.). Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.