One monosyllabic entry in The ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary (namespace Ci):
The character 字 zǐ ‘written character’ is said to represent a 宀 family schoolhouse, where 子 zǐ ‘children’ are nurtured/educated, and learn to read/write their names and other characters.
The Shuōwén Seal form of 字 zǐ ‘nurture/educate’ puts a 宀 mián ‘roof’ over a 子 zǐ ‘child’ (phonosemantic); when the grown child/son emerges from his home/family/schooling into public life, he is addressed by his public/courtesy name (表字); such names when written were the first phonetic compound characters.
Note: The old distinction between 文 wén ‘pictograph’ and 字 zì ‘phonetic compound character’ is lost in the modern word 文字 wénzi ‘characters’.
Compare: 孜 zī ‘hard-working’; 仔 zǐ ‘responsible’; 孝 xiào ‘filial piety’; 季 jì ‘young; season’.
Compare: 教(敎) jiāo/jiào ‘teach’; 𡥈 jiào ‘imitate’; 学/學 ‘study/learn’ (old graphs associated with 学 may have 字 as the lower component).
“To bear and nurse; to have 子 children in one’s 宀 house; 会意。By extension, the compound characters (by opposition to the simple 文 figures), “begotten” by the process of composition 会意 and 谐声... The 文 made by their authors gave birth to the 字, says the Glose” —Wieger. [Thus, 字 with 子 (phonosemantic) is the prototypical phonetic compound character.]
“To breed, nourish, bring up, treat with fatherly love, cherish; (a ‘brought up’ person:) name or ‘style’ taken at 20 years; name, appellation; word; written character, letter” —Karlgren(AD).
HDZ: 字 : zì : 生育 (cf. 孳), 孵化; 怀孕; 爱; 抚育, 养育; 治理, 教育; 人的表字 (且字; cf. 甫); 许嫁, 出嫁; 文字 (文: 象形; 字: 形声, 亦声); 字体 (篆字, 草字, 颜子, 俗字, 讹字); 书法, 书法作品; 字音 (字正腔圆); 字据、便条等文字材料; 作为凭据的签名或书写记号; (古) 药方中称量单位名 (一钱的四分之一叫一字); 学识; 饰; (姓)
►references: Guǎngyùn:357.13; Wieger:94a; Henshall:28; Karlgren:AD1089,GSR964n; Hànyǔ Dà Zìdiǎn:2.1010.2; Mathews:6942; Kāngxī Zìdiǎn:277.18; Bǐshùn Guīfàn:035.1.07; EDOC:1
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