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Chinese surnames are used by
Han Chinese The Han Chinese,
. Huayuqiao.org. Retrieved on 2013-04-26.
Hanzu, or Han peopleSinicized Sinicization, sinofication, sinification, or sinonization (from the prefix , 'Chinese, relating to China') is the process by which non-Chinese societies come under the influence of Chinese culture, particularly Han-Chinese culture, language, so ...
ethnic groups in
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,
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Taiwan
,
Korea Korea (officially the "Korean Peninsula") is a region in East Asia. Since 1945 it has been Division of Korea, divided into the two parts which soon became the two sovereign states: North Korea (officially the "Democratic People's Republic of ...

Korea
,
Vietnam , image_map = , map_caption = , capital = Hanoi , coordinates = , largest_city = Ho Chi Minh City , languages_type = National language , languages ...

Vietnam
, and among
overseas Chinese Overseas Chinese () are people of ethnic Han Chinese, Chinese birth who reside outside the territories of the China, People's Republic of China (PRC), its special administrative regions (SARs) of Hong Kong and Macau, as well as the Taiwan, Republ ...

overseas Chinese
communities around the world such as
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Singapore
and
Malaysia Malaysia ( ; ) is a country in Southeast Asia. The federation, federal constitutional monarchy consists of States and federal territories of Malaysia, thirteen states and three federal territories, separated by the South China Sea into two reg ...

Malaysia
. Written
Chinese name Chinese personal names are names used by those from Greater China "Greater China" is an informal geographical area that shares commercial and cultural ties with the Han Chinese. The notion of "Greater China" refers to the area that normally en ...
s begin with surnames, unlike the Western tradition in which surnames are written last. Around 2,000 Han Chinese surnames are currently in use, but the great proportion of Han Chinese people use only a relatively small number of these surnames; 19 surnames are used by around half of the Han Chinese people, while 100 surnames are used by around 87% of the population. A report in 2019 gives the most common Chinese surnames as
Wang WANG (1490 AM, "106.3 Casino Radio") is a radio station , Sweden , Norway Radio broadcasting is transmission of audio signal, audio (sound), sometimes with related metadata, by radio waves intended to reach a wide audience. In terrestrial r ...
and Li, each shared by over 100 million people in China. The remaining top ten most common Chinese surnames are Zhang,
Liu / ( or ) is a Chinese surname. pinyin: in Mandarin Chinese, in Cantonese. It is the family name of the Han dynasty emperors. The character , Originally meaning 'kill', it is now used only as a surname. Today, it is the 4th most common surname ...

Liu
, Chen,
Yang Yang may refer to: * Yang, in yin and yang, one half of the two symbolic polarities in Chinese philosophy * Korean yang, former unit of currency of Korea from 1892 to 1902 *Yang (film), a 1984 Indonesian film nominated for Best Picture at the Cit ...
, Huang, Zhao, Wu and
ZhouZhou may refer to: Chinese history * King Zhou of Shang () (1105 BC–1046 BC), the last king of the Shang dynasty * Predynastic Zhou (), 11th-century BC precursor to the Zhou dynasty * Zhou dynasty () (1046 BC–256 BC), a dynasty of China ** Weste ...
. Two distinct types of Chinese surnames existed in ancient China, namely ''xing'' () ancestral clan names and ''shi'' () branch lineage names. The two terms began to be used interchangeably until the present, when ''xing'' refers to the surname and ''shi'' may refer either the clan or maiden name. The two terms may also be used together as ''xingshi'' for family names or surnames. Most Chinese surnames (''xing'') in current use were originally ''shi''. The ancient ''xing'' surname is believed to be
matrilinear Matrilineality is the tracing of kinship In anthropology, kinship is the web of social relationships that form an important part of the lives of all humans in all societies, although its exact meanings even within this discipline are often d ...
, but Han Chinese family name has been exclusively
patrilineal Patrilineality, also known as the male line, the spear side or agnatic kinship, is a common kinship system in which an individual's family membership derives from and is recorded through their father's lineage. It generally involves the inheritance ...
for over two thousand years, passing from father to children. This system of patrilineal surnames is unusual in the world in its long period of continuity and depth of written history, and Chinese people may view their surnames as part of their shared kinship and Han Chinese identity. Women do not normally change their surnames upon marriage, except sometimes in places with more western influences such as
Hong Kong Hong Kong (, ), officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (HKSAR) (), is a metropolitan area and Special administrative regions of China, special administrative region of the China, People's Repu ...

Hong Kong
. Traditionally Chinese surnames have been
exogamous Exogamy is the social norm Social norms are regarded as collective representations of acceptable group conduct as well as individual perceptions of particular group conduct. They can be viewed as cultural products (including values, customs, a ...
in that people tend to marry those with different last names. The most common Chinese surnames were compiled in the
Song dynasty The Song dynasty (; ; 960–1279) was an imperial dynasty of China that began in 960 and lasted until 1279. The dynasty was founded by Emperor Taizu of Song following his usurpation of the throne of the Later Zhou, ending the Five Dynasties a ...
work ''
Hundred Family Surnames The ''Hundred Family Surnames'' (), commonly known as ''Bai Jia Xing'', also translated as ''Hundreds of Chinese Surnames'', is a classic Chinese Chinese can refer to: * Something related to China China, officially the People's Republ ...
'', which lists over 400 names. The colloquial expressions ''lǎobǎixìng'' (老百姓; lit. "old hundred surnames") and '' bǎixìng'' ( , lit. "hundred surnames") are used in Chinese to mean "ordinary folks", "the people", or "
commoner '' A commoner, also known as the ''common man'', ''commoners'', the ''common people'' or the ''masses'', is an ordinary person in a community or nation who does not have any significant social status, especially one who is a member of neither roy ...
s".


History

Chinese surnames have a history of over 3,000 years. Chinese mythology, however, reaches back further to the legendary figure
Fuxi Fuxi or Fu Hsi (伏羲), also known as Paoxi, is a culture hero in Chinese legend and mythology Myth is a folklore genre consisting of narrative A narrative, story or tale is any account of a series of related events or experiences, whethe ...
(with the surname Feng), who was said to have established the system of Chinese surnames to distinguish different families and prevent marriage of people with the same family names. Prior to the
Warring States period The Warring States period () was an era in ancient Chinese history characterized by warfare, as well as bureaucratic and military reforms and consolidation. It followed the Spring and Autumn period and concluded with the Qin wars of conquest ...
(fifth century BC), only the ruling families and the aristocratic elite had surnames. Historically there was a difference between ancestral clan names or ''xing'' () and branch lineage names or ''shi'' (). ''Xing'' may be the more ancient surname that referred to the ancestral tribe or clan, while ''shi'' denoted a branch of the tribe or clan. For example, the ancestors of the
Shang The Shang dynasty (), also historically known as the Yin dynasty (), was a Chinese dynasty that ruled in the middle and lower Yellow River valley in the second millennium BC, succeeding the Xia dynasty The Xia dynasty is the first ...

Shang
had '' Zi'' (子) as ''xing'', but the descendants were subdivided into numerous ''shi'' including Yin (殷),
Song A song is a musical composition intended to be performed by the human voice. This is often done at melody, distinct and fixed pitches (melodies) using patterns of sound and silence. Songs contain various song form, forms, such as those includi ...
(宋), Kong (空), Tong (同) and others. The distinction between the two began to be blurred by the
Warring States period The Warring States period () was an era in ancient Chinese history characterized by warfare, as well as bureaucratic and military reforms and consolidation. It followed the Spring and Autumn period and concluded with the Qin wars of conquest ...
. During the
Qin dynasty The Qin dynasty, or Ch'in dynasty in Wade–Giles Wade–Giles () is a Romanization of Chinese, romanization system for Standard Chinese, Mandarin Chinese. It developed from a system produced by Thomas Francis Wade, during the mid-19th ...
, name usage was standardised, commoners started to acquire a surname or ''xing'', and the ''shi'' also became ''xing''. By the
Han dynasty#REDIRECT Han dynasty The Han dynasty () was the second Dynasties in Chinese history, imperial dynasty of China (202 BC – 220 AD), established by the rebel leader Liu Bang and ruled by the House of Liu. Preceded by the short-lived Qin dynas ...

Han dynasty
, families only had ''xing'' or ''xing-shi''. The great majority of Han Chinese surnames (now called ''xing'' or ''xingshi'') that survive to modern times have their roots in ''shi'' rather than the ancient ''xing''. In modern usage, ''xing'' is the surname, but the word ''shi'' survives as a word to refer to the clan. The term ''shi'' may be appended to the surname of a person; for example, a man with the Zhang surname may be referred to as Zhang-''shi'' instead of his full name. It is used in particular for the paternal surname of a married woman, therefore in this case ''shi'' means
maiden name When a person (traditionally the wife in many cultures) assumes the family name In some cultures, a surname, family name, or last name is the portion of one's personal name that indicates their family, tribe or community. Practices vary by c ...
, which a Chinese woman would continue to use after marriage.


''Xing''

''Xing'' were surnames held by the noble clans. They generally contain a "female" ()
radical Radical may refer to: Arts and entertainment Music *Radical (mixtape), ''Radical'' (mixtape), by Odd Future, 2010 *Radical (Smack album), ''Radical'' (Smack album), 1988 *"Radicals", a song by Tyler, The Creator from the 2011 album ''Goblin (album ...
, for example Ji (),
Jiang Jiang may refer to: *Jiang Zemin, a Chinese politician and a General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party from 1989 to 2002 *Jiang (surname), several Chinese surnames *Jiang, Common of Kang (Korean name) *Jiang River, an ancient river of China ...
(),
Yao Yao or YAO may refer to: * Yao (surname), the transliteration of Chinese family names 姚, 銚, and 么 * Yao (ruler), a mythical Chinese ruler and emperor * Yao Ming, Chinese Basketball All-Star that played for the Houston Rockets * Euphrasie Kouas ...
() and
Yíng Yíng () is a Chinese surname. It is the royal house name of the early Qin, and Qin Dynasty. Yíng Zheng is the first emperor of the unified Chinese empire. The Zhao family is one such kind of clan belonging to the Yíng tribe. There are 14 cl ...

Yíng
(). This is commonly taken as evidence that they originated from
matriarchal Matriarchy is a social system In sociology, social system is the patterned network of relationships constituting a coherent whole that exist between individuals, groups, and institutions. It is the formal Social structure, structure of role and ...
societies based on maternal lineages. The character for ''xing'' itself is composed of a female radical and the character for "give birth" (生, ''shēng''). ''Xing'' is believed to have been originally transmitted through women of noble birth, while noble men have ''shi''. Some scholars such as Edwin G. Pulleyblank, however, are unconvinced by the matriarchy theory of Chinese surnames due to a lack of independent evidence. An alternative hypothesis has been proposed, suggesting that the use of female radical in ''xing'' may have arisen from the clan
exogamy Exogamy is the social norm of marrying outside one's social group. The group defines the scope and extent of exogamy, and the rules and enforcement mechanisms that ensure its continuity. One form of exogamy is dual exogamy, in which two groups e ...
system used during the
Zhou dynasty The Zhou dynasty ( ; Old Chinese Old Chinese, also called Archaic Chinese in older works, is the oldest attested stage of Chinese, and the ancestor of all modern varieties of Chinese. The earliest examples of Chinese are divinatory inscript ...
(the words ''xing'' and ''shi'' also did not exist in the Shang dynasty
oracle bones Oracle bones () are pieces of ox scapula or turtle plastron, which were used for pyromancy – a form of divination – in ancient China, mainly during the late Shang dynasty. ''Scapulimancy'' is the correct term if ox scapulae were used for the d ...
). In ancient times, people of the same ''xing'' were not permitted to marry each other and a woman married into an aristocratic clan needed to be of a different name. Based on observation of the evolution of characters in oracular scripture from the
Shang dynasty The Shang dynasty (), also historically known as the Yin dynasty (), was a Chinese dynasty Dynasties in Chinese history, or Chinese dynasties, were hereditary monarchical regimes that ruled over China during much of its history. From ...

Shang dynasty
through the
ZhouZhou may refer to: Chinese history * King Zhou of Shang () (1105 BC–1046 BC), the last king of the Shang dynasty * Predynastic Zhou (), 11th-century BC precursor to the Zhou dynasty * Zhou dynasty () (1046 BC–256 BC), a dynasty of China ** Weste ...
: the 女 radical seems to appear during the Zhou period next to Shang sinograms indicating an ethnic group or a tribe. This combination seems to designate specifically a female and could mean "lady of such or such clan". The structure of the ''xing'' sinogram could reflect the fact that in the royal court of Zhou, at least in the beginning, only females (wives married into the Zhou family from other clans) were called by their birth clan name, while the men were usually designated by their title or fief. While people of the same ''xing'' were not permitted to marry each other, those with the same ''shi'' can. By the Han dynasty when everyone had ''xing'' and the surname was transmitted paternally, the practice continued, but it had changed to marriage between families of men on the paternal side being prohibited, but not on the maternal side.


''Shi''

Prior to the
Qin dynasty The Qin dynasty, or Ch'in dynasty in Wade–Giles Wade–Giles () is a Romanization of Chinese, romanization system for Standard Chinese, Mandarin Chinese. It developed from a system produced by Thomas Francis Wade, during the mid-19th ...
(3rd century BC) China was largely a ''
fengjian ''Fēngjiàn'' ( zh, c=封建, l=enfeoffment and establishment) was a political ideology and governance system in ancient China, whose social structure formed a decentralized system of confederation-like government based on the ruling class consisti ...
'' (feudal) society. As fiefdoms were divided and subdivided among descendants, so additional sub-surnames known as ''shi'' were created to distinguish between noble lineages according to seniority, though in theory they shared the same ancestor. In this way, a nobleman would hold a ''shi'' and a ''xing''. ''Xing'', however, was more important than ''shi''. The difference between ''xing'' and ''shi'' became blurred in the
Spring and Autumn period The Spring and Autumn period was a period in Chinese history The earliest known written records of the history of China date from as early as 1250 BC, from the Shang dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BC), during the king Wu Ding's reign, who was men ...
starting with women. For example: Chunqiu referred to Duke Xuan of Lu's consort Lady Mujiang (穆姜), who bore the clan name (姓, ''xing'') Jiang, as ''Jiangshi'' 姜氏, " ady of theJiang ''shi''" (!). After the states of China were unified by
Qin Shi Huang Qin Shi Huang (, ; 259–210 BCE), or Shihuangdi, was the founder of the Qin dynasty, and first Emperor of China, emperor of a unified China. Rather than maintain the title of "Chinese king, king" ( ''wáng'') borne by the previous Shang dynas ...
in 221 BC, surnames gradually spread to the lower classes. Most surnames that survive to the present day were originally ''shi''.


Origins of Chinese surnames

According to the chapter on surnames in the Han dynasty work '' Fengsu Tong – Xingshi Pian'' (風俗通姓氏篇), there are 9 origins of Chinese surnames: dynasty names, posthumous titles, ranks of nobility, state names, official positions, style names, places of residence, occupations, and events. Modern scholars such as proposed that there are 18 sources from which Chinese surnames may be derived, while others suggested at least 24. These may be names associated with a ruling dynasty such as the various titles and names of rulers, nobility and dynasty, or they may be place names of various territories, districts, towns, villages, and specific locations, the title of official posts or occupations, or names of objects, or they may be derived from the names of family members or clans, and in a few cases, names of contempt given by a ruler. The following are some of the common sources: #''Xing'': These were usually reserved for the central lineage of the ancient royal family, with collateral lineages taking their own ''shi''. The traditional description was what were known as the "Eight Great ''Xing''s of High Antiquity" (), namely Jiāng (),
''Jī'' () was the ancestral name In some cultures, a surname, family name, or last name is the portion of one's personal name that indicates their family, tribe or community. Practices vary by culture. The family name may be placed at eit ...
(), Yáo (),
Yíng Yíng () is a Chinese surname. It is the royal house name of the early Qin, and Qin Dynasty. Yíng Zheng is the first emperor of the unified Chinese empire. The Zhao family is one such kind of clan belonging to the Yíng tribe. There are 14 cl ...

Yíng
(), (), Yún (), Guī () and Rèn (), though some sources quote () as the last one instead of Rèn. Of these ''xing'', only Jiang and Yao have survived in their original form to modern days as frequently occurring surnames. #Royal decree by the Emperor, such as Kuang (). #State name: Many nobles and commoners took the name of their state, either to show their continuing allegiance or as a matter of national and ethnic identity. These are some of the most common Chinese surnames in the present day such as (, 9th most common), Zhōu (, 10th most common) #Name of a fief or place of origin: Fiefdoms were often granted to collateral branches of the aristocracy and it was natural as part of the process of sub-surnaming for their names to be used. An example is Di, Marquis of Ouyang Village, whose descendants took the surname
Ouyang Ouyang () is a Chinese surname. It is the most common two-character Chinese compound surname, being the only two-character name of the 400-most common Chinese surnames, according to 2013 study, and is one of the twenty-odd two-character surnames tha ...
(). There are some two hundred examples of this identified, often of two-character surnames, but few have survived to the present. Some families acquired their surname during the Han dynasty from the
Commandery In the Middle Ages, a commandery (rarely commandry) was the smallest administrative division of the European landed estate, landed properties of a Military order (religious society), military order. It was also the name of the house where the knight ...
they resided in. #Names of an ancestor: Like the previous example, this was also a common origin with close to 500 or 600 examples, 200 of which are two-character surnames. Often an ancestor's
courtesy name A courtesy name (), also known as a style name, is a name bestowed upon one at adulthood in addition to one's given name. This practice is a tradition in the East Asian cultural sphere The East Asian cultural sphere, Chinese cultural sphe ...
would be used. For example, Yuan Taotu took the second character of his grandfather's courtesy name Boyuan () as his surname. Sometimes titles granted to ancestors could also be taken as surnames. #Seniority within the family: In ancient usage, the characters of ''
meng Meng may refer to: * Meng (surname) (孟), a Chinese surname * Master of Engineering (MEng or M.Eng.), an academic or professional master's degree in the field of engineering * , "M with hook", letter used in the International Phonetic Alphabet ** ...
'' () (meant for the son or child born from the secondary wife/-ves and the concubines, while '' bo'' , bearing the same notion, was retained for the son or child born from the primary wife), '' zhong'' (), ''shu'' () and '' ji'' () were used to denote the first, second, third and fourth (or last) eldest sons in a family. These were sometimes adopted as surnames. Of these, Meng is the best known, being the surname of the philosopher
Mencius Mencius ( ); born Mèng Kē (); or Mengzi (; 372–289 BC) was a Chinese Confucian philosopher who has often been described as the "second Sage", that is, after only Confucius } Confucius ( ; zh, s=, p=Kǒng Fūzǐ, "Master Kǒng"; or ...

Mencius
. #Occupation ## From official positions, such as Shǐ (, "historian"), (, "royal librarian"), Líng (, "ice master"), Cāng (, "granary manager"), Kù (, "store manager"), Jiàn (, "
adviser An adviser or advisor is normally a person with more and deeper knowledge Knowledge is a familiarity, awareness, or understanding of someone or something, such as facts ( descriptive knowledge), skills (procedural knowledge), or objects (Kno ...
"), Shàngguān (, "high official"), Tàishǐ (, "grand historian"), Zhōngháng (, "commander of middle
column A column or pillar in architecture and structural engineering is a structural element that transmits, through compression (physical), compression, the weight of the structure above to other structural elements below. In other words, a column is ...
"), Yuèzhèng (, "chief musician"), and in the case of
Shang The Shang dynasty (), also historically known as the Yin dynasty (), was a Chinese dynasty that ruled in the middle and lower Yellow River valley in the second millennium BC, succeeding the Xia dynasty The Xia dynasty is the first ...

Shang
's "Five Officials" (), namely Sīmǎ (, "minister of horses", akin to
defence minister A defence minister or minister of defence is a cabinet Cabinet or The Cabinet may refer to: Furniture * Cabinetry, a box-shaped piece of furniture with doors and/or drawers * Display cabinet, a piece of furniture with one or more transparent ...
), Sītú (, " minister of the masses", akin to treasurer), Sīkōng (, "minister of works", akin to minister of infrastructure), Sīshì (, "minister of
yeomen Yeoman was first documented in mid-14th-century England, referring to the middle ranks of servants in an English royal or noble household. Yeomanry Yeomanry is a designation used by a number of units or sub-units of the British Army, British ...
", akin to chief
ombudsman An ombudsman (, also , ), ombudsperson, ombud, ombuds, or public advocate is an official who is charged with representing the interests of the public In public relations and communication science, publics are groups of individual people, ...
) and Sīkòu (, "minister of bandits", akin to
attorney general In most common law In law, common law (also known as judicial precedent or judge-made law, or case law) is the body of law created by judges and similar quasi-judicial tribunals by virtue of being stated in written opinions. ''Black's Law Dictionar ...
); ## From more lowly occupations, as with Táo (, "
potter A potter is someone who makes pottery. Potter may also refer to: Places United States *Potter, originally a section on the Alaska Railroad, currently a neighborhood of Anchorage, Alaska, US *Potter, Arkansas *Potter, Nebraska *Potters, New Jersey ...

potter
"), (, "butcher"), (, "divination, diviner"), Jiàng (, "Artisan, craftsman"), Wu (surname)#Wū (巫), Wū (, "Wu (shaman), shaman") and Chú (, "cook"). # Titles of nobility, such as Wang (surname), Wáng (, "king"), Hou (surname), Hóu (, "marquis"), Xiahou, Xiàhóu (, "Marquis of Xia County, Xia") and Gongsun, Gōngsūn (, "Duke's grandchild") #Ethnic and religious groups: Ethnic minorities in China, Non-Han Chinese peoples in China sometimes took the name of their ethnic groups as Sinicization, sinicized surnames, such as Hu (surname), Hú (, "barbarian"), Jin (Chinese surname), Jīn (, "Jurchen people, Jurchen"), Mǎn (, "Manchu"), Di (surname), Dí (, "Beidi, Di people"), Huí (, "Hui people") and Murong, Mùróng (, a Xianbei tribe). Many Hui Muslims adopted the Ma (surname), surname Ma (), an old Chinese surname, when they were required to use Chinese surnames during the Ming dynasty as it sounded close to the first syllable of Mohammad; it was also fitting for some of those who were caravaneers as the word means "horse". Many also changed their surnames throughout history for a number of reasons. * A ruler may bestow his own surname on those he considered to have given outstanding service to him; for example, the surname
Liu / ( or ) is a Chinese surname. pinyin: in Mandarin Chinese, in Cantonese. It is the family name of the Han dynasty emperors. The character , Originally meaning 'kill', it is now used only as a surname. Today, it is the 4th most common surname ...

Liu
() was granted by emperors in the
Han dynasty#REDIRECT Han dynasty The Han dynasty () was the second Dynasties in Chinese history, imperial dynasty of China (202 BC – 220 AD), established by the rebel leader Liu Bang and ruled by the House of Liu. Preceded by the short-lived Qin dynas ...

Han dynasty
, Li () during the Tang dynasty, and Zhao () from the
Song dynasty The Song dynasty (; ; 960–1279) was an imperial dynasty of China that began in 960 and lasted until 1279. The dynasty was founded by Emperor Taizu of Song following his usurpation of the throne of the Later Zhou, ending the Five Dynasties a ...
. * Others, however, may avoid using the name of a ruler, for example Shi (surname), Shi () was changed to Shuai () to naming taboo, avoid conflict with the name of Sima Shi. Others may modify their name in order to escape from their enemies at times of turmoil, for example Duanmu () to Mu ( and ), and Gong () to Gong (surname), Gong (). * The name may also be changed by simplification of the writing, e.g. Mu () to Mo (Chinese surname), Mo (), or reducing from double or multiple character names to single character names, e.g. Duangan () to Duan (). * It may also have occurred through error, or changed due to a dissatisfaction with the name (e.g. , "sorrow", to , "heartfelt feeling").


Usage

Chinese surnames or family names are written ''before'' the first name or Chinese given name, given name. Therefore, someone named Wei () from the Zhang () family is called "Zhang Wei" (Zhang Wei (disambiguation), 张伟) and not "Wei Zhang". Chinese women generally retain their maiden name and use their name unchanged after marriage, but in modern times in some communities, some women may choose to attach their husband's surname to the front. Chinese surname is patrilinear where the father's surname is passed on to his children, but more recently some people have opted to use both parents' surnames; although this practice has increased in recent times, it is still relatively uncommon in China, with those who adopted both parents' surnames numbering at only 1.1 million in 2018 (up from 118,000 in 1990). Some Chinese outside of mainland China, particularly those from the Chinese immigrant communities around the world and those who have acquired a Christian or Western first name, have adopted the Western convention when giving their name in English, placing their surname last. Examples of those commonly known in the West include Jackie Chan (Chinese name Chan Kong-sang), Jimmy Choo (Chinese name Choo Yeang Keat), and Yo-Yo Ma. Those with a Western first name can write their name in English in various ways – some may add the Western first name in front and the Chinese given name last (the surname is therefore in the middle), or fully Westernised with both the Western and Chinese given names before the Chinese surname. Examples include Carrie Lam, originally named Cheng Yuet-ngor (Cheng is the surname), but who has acquired her husband's surname Lam and a Western first name as Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. Due to the different spelling conventions and dialects as well as the different spelling preferences in the various countries these Chinese find themselves in, many people of the same Chinese surname can appear differently when written in English, for example the Lin (surname), Lin surname (林) may also appear as Lam (Cantonese) or Lim (Hokkien). Some Chinese surnames that appear to be the same written in English may also be different in Chinese due to different characters having the same or similar pronunciations, dialectal differences, or non-standard romanisations (see section on variation in romanization below).


Distribution of surnames

Surnames are not evenly distributed throughout China's geography. In northern China, Wáng (Wiktionary:王#Chinese, 王) is the most common surname, being shared by 9.9% of the population. Next are Lǐ (Wiktionary:李#Chinese, 李), Zhāng (Wiktionary:张#Chinese, 张/Wiktionary:張#Chinese, 張) and Liú (Wiktionary:刘#Chinese, 刘/Wiktionary:劉#Chinese, 劉). In the south, Chén (Wiktionary:陈#Chinese, 陈/Wiktionary:陳#Chinese, 陳) is the most common, being shared by 10.6% of the population. Next are Lǐ (李), Huáng (Wiktionary:黄#Chinese, 黄/Wiktionary:黃#Chinese, 黃), Lín (Wiktionary:林#Chinese, 林) and Zhāng (张/張). Around the major crossing points of the Yangtze River, Yangzi River, the most common surname is Lĭ (李), taking up 7.7%, followed by Wáng (王), Zhāng (张/張), Chan/Chén (陈/陳) and Liú (刘/劉). A 1987 study showed over 450 family names in common use in Beijing, but there were fewer than 300 family names in Fujian. Furthermore, a 2012 study found that there was the lowest amount of :wikt:isonymy, isonymy in surnames among the population around middle and lower reaches of Yangtze River both on the provincial and county levels. Additionally, it was found that counties with the highest values of isonymy were distributed in the provinces with high proportions of ethnic minorities. According to the dendrogram of surname distances, several clusters could be identified. Most provinces in a cluster were conterminous with one another. The one exception to this pattern could be explained by Demic diffusion, demic migration observed where the Han Chinese migrated to Northeastern China. A study by geneticist Yuan Yida has found that of all the people with a particular surname, there tends to be a population concentration in a certain province, as tabulated to the right. It does not show, however, the most common surnames in any one province. The 55th most common family name "Xiào" (Wiktionary:肖#Chinese, 肖) appears to be very rare in Hong Kong. This is explained by the fact Hong Kong uses Traditional Chinese characters rather than Simplified Chinese characters. Originally, the surname Wiktionary:蕭#Chinese, 蕭 (Xiāo) was rather common while the surname 肖 (Xiào) was extremely rare, if not non-existent (it is mentioned only sporadically in historical texts). The first round of simplification in 1956 simplified 蕭 into Wiktionary:萧#Chinese, 萧, keeping 蕭/萧 and 肖 distinct. However the Second round of simplified Chinese characters, second-round in 1977, which has long been abolished, merged 萧 and 肖 into 肖. Despite the retraction of the second round, some people have kept 肖 as their surname, so that there are now two separate surnames, 萧 and 肖. Chén (Wiktionary:陈#Chinese, 陈/Wiktionary:陳#Chinese, 陳) is perhaps the most common surname in
Hong Kong Hong Kong (, ), officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (HKSAR) (), is a metropolitan area and Special administrative regions of China, special administrative region of the China, People's Repu ...

Hong Kong
and Macau, where it is romanized as Chan. It is the List of common Chinese surnames#Singapore, most common Chinese surname in
Singapore Singapore (), officially the Republic of Singapore, is a sovereign state, sovereign island city-state in maritime Southeast Asia. It lies about one degree of latitude () north of the equator, off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, bord ...

Singapore
, where it is usually romanized as Tan, and is also common in
Taiwan Taiwan (), officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a country in East Asia. Neighbouring countries include the China, People's Republic of China (PRC) to the northwest, Japan to the northeast, and the Philippines to the south. The main islan ...

Taiwan
, where it is romanized as Chén. Fāng (Wiktionary:方#Chinese, 方), which is only the 47th most common overall, is much more common in San Francisco's Chinatown in the United States, although the surname is more often than not romanized as Fong, as based on the Yue Chinese, Yue dialect. As with the concentration of family names, this can also be explained statistically, as a person with an uncommon name moving to an unsettled area and leaving his family name to large number of descendants. After the Song Dynasty, surname distributions in China largely settled down. The Kuang (surname), Kuàng (Wiktionary:邝#Chinese, 邝/Wiktionary:鄺#Chinese, 鄺) family, for example, migrated from the northern capital and settled in Guangdong after the Song Dynasty revolts. Villages are often made up of a single patrilineage with individuals having the same surname, often with a common male ancestor. They usually intermarry with others from nearby villages, creating genetic clusters.


Surnames at present

Of the thousands of surnames which have been identified from historical texts prior to the modern era, most have either been lost (see extinction of family names) or simplified. Historically there are close to 12,000 surnames recorded including those from non-Han Chinese ethnic groups, of which only about 3,100 are in current use, a factor of almost 4:1 (about 75%) reduction. A 2019 figure however put the total number of Chinese family names at 6,150. Of Han Chinese surnames, the largest number ever recorded was 6,363 (3,730 single-character surnames, 2,633 multiple-character surnames), around 2,000 of which are still in use. Chinese Surname extinction is due to various factors, such as people taking the names of their rulers, orthographic simplifications, taboos against using characters from an emperor's name, and others. A recent example of near surname extinction is the rare surname Shan (𢒉). The character may not be displayed on computer systems used by government officials, and people born after the system change as well as people who want to avoid possible problems changed their name to another character such as Xian (冼). The name is still used by the older people, but some people from the village are concerned that future generations will forget their name origin. While new names have arisen for various reasons, this has been outweighed by old names disappearing. The most significant factor affecting the surname frequency is other ethnic groups identifying as Han and adopting Han names. In recent centuries some two-character surnames have often dropped a character. Since the founding of the People's Republic of China, moreover, some surnames have been graphically simplified. Although there are thousands of Chinese family names, the List of common Chinese surnames, 100 most common, which together make up less than 5% of those in existence, are shared by 85% of the population. The three most common surnames in Mainland China are Li,
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and Zhang, which make up 7.9%, 7.4% and 7.1% respectively. Together they number close to 300 million and are easily the most common surnames in the world. In Chinese, the phrase "third son of Zhang, fourth son of Li" () is used to say "just anybody". In a 1990 study, the top 200 family names accounted for over 96% of a random sample of 174,900 persons, with over 500 other names accounting for the remaining 4%. In a different study (1987), which combined data from Taiwan and China (sample size of 570,000 persons), the top 19 names covered 55.6%, and the top 100 names covered 87% of the sample. Other data suggest that the top 50 names comprise 70% of the population. Most commonly occurring Chinese family names have only one character; however, about twenty Chinese compound surname, double-character family names have survived into modern times. These include Sima (Chinese surname), Sima (Wiktionary:司, 司 Wiktionary:馬, 馬, simp. Wiktionary:司, 司 Wiktionary:马, 马), Zhuge (Wiktionary:諸, 諸 Wiktionary:葛, 葛, simp. Wiktionary:诸, 诸 Wiktionary:葛, 葛), Ouyang (Wiktionary:歐, 歐 Wiktionary:陽, 陽, simp. Wiktionary:欧, 欧 Wiktionary:阳, 阳), occasionally romanized as ''O'Young'', suggesting an Irish origin to English-speakers, and Situ (surname), Situ (or Sito Wiktionary:司, 司 Wiktionary:徒, 徒). Sima, Zhuge, and Ouyang also happen to be the surnames of four extremely famous premodern Chinese historical figures. There are family names with three or more characters, but those are not ethnically Han Chinese. For example, Aixinjueluo (Wiktionary:愛, 愛Wiktionary:新, 新Wiktionary:覺, 覺Wiktionary:羅, 羅, also romanized from the Manchu language as Aisin Gioro), was the family name of the Manchu people, Manchu royal family of the Qing dynasty.


Variations in romanization

Transliteration of Chinese family names (see List of common Chinese surnames) into foreign languages poses a number of problems. Chinese surnames are shared by people speaking a number of dialects and languages which often have different pronunciations of their surnames. The spread of the Overseas Chinese, Chinese diaspora into all parts of the world resulted in the Romanization of the surnames based on different languages and Chinese dialects. Countries that have adopted the system of Chinese surnames such as Vietnam and Korea also spell them according to their own pronunciations. As a result, it is common for the same surname to be transliterated differently. For example, the Chen (surname), Chen (陳) surname can appear as Chan (Cantonese, e.g. Jackie Chan), Tan (Hokkien), Tang (Teochew dialect, Teochew), Chin (Hakka Chinese, Hakka), Trần (Vietnamese language, Vietnamese) and others; the Li (surname 李), Li (李) surname may appear as Lee (an example is Lee Kuan Yew), the Zhou (surname), Zhou (周) surname can appear as Chou, Chew, Jew and many others (e.g. Wakin Chau and Jimmy Choo); while the Zheng (surname), Zheng surname (鄭/郑) can be romanized into Chang, Cheng, Chung, Teh, Tay, Tee, Tsang, Zeng or Zheng (note that in pinyin, Chang, Cheng, Zheng and Zeng are all different names). In certain dialects, different surnames could be homonyms so it is common for family names to appear ambiguous when transliterated. Translating Chinese surnames from foreign transliteration often presents ambiguity. For example, the surname "List of surnames romanized Li, Li" are all Mandarin-based pinyin transliteration for the surnames Lí (Lí (surname 黎), 黎); Lí (Li (surname 李), 李, Li (surname 理), 理 and 里); and Lì (Li (surname 酈), 郦/酈, Li (surname 栗), 栗, Li (surname 厲), 厉/厲, and Li (surname 利), 利) depending on the Tone (linguistics), tone which is usually omitted in foreign transliterations. Due to the different pronunciation and romanizations, it is sometimes easy to tell whether a Chinese person has origins in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, or Taiwan. In general people who are of Mainland descent will have both their surnames and names in pinyin. Those who are Taiwanese descent use Wade-Giles romanization. People from Southeast Asia (mainly Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines) and Hong Kong usually base their romanization of surnames and names on the Min Chinese, Min, Hakka Chinese, Hakka and Yue Chinese, Cantonese languages. The younger generation from Singapore often have their surname in dialect and given name in English. There are also people who use non-standard romanizations, e.g. the Hong Kong media mogul 邵逸夫 Run Run Shaw's surname 邵 is spelt as Shaw (Shao in pinyin). The use of different systems of romanization based on different Chinese language variants from 1900~1970 also contributed to the variations. Some examples: Malaysia/Singapore/Indonesia/Philippines: various spellings are used depending on name origin. See List of common Chinese surnames for the different spellings and more examples.


Sociological use of surnames

Throughout most of Chinese history, surnames have served sociological functions. Because of their association with the aristocratic elite in their early developments, surnames were often used as symbols of nobility. Thus nobles would use their surnames to be able to trace their ancestry and compete for seniority in terms of hereditary rank. Examples of early genealogy, genealogies among the royalty can be found in Sima Qian's ''Historical Records'', which contain tables recording the descent lines of noble houses called ''shibiao'' (). Later, during the Han dynasty, these tables were used by prominent families to glorify themselves and sometimes even to legitimize their political power. For example, Cao Pi, who forced the abdication of the last Han emperor in his favor, claimed descent from the Yellow Emperor. Chinese emperors sometimes passed their own surnames to subjects as honors. Unlike European practice in which some surnames are obviously noble, Chinese emperors and members of the royal family had regular surnames except in cases where they came from non-Han ethnic groups. This was a result of Chinese imperial theory in which a commoner could receive the Mandate of Heaven and become emperor. Upon becoming emperor, the emperor would retain his original surname. Also as a consequence, many people also had the same surname as the emperor, but had no direct relation to the royal family. The Tang dynasty was the last period when the great aristocratic families, mostly descended from the nobility of pre-Qin states, held significant centralized and regional power. The surname was used as a source of prestige and common allegiance. During the period many genealogical records called ''pudie'' () were compiled to trace the complex descent lines of families or clans and their marriage ties to other families or clans. Many of these were collected by Ouyang Xiu in his ''New History of Tang''. To differentiate between different surnames, the Tang also choronyms before stating beforehand, for example Lǒngxī Lǐshì 隴西李氏, meaning Li of Longxi. These were generally the names of commanderies used prior to the reorganization during the Tang, so that they became exclusively associated to clans as their common use had died out. Cadet branches were also listed for further differentiation, such as Gūzāng Fáng 姑臧房, meaning Clan Li of Guzang. During the Song dynasty, ordinary clans began to organize themselves into corporate units and produce genealogies. This trend was led by the poet Su Shi and his father. As competition for resources and positions in the bureaucracy intensified, individuals used their common ancestry and surname to promote solidarity. They established schools to educate their sons and held common lands to aid disadvantaged families. Ancestral temples were also erected to promote surname identity. Clan cohesion was usually encouraged by successive imperial governments since it aided in social stability. During the Qing dynasty surname associations often undertook extrajudicial roles, providing primitive legal and social security functions. They played important roles in the Chinese diaspora to South-East Asia and elsewhere, providing the infrastructure for the establishment of trading networks. In southern China, however, clans sometimes engaged in armed conflict in competition for land. Clans continued the tradition of tracing their ancestry to the distant past as a matter of prestige. Most of these origin myths, though well established, are spurious. As a result of the importance of surnames, rules and traditions regarding family and marriage grew increasingly complex. For example, in Taiwan, there is a clan with the so-called "double Liao" surname. The story is that "Chang Yuan-zih of Liao's in Siluo married the only daughter of Liao San-Jiou-Lang who had no son, and he took the oath that he should be in the name of Liao when alive and should be in the name of Chang after death." In some places, there are additional taboos against marriage between people of the same surname, considered to be closely related. Conversely, in some areas, there are different clans with the same surname which are not considered to be related, but even in these cases surname
exogamy Exogamy is the social norm of marrying outside one's social group. The group defines the scope and extent of exogamy, and the rules and enforcement mechanisms that ensure its continuity. One form of exogamy is dual exogamy, in which two groups e ...
is generally practiced. Surname identity and solidarity has declined markedly since the 1930s with the decline of Confucianism and later, the rise of Communism in Mainland China. During the Cultural Revolution, surname culture was actively persecuted by the government with the destruction of ancestral temples and genealogies. Moreover, the influx of Western culture and forces of globalization have also contributed to erode the previous sociological uses of the Chinese surnames.


Common Chinese surnames


Mainland China

According to a comprehensive survey of hukou system, residential permits released by the PRC, Chinese Ministry of Public Security of the People's Republic of China, Ministry of Public Security on 24 April 2007,Xinhua News. 24 April 2007. "中国姓氏排行".
天下第一大姓——王
" 14 November 2007. Accessed 26 March 2012.

" 24 April 2007. Accessed 27 March 2012.
the ten most common surnames in mainland China are
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(王), Li (李), Zhang (张), Liu (surname), Liu (刘), Chen (陈),
Yang Yang may refer to: * Yang, in yin and yang, one half of the two symbolic polarities in Chinese philosophy * Korean yang, former unit of currency of Korea from 1892 to 1902 *Yang (film), a 1984 Indonesian film nominated for Best Picture at the Cit ...
(杨), Huang (黄), Zhao (赵), Wu (吴), and
ZhouZhou may refer to: Chinese history * King Zhou of Shang () (1105 BC–1046 BC), the last king of the Shang dynasty * Predynastic Zhou (), 11th-century BC precursor to the Zhou dynasty * Zhou dynasty () (1046 BC–256 BC), a dynasty of China ** Weste ...
(周). The same names were also found (in slightly different orders) by a fairly comprehensive survey of 296 million people in 2006, and by the 1982 Chinese census, 1982 census.''People's Daily Online''.
China issues first set of stamps of Chinese family names
. 19 November 2004. Accessed 28 March 2012.
The top list of common Chinese surnames, 100 surnames cover 84.77% of China's population. The top 10 surnames each have populations greater than 20 million. The MPS survey revealed that the top 3 surnames in China have a combined population larger than Indonesia, the world's fourth-most-populous country. The 2019 report by Chinese Ministry of Public Security gives the surnames
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and Li as the most common ones, with each shared by over 100 million people in China. Each of the most common 23 surnames in China has more than 10 million users. A commonly cited fact from the 1990 edition of the ''Guinness Book of World Records'' estimated that Zhang was the most common surname in the world,McFarlan, Donald. ''1990 Guinness Book of World Records''. Sterling Pub. Co., 2001. . but no comprehensive information from China was available at the time and more recent editions have omitted the claim.


Taiwan

Names in Taiwanboth among the immigrant Han Chinese, ethnic Chinese and Naming customs of Taiwanese aborigines, Aboriginal Taiwanese peopleare similar to those in southeast China but differ somewhat from the distribution of names among all Han Chinese. According to a comprehensive survey of residential permits released by the Taiwanese Ministry of the Interior (Taiwan), Ministry of the Interior's Department of Population in February 2005,中华百家姓-千字文-国学经典-文化经典.
中国台湾姓氏排行
[China (Taiwanese) Surname Ranking]." 8 June 2010. Accessed 31 March 2012.
the ten most common surnames in Taiwan are Chen (陳), Lin (surname), Lin (林), Huang (黃), Zhang (surname), Chang or Zhang (張), Li (李),
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(王), Wu (吳), Liu (surname), Liu (劉), Cai (surname), Tsai (蔡), and
Yang Yang may refer to: * Yang, in yin and yang, one half of the two symbolic polarities in Chinese philosophy * Korean yang, former unit of currency of Korea from 1892 to 1902 *Yang (film), a 1984 Indonesian film nominated for Best Picture at the Cit ...
(楊). Taiwanese surnames include some local variants like Tu (surname), Tu (塗), which do not even appear among the ''
Hundred Family Surnames The ''Hundred Family Surnames'' (), commonly known as ''Bai Jia Xing'', also translated as ''Hundreds of Chinese Surnames'', is a classic Chinese Chinese can refer to: * Something related to China China, officially the People's Republ ...
'', as well as a number of relatively recently created names like Changchien (張簡) and Chiangfan (姜范). However, names in Taiwan show less diversity than China as a whole: the top ten comprise 52.63% of the Taiwanese population and the top hundred 96.11%. There were also only 1,989 surnames recorded by the Ministry's survey, against China's four or five thousand. As is typical of China as a whole, these surnames conflate many different lineages and origins, although tradition may bind them to the same ancestral temples and rituals or incest taboo, ban intermarriage. For example, some Taiwanese converts to Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, Presbyterianism adopted the name Kai (偕, pinyin ''Xié'') in honor of the Canadian missionary George Leslie Mackay (馬偕, Pe̍h-ōe-jī ''Má-kai'').


See also

*Art name *Chinese clan *Chinese compound surname *Chinese given name *
Chinese name Chinese personal names are names used by those from Greater China "Greater China" is an informal geographical area that shares commercial and cultural ties with the Han Chinese. The notion of "Greater China" refers to the area that normally en ...
*Courtesy name *Exogamy *Generation name *''
Hundred Family Surnames The ''Hundred Family Surnames'' (), commonly known as ''Bai Jia Xing'', also translated as ''Hundreds of Chinese Surnames'', is a classic Chinese Chinese can refer to: * Something related to China China, officially the People's Republ ...
'' *Japanese name *Korean name *List of common Chinese surnames *Naming laws in the People's Republic of China *Onomastics *Vietnamese name


References


Citations


Sources

* * *


External links


Chinese Surnames (Simplified)
with sound

*[https://web.archive.org/web/20110610223316/http://www.char4u.com/article_info.php?articles_id=13 Meaning Behind 19 Most Common Chinese Surnames]
The Ten-Thousand Families of Surnames from Netor (NETOR纪念:万家姓氏) (in simplified Chinese only)Top 10 Chinese Surnames in 2019
{{100 Most Common Family Names in Mainland China Chinese-language surnames, Surname