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* Known As Chinese Family Names, Last Names, Clan Names, etc.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

About Chinese Surnames

There are hundreds of Chinese surnames in the world. According to sinologists, historians, and other experts on history of China and Chinese culture, there were are many as 500+ Chinese surnames that have ever been around in the last few thousand years in the middle kingdom (China) and Chinese communities worldwide. As of today in the 21st century, some Chinese surnames are no longer being used and there are no more living descendants of these "extinct" surnames.

On the other hand, among the hundreds of Chinese surnames, around 100 of them are the most common. Out of these 100 most common Chinese surnames, these are among the top 10:

  1. Zhang (could be spelt differently as Chang, Teo, Teoh, Tiong, Cheong, etc.)
  2. Lin (could be spelt differently as Lim, Ling, etc.)
  3. Huang (could be spelt differently as Wong, Ng, Bong, Ooi, Wee, etc.)
  4. Liu (could be spelt differently as Lau, Low, Liew, etc.)
  5. Wang (could be spelt differently as Wong, etc.)
  6. Chen (could be spelt differently as Tan, Chan, Ting, etc.)
  7. Yang (could be spelt differently as Yeo, Yeoh, Yong, Yeong, etc.)
  8. Li (could be spelt differently as Lee, etc.)
  9. Zhao (could be spelt differently as Chiew, Chiw, etc.)
  10. Yue (could be spelt differently as Yap, Yip, etc.)

The top 10 most common Chinese surnames can be found all over the world and among the most widely passed down and spreaded family names from China. Anywhere in the world that you can find a Chinese community, you will come across these 10 most common Chinese surnames.

The surname (or known as family name, clan name, last name) is very important to a Chinese. All over the world where there are Chinese, you will always be able to find Chinese clan associations that are based on localities (ancient prefectures among current provinces in China, eg. Kwangtong Associations), dialects groups (eg. Hokkien Association, Cantonese Associations, etc.) and especially clan associations based on Chinese surnames, eg. the Lee Association, the Yap Association, etc.

The surname is so important that traditionally (and unfortunately) the Chinese prefer sons to daughters because the former are the ones who will "carry on" the family name where as the later will take on the husband's surname when they are married off. It was quite common in the old days for the sons of poor peasant families to "marry into" rich households that did not have any sons. Due to poverty and hardships, these peasant sons were forced to endure much humiliation and put up with all sorts of indignities because any children born out of these marriages will carry the surname of the wife's family instead of instead.

As to the origins of Chinese surnames, many "original" or "root" surnames were created around 2000 - 3000 years ago. But the bulk of the Chinese surnames we currently have around were "officially" created around 1000-1500 years ago in China and many actually "branched" out from the earlier ones or "merged" with one another. Very often, one original Chinese surname would "branch out" into 2 - 3 new ones, and even as many as 5 - 6.

Some surnames are created out of names of places. Some surnames are created out of official ranks in the courts of the emperors. Some surnames are bestowed by a king or emperor on a favourite prince, victorious general, loyal minister, patriotic poet, etc. as a great honour. On the hand there are also Chinese surnames created as "punishments" to shame the whole family and clan for generations to come.

Among the many and varied Chinese surnames, here are some of the ones that the emperors of the most illustrious dynasties of China used to carry:

  • The Chinese surname of the emperors of the Ming Dynasty of China (1368 AD - 1644 AD): Zhu
  • The Chinese surname of the emperors of the Song Dynasty of China (960 AD - 1279 AD): Zhao
  • The Chinese surname of the emperors of the Tang Dynasty of China (618 AD - 907 AD): Li
  • The Chinese surname of the emperors of the Han Dynasty of China (Circa 206 BC - 220 AD): Liu
Yes, as you can see, many emperors of China were from among those who carried the most common Chinese surnames.
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