Chinese Last Names

Interested in knowing about Chinese last names? Find out about the different kinds of Chinese last names and their origins.

The last names that are used by many of the Chinese people today actually belong to the Han Chinese and the Sinicized Chinese ethnic groups. When we speak of Chinese last names we are actually talking about a geographical area that covers mainland China along with Taiwan and a few other close by communities.

Traditionally the Chinese used to have two kinds of last names. One last name could be considered to be a family name whilst the other was the name of the clan or tribe.

Last names that have been handed down the family tree are taken from the father’s side of the family. In the Chinese culture even the adopted children were given the family name of the father. The women would however have their family names changed once they got married. They would then adopt the family name of their husbands.

Origins of Chinese last names

An unusual tradition existed in China with regards to the use of last names. At the times predating the Warring States Period last names were only used by the royal family and the aristocrat class. The last names that were adopted by the immediate royal family were known as Xing.

With the feudal system prevailing in ancient China further sub-last names were added as they were divided amongst descendants. This additional sub-last name was known as shi. The purpose of adding this last name was to help distinguish between the lineages of the nobles and the lower classes.

The different kinds of Chinese last names

The shi last names and their derivates survive even today. The royal last names known as Xing have vanished over time with only a couple of them remaining. Amongst the six popular Xing last names the only ones to be found today are Yoa and Jiang which can be commonly found amongst the Chinese masses. Certain last names were handed over to individuals, clans or families by the royal decree of the emperor. An example of such last names is Kwong.

The bulk of the commoners however had last names that were taken after the name of the state where they lived or were originally coming from. This showed their allegiance to that particular state and helped to form an ethnic identity. Examples of such names include Wu, Song, Tan and Chen which are still found amongst the Chinese masses today. The fact that China had a huge population of peasants which means all the more commoners, is the reason we find these surnames to be present to date.

Then there were others that retained the last names of their ancestors. There are hundreds of examples of such last names in the Chinese culture. Others would be given a special last name due to the senior position that they held within a clan. This would then become a family name with the passage of time.

Many of the people actually developed surnames based on their occupation. This is a common phenomenon in many cultures and the Chinese is no exception. Lee, Lau, Yang, Chang, Chao and Wong are some of the most commonly heard Chinese last names.

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