Apr 18, 2014


The Book of Family Names

When the Chinese meet someone for the first time, they usually ask his/her surname by saying: May I have your family name? The family name is an important way of addressing each other. Chinese family name culture, which has survived for four or five thousand years, has recorded the formation of the Chinese nation in a special form of consanguinity culture and served as a national cohesive force in the assimilating process of the Chinese culture.

How many Chinese family names are there? According to the popular book of former times - The Hundred Family Names composed in the Northern Song Dynasty (960~1127AD), there are a total of 438 commonly used Chinese family names. According to statistics, there have been over 5,600 family names in all, including existing ones and those in historical documents. Among them, only 1,000 or so are currently in use.

The distribution of Chinese family names is quite imbalanced. The top ten with the most bearers are: Zhang, Wang, Li, Zhao, Chen, Yang, Wu, Liu, Huang and Zhou. There are approximately 0.5 billion people bearing these ten surnames, accounting for about 40% of the Chinese population.

Another interesting fact in Chinese family name culture is the variant pronunciation, which means when a particular Chinese character is used as a family name, it has a different pronunciation to its usual one. And there are some surname characters with two pronunciations, representing two family names of different origins.

Containing profound connotations, Chinese family name culture is a treasure house for studying history, ethnology, ethnography, genetics and sociology.

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