How Are Family Names Created in Chinese?

Around 1% of the population. This unique approach to surname formation has resulted in a diverse array of family names, each carrying it’s own distinct meaning and historical legacy.

How Are Chinese Names Created?

In Chinese culture, family names are of great importance and are deeply rooted in tradition. Chinese naming conventions follow a specific pattern, with the family name being placed before the given name. For instance, a males name may be ZHANG Chen, while a females name could be WANG Xiu. The family name, also known as the surname, is inherited from ones parents and is shared among the immediate family members.

They hold significant cultural and historical value and are considered a source of pride and identity. Chinese individuals take great care in choosing names for their children, as they believe that a name can greatly influence a persons life and future.

Chinese family names can also be passed down through generations, allowing for a strong sense of family lineage and continuity. It isn’t uncommon to find several generations within a family carrying the same family name, further emphasizing the importance placed on lineage and ancestry.

The Process of Choosing Chinese Names for Children and the Criteria Used

  • The meaning and symbolism behind Chinese names
  • The importance of choosing a harmonious name
  • The use of traditional characters and their cultural significance
  • The consideration of numerology and the five elements
  • The influence of family and ancestral names
  • The consultation of fortune tellers or naming experts
  • The desire for a name that reflects aspirations or wishes
  • The balance between tradition and modernity in name selection
  • The significance of pronunciation and tone in Chinese names
  • The role of personal preferences and individual creativity

In addition to the matriarchal clan society, the Chinese also adopted their mother’s surname due to the influence of Confucianism, which placed great emphasis on lineage and filial piety. As time went on, the number of surnames grew exponentially, resulting in a diverse range of last names that reflect various aspects of Chinese culture and history. One such example is the surname “You,” which has multiple pronunciations and is derived from characters representing different meanings.

How Did Chinese Get Their Last Names?

Originated from the ancient matriarchal clan society that prevailed in China. In this society, it was common for individuals to take their mothers surname. This practice was a result of the belief that ones lineage and heritage originated from the maternal side. Consequently, many of the earliest surnames in Chinese culture can be attributed to this matriarchal system.

One of the common surnames that originated from this system is “You” (尤) in Mandarin. This surname has various pronunciations, including You, You, You, You, You, and You. Among these variations, the most frequently encountered are the characters 尤 and 游. Notably, 尤 is the 19th surname listed in the “Hundred Family Surnames,” which is a canonical list of common Chinese surnames.

Additionally, surnames in Chinese culture often carry symbolic meanings and references to specific traits or characteristics. For example, the 户 (hù) character, which means “door” or “household,” is commonly seen as the radical on the side or bottom of female characters, such as the Ji surname.

Over time, the development of surnames in China became more complex and diverse. Factors such as regional dialects, historical events, and personal preferences began to play a role in surname creation.

The History and Significance of the “Hundred Family Surnames” List in Chinese Culture

  • The “Hundred Family Surnames” list is a compilation of Chinese surnames.
  • It’s considered significant as it reflects the diversity and importance of family names in Chinese culture.
  • The origins of the list can be traced back to the Song Dynasty (10th-13th centuries).
  • During this time, the list was used to educate people about Chinese surnames and promote their recognition.
  • Having a recognized surname was important as it represented family heritage and social status.
  • The list was created to include the most commonly used surnames in ancient China.
  • Over time, the list expanded to include more names, reaching a total of 504 surnames in modern versions.
  • The “Hundred Family Surnames” list has been influential in genealogical studies and ancestor worship rituals.
  • It’s also been a source of pride and identity for Chinese individuals and communities.
  • The list continues to be referenced and celebrated in various forms of Chinese art, literature, and media.


a few thousand. While there have been instances of new surnames being created and the adoption of both parents' surnames, these practices remain relatively uncommon.

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