Many people of Chinese descent share the same last name. Legend has it, the most popular Chinese surnames stemmed from 100 tribes who walked the earth thousands of years before. In a country of well over one billion people, 85 percent of the country's population share one of the top 100 last names.
Traits of Chinese Last Names
Chinese surnames differ from last names found in Western civilization in several ways. First, a surname precedes a given name, which is an opposite format than names in Western cultures. Chinese last names also typically consist of a single syllable. In Chinese culture, the top 100 most common last names all have only one syllable. While many cultures have countless last names, China only has a few hundred.
Most Popular Chinese Surnames
In China, popular names are definitely prevalent. In fact, the name Chen is so popular; it is the name of 11.14 percent of Taiwan's population. The top three most popular Chinese last names account for 20 percent of the population. Should you find yourself strolling through the streets of Shanghai or Beijing, you are bound to hear more than a few of these last names being called out.
- Cai - Means "firewood"
- Chen - Means "exhibit"
- Fei - Means "fairy"
- Feng - Comes from a town named "Feng"
- Huang - Means "yellow"
- Li - Means "plum," and is the surname of 92 million Chinese people
- Lin - Means "forest"
- Liu - Royal surname of the Han Dynasty, means "kill and destroy"
- Ma - Means "horse"
- Sun - Means "grandson"
- Wang - Means "king," most popular surname among the Chinese.
- Wu - Translates to "loud and noisy"
- Xu - Means "slowly" or "calmly"
- Yang - Type of Aspen tree
- Zhang - Represents "bow and arrow"
Chinese Last Names That are Rooted in Nature and Places
Last names often stem from a place or an element of nature. These last names came from different spaces in the natural world, and they are as beautiful as the items they are named after.
- Chiang - Means "ginger"
- Chuang - Means "farmstead" or "village"
- Eng - Means "dwells near a meadow"
- Hong - Means "rainbow"
- Hsiung - Means "dragon"
- Hung - Means "flood"
- Ip - Means "leaf"
- Jen - Means "water lily"
- Lei - Means "thunder"
- Niú - Means "cattle"
- T'ien - Means "field"
- Xiomài - Means "wheat"
Chinese Surnames Characterized by Personality Traits
Some surnames signify characteristics and qualities of a person or physical traits. These last names pay homage to a person's unique qualities.
- Cui - Means "towering"
- Ding - Means "powerful" or "strong"
- Gu - Means "to care for"
- Kang - Means "healthy"
- Meng - Means "one who is imminent"
- Qui - Means "hills"
- Ts'ui - Means "towering"
- Xìngyùn - Means "lucky"
- Yīnchén - Means "gloomy"
Chinese Last Names With Interesting Meanings
These Chinese surnames have interesting backstories and meanings, making them ultra-intriguing to learn about.
- Bàolì - Means "violent"
- Dong - Means "mentor"
- Jiàng - Means "sauce"
- Ke - Means "handle of a axe"
- Luó - Means "bird catching net"
- Shì - Means "yes"
- Tang - Means "soup" or "boiling water"
- Tōngguò - Means "by"
- Yán - Means "salt"
- Zhanlan - Means "exhibition"
Chinese Surnames With Numerical Nods
Chinese last names often have numerical meanings. These surnames range from popular to rare, but all have numerical meanings in common.
- Ba - Means "eight"
- Ling - Means "zero"
- Qi - Means "seven"
- San - Means "three"
- Shí yì - Means "billion"
- Wu - Means "five"
- Zhào - Means "trillion"
What's in a Last Name?
Learning the meaning and origin behind a last name is fascinating. Surnames can offer insight into where ancestors lived, what they did for a living, what personality traits were associated with them, and which tribes they came from. If you are looking into discovering more about your family heritage, dissecting your last name is a great place to start.