Cultural Roots: Tracing Common Chinese Surnames

When you meet a new friend, the very first thing might be introducing each other. But when you meet Chinese people, do you feel difficult to memorize Chinese names? Don’t worry. We are here to help you out! The most common Chinese surnames have been listed below. If you would like to know more, the Chinese surname ranking in 2020 is also provided here. If you want to get a Chinese nickname, don’t miss out this blog!! How to Get and Use Chinese Nicknames

Top 5 Chinese surnames

中国五大姓氏 (zhōng guó wǔ dà xìng shì)

1. 王(wáng)

According to official data released in January 2019, the population of the surname 王 in China mainland reached 101.5 million in 2018, making it the country’s largest surname.

The character means king. It is composed of three horizontal lines (三横, sān héng) and one vertical line (一竖, yī shù). The three horizontal lines represent the sky (天, tiān), the earth (地, dì) and the man (人, rén), and the vertical line runs through the sky, the earth, and the man. Hence 王means the sky, the earth, and the man are all controlled by the “king”.

Three famous Chinese celebrities with the surname 王 can be 王菲 (wáng fēi, singer/actress), 王力宏 (wáng lì hóng, singer), and 王宝强 (wáng bǎo qiáng, comedy actor).

2. 李(lǐ)

The surname 李, according to the official data, in 2018 the population of China’s surname 李 reached 100.9 million, making it the second-largest surname in the country.

The surname 李 is originated from totem worship, with plum trees as the totem. Based on the composition of the character 李, we often say “木子李” (mù zǐ lǐ) when we introduce the surname 李. The spelling of 李 in China mainland is Li. You might also see the people in Hong Kong have a surname 李 with the spelling “Lee”.

李白 (lǐ bái) is a famous poet in China. 李连杰 (lǐ lián jié, Jet Li) is a Chinese film actor known for his action films. 李冰冰 (lǐ bīng bīng) is an actress who developed her career in Hollywood.

3. 张(zhāng)

According to data released in January 2019, the total population of the surname 张reached 95.4 million, ranking third among Chinese surnames.

The original meaning of 张 is the string is stretched on the bow and the bow is about to be opened. The extended meaning can be bowing, stretching, etc. 张 is also a name of stars which arrangement looks like a bow. The clans who were good at making bows and arrows worshipped this primordial totem, whereby 张 became a surname. Based on the composition of the character 张, we often say “弓长张” (gōng cháng zhāng) when we introduce the surname 张.

Three famous Chinese celebrities can be 张靓颖 (zhāng liàng yǐng, singer dubbed the “Dolphin Princess”), 张艺谋 (zhāng yì móu, film director), and 张杰 (zhāng jié, pop singer).

4. 刘(liú)

As of 2013, Liu has a population of nearly 70 million, accounting for 5.34% of the country’s population.

Based on Etymology, it can be deduced that the original meaning of 刘 is related to weapon or metal. Based on the composition of the character 刘, we can say “文刀刘” (wén dāo liú) when we introduce the surname 刘.

Three celebrities with the surname 刘 can be 刘亦菲 (liú yì fēi, played Mulan in the film Mulan), 刘玉玲 (liú yù líng, Lucy Liu, actress), and 刘雯 (liú wén, dubbed “China’s first bona fide supermodel”).

5. 陈(chén)

The surname 陈ranked 5th in 2018, with a registered population of 63.3 million.

We have got the State of Chen in a dynasty of China. The surname may either come from this state name or other surnames. Based on the composition of the character 陈, we often say “耳东陈” (ěr dōng chén) when we introduce the surname 陈 (you can see the left part of 陈 looks like an ear, which called “耳” ěr here).

Three celebrities with the surname 陈 can be 陈奕迅 (chén yì xùn, singer), 陈可辛 (chén kě xīn, film director), and 陈慧琳 (chén huì lín, singer).

Chinese surname ranking in 2020

The top 100 Chinese surnames in 2020 are shown below. In China, we call this top 100 ranking as “百家姓” (bǎi jiā xìng). In this list, each Chinese character is a surname. (We also have got two-character surnames which will be mentioned later down to the bottom.)

Rank 1~4:

王 李 张 刘

wáng lǐ zhāng liú

Rank 5~8:

陈 杨 黄 赵

chén yáng huáng zhào  

Rank 9~12:

吴 周 徐 孙 

wú zhōu xú sūn  

Rank 13~16:

马 朱 胡 郭 

mǎ zhū hú guō  

Rank 17~20:

何 林 高 罗

hé lín gāo luó

Rank 21~24:

郑 梁 谢 宋

zhèng liáng xiè sòng 

Rank 25~28:

唐 许 邓 韩

táng xǔ dèng hán 

Rank 29~32:

冯 曹 彭 曾

féng cáo péng céng

Rank 33~36:

肖 田 董 潘 

xiāo tián dǒng pān

Rank 37~40:

袁 蔡 蒋 余

yuán cài jiǎng yú

Rank 41~44:

于 杜 叶 程 

yú dù yè chéng  

Rank 45~48:

魏 苏 吕 丁 

wèi sū lǚ dīng

Rank 49~52:

任 卢 姚 沈

rèn lú yáo shěn  

Rank 53~56:

钟 姜 崔 谭 

zhōng jiāng cuī tán  

Rank 57~60:

陆 范 汪 廖

lù fàn wāng liào

Rank 61~64:

石 金 韦 贾 

shí jīn wéi jiǎ  

Rank 65~68:

夏 付 方 邹 

xià fù fāng zōu

Rank 69~72:

熊 白 孟 秦 

xióng bái mèng qín

Rank 73~76:

邱 侯 江 尹 

qiū hóu jiāng yǐn  

Rank 77~80:

薛 闫 段 雷

xuē yán duàn léi

Rank 81~84:

龙 黎 史 陶 

lóng lí shǐ táo  

Rank 85~88:

贺 毛 郝 顾 

hè máo hǎo gù  

Rank 89~92:

龚 邵 万 覃 

gōng shào wàn tán

Rank 93~96:

武 钱 戴 严 

wǔ qián dài yán  

Rank 97~100:

欧 莫 孔 向

ōu mò kǒng xiàng

Retrieved from 百度百科 – 新百家姓.

Among these top 100, which Chinese surname is your favourite?

Want to know more about Chinese nicknames?

Check it out here! How to Get and Use Chinese Nicknames

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