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  • Gordon Dumoulin

A peek in the world of Chinese family and given names

A peek into the world of Chinese family and given names.....

friends usually call me Lao Gao…..

‘Wang’ (Wáng, 王, ‘king’) is world’s no. 1 family name with about 78 million people in China and more than 100 mio worldwide. If we include Wāng (汪) or romanizations such as Wong, Waan, Ong or Oh of the same character, we can add millions more.

The top 5 family names (Wang, Li, Zhang, Liu and Chen) accounts for about 35% of people' surnames in China and the top 100 for 85-90%. About 2,000 Han Chinese family names are in use and most have ancient history with numerous tales.

The Hundred Family Surnames, 百家姓 (Bai Jia Xing) is a classic Chinese text from the Song Dynasty (960-1279) in the form of a rhyming poem in lines of eight characters, describing Chinese surnames in verses. It originally contained 411 surnames, and was later expanded to 504.

Astrology is often sought after when choosing a first name though we can see trends in history. 建国 Jianguo was very popular in the 1950’s, referring to the inauguration of the new China.

The 1960’s was about revolutionary names while the 1980’s saw the rise of less traditional single character first names (娜 Na, graceful or 乐 Le, happy). Since the 1990’s, names have become more creative and individual.

The tradition of one same character in first names of family relatives from the same generation (brothers, sisters, cousins) is not as common as in earlier days.

In China, family name are always placed before the first name, both written and oral.

Many people are called by their nickname by relatives and friends, derived from name, zodiac, background or others. Friends usually call me Lao Gao 😊

#chinesesociety #chineseculture #chinesehistory #china

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