We have all met Chinese people with the lastname Li (Lee). There
is Bruce Lee for one, then Jet Li and a number of other Chinese stars.
It seems as if every other Chinese person's name was Li. In reality, however, the
most common Chinese lastname is Chen, often spelled in English as Chan. The second most
common lastname is Lin, the third Huang (Hwang, Hwong), and only the fourth is Li. In
fact, there are over two times as many Chen's as Li's.
Here is a list of the most common lastnames:
Over 50% of all Chinese people have one of these nine Chinese family names. And just 50
different family names are sufficient to name 90% of the population of China, that is,
over a billion people. That is a significant portion of the world!
- Chen (Chan)
- Huang (Hwang, Hwong)
- Li (Lee)
- Zhang (Chang)
- Wu (U, O, Oh)
- Wang (Wong)
- Cai (Tsai)
As for first names, there is naturally a much larger variety available for parents to name
their kids. While family names are given and usually cannot be changed, the parents are
free to give their children whatever name they like. Obviously, parents prefer to choose
names that are auspicious or have a good meaning. Because every Chinese character has a
meaning and sound, the name of a child also automatically has a meaning and sound.
The most common character in Chinese first names is Wen, meaning "culture, writing." This
name clearly reflects the ultimate value in modern Chinese society: culture and education.
The second most common character in first names is Zhi, meaning "will, intention; emotions."
Here is the order of frequency of the most common characters chosen for Chinese first names:
- Wen (culture, writing)
- Zhi (will, intention; emotions)
- Yi (cheerful)
- Ya (elegant)
- Ming (bright)
- Hui (smart, wise)
- Hong (great, wide)
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