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Names of Chinese People
2015/07/01

 

In ancient China, not everyone had both surname and given name. Ownership of surname and given name was closely related to the individual's status, position, family and occupation. 

Surname is a sign that indicates the family one is born in and is the result of the matriarchal society. Family names were developed on the basis of surnames, and are signs that indicate branches of surnames and symbols that distinguish men's statuses and positions.

Surnames used today include some ancient surnames, most of which were the family names in ancient times. Surname and family name were combined after the Qin Dynasty (221-206BC), and they are almost the same today.

Perhaps influenced by the Confucian ideology of respecting ancestors, Chinese people attach much importance to their own surnames. Those who change their surnames are deemed that they are no longer the offspring of their ancestors, which is a regarded as a great humiliation.

In the pre-Qin period, ordinary people did not have surnames or given names, and only the nobles had both the two. After the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD), people with some knowledge generally had their own surnames and given names, not simply limited to the nobility. In the Song Dynasty (960-1279), people from all social stratums could have their style names without any restriction.

Style name was derived from given name, and the two have very close relation. However, since the modern times, Chinese people generally only have given names but no style names except some literatis. According to the Collection of Chinese Surnames compiled by Yan Fuqing and so on, China has about 5,730 surnames (including single surnames that consist of a single Chinese character and compound surnames that consist of two or even more Chinese characters).

 

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