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Chinese surname facts for kids

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Chinese surnames are used by Han Chinese and Sinicized ethnic groups in China, Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam, and among overseas Chinese communities around the world such as Singapore and Malaysia . Chinese surnames are given first for names written in Chinese, which is the opposite of Western naming convention where surnames come last. Around 2,000 Han Chinese surnames are currently in use, but the great proportion of Han Chinese people use only a relatively small number of these surnames; 19 surnames are used by around half of the Han Chinese people, while 100 surnames are used by around 87% of the population. A report in 2019 gives the most common Chinese surnames as Wang and Li, each shared by over 100 million people in China, with Zhang, Liu, Chen, Yang, Huang, Zhao, Wu and Zhou making up the rest of the ten most common Chinese names.

Two distinct types of Chinese surnames existed in ancient China, namely xing (Chinese: ; pinyin: xìng) or ancestral clan names, and shi (Chinese: ; pinyin: shì) or branch lineage names. Later, the two terms began to be used interchangeably, and now, xing refers to the surname while shi may be used to refer to the clan name or maiden name. The two terms may also be used together as xingshi for family names or surnames. Most Chinese surnames (xing) currently used were originally shi. The ancient xing surname is believed to be matrilinear, but Han Chinese family name has been exclusively patrilineal for over two thousand years, passing from father to children. This system of patrilineal surnames is unusual in the world in its long period of continuity and depth of written history, and Chinese people may view their surnames as part of their shared kinship and Han Chinese identity. Women do not normally change their surnames upon marriage, except sometimes in places with more western influences such as Hong Kong. Traditionally Chinese surnames have been exogamous in that people tend to marry those with different last names.

The most common Chinese surnames were compiled in the Song dynasty work Hundred Family Surnames, which lists over 400 names. The colloquial expressions lǎobǎixìng (老百姓; lit. "old hundred surnames") and bǎixìng (, lit. "hundred surnames") are used in Chinese to mean "ordinary folks", "the people", or "commoners".

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