The Ten Most Common Chinese Surnames

Chinese on Taiwan

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Surnames

Every language has its most common list of family names or surnames. For a long time, the most common English surnames were Smith and Jones. In Chinese, there is also a listing of the 100 most common surnames. Ten most common Chinese surnames are introduced in this article along with well-known Chinese who have used these family names.

Wang: The Most Common Chinese Surname

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Li: Second Most Common Chinese Surname

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Zhang: The Third Most Common Chinese Surname

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Liu: The Fourth Most Common Chinese Surname

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Chen Chinese Surname

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Chinese Surname of Huang

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The Surname of Zhou

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Grave Marker with Surname Wu

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Origins/Facts of Top 10 Chinese Surnames

Your Familiarity with Chinese Surnames

Which Chinese surname have you seen or heard the most?

  • Wang
  • Li
  • Zhang
  • Liu
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Chinese Surnames

The Ten Most Common Chinese Surnames

According to Wikipedia and my personal experiences over the past years, the ten most common Chinese surnames in the world today are as follow:

1. Wang 王

Wang which means king is the most common Chinese surname in the world today. Almost 10 percent of the Chinese on mainland China have this family name.

This surname which has ancient origins is spelled and pronounced differently among various Chinese dialect groups. For Mandarin speakers in most of China, the surname is spelled Wang. Among Cantonese and Hakka speakers, however, this family name is spelled Wong. Finally, Minnan and Hokkien speakers spell the surname Wang as Ong or Bong.

Some of the well-known Chinese having the family name of Wang include: Wang Shiyan, a painter; Wang Wei, a Tang dynasty poet; Wang Dan, student leader of the Tiananmen dissents of 1989; and Wang Ming, a former emperor.

2. Li 李

The second most common Chinese surname is Li. It has the meaning of plum or plum tree.

Li which was the surname of emperors in the Tang dynasty is generally spelled Li in Mandarin and in Hokkien or Minnan. In Cantonese and Hakka, it is spelled Lee or Lei.

Some of the more famous Chinese with the surname of Li are: Li Er or Laozi, a philosopher; Li Bai, a poet of the Tang dynasty; Bruce Lee or Li Xiaolong, a martial arts movie star; Li Teng-Hui former President of Taiwan; and Li Peng, former Premier of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1989.

3. Zhang 张

The third most popular Chinese family name is Zhang. It has the meaning of drawing a bow or an archer.

Zhang having its origin from the ancient state of Zhang is spelled and pronounced differently among various Chinese speakers. Zhang is the Pinyin spelling on mainland China, but Chang is the traditional Wade-Giles spelling used on Taiwan among Mandarin speakers. For Hong Kong and Cantonese speakers, the surname is spelled Cheung. Hakka speakers spell and pronounce Zhang Chong, but Minnan and Hokkien speakers spell and pronounce the surname Teo or Teoh.

Well-known Chinese having the surname Zhang include: Zhang Xueliang, a former Manchurian warlord; Zhang Daqian, an artist; and Zhang Yimou, a mainland film maker. One of my friends also has the surname of Zhang.

4. Liu 刘

The fourth most common Chinese family name is Liu. Two thousand years ago, it was the surname of the Han dynasty ruling family.

Although the surname is spelled Liu in Mandarin, it is spelled and pronounced Lao in Cantonese, Hakka, and Minnan.

Some of the more famous Chinese bearing the surname of Liu include: Liu Bang, the founder of the Han dynasty; Liu Shaoqi, a PRC politiician; and Liu Zongyuan, a poet during the Tang dynasty.

5. Chen 陈

The fifth most common Chinese surname is Chen. It has its origin from the ancient Chen state.

Chen is the spelling and pronunciation used in mainland China or the PRC, however the traditional spelling in Taiwan has been Ch'en. Among Cantonese and Hakka speakers, the surname is spelled and pronounced Chan. Minnan speakers spell and pronounce Chen as Tan.

Some of the more famous Chinese with the surname of Chen include: Steven Chen, co-founder of Youtube; Ch'en Shui-bian, the first non-KMT President of the Republic of China (Taiwan) 2000-2008; and Jackie Chan, a Hong Kong actor. My former Chinese teacher was Arthur Ch'en and one of my good friends is Robert Chan.

6. Yang 杨

Yang is the sixth most common Chinese surname. Its origin is from the Yang clan founded during the 8th-rth century B.C.

Yang is the spelling and pronunciation among Mandarin speakers. Other Chinese linguistic groups have different spellings and pronunciations. Among Cantonese speakers, Yang is spelled and pronounced Yeung, Yeong, or Young. Hakka speakers use Yong instead of Yang, and Minnan speakers spell and pronounce Yang as Ngeo or Yiu.

Some famous Chinese with the surname of Yang include: Yang Jin, first emperor of the Sui dynasty 581-618 A.D; Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo; and Yang Liwei, a Chinese astronaut.

7. Huang 黄

The seventh most common surname is Huang. This surname has the meaning of yellow.

The Mandarin spelling and pronunciation is Huang. Minnan speakers, however, spell and pronounce Huang as Ng, and Cantonese spell and pronounce Huang as Wang.

A few well-known Chinese with the family name of Huang include: Huang Menzan, the first Chinese-American fighter pilot; Huang Peiqian or Puey Ungpakorn, a Thai-Chinese bureaucrat who was instrumental in shaping Thailand's economic development and higher education; and Huang Hsin-chieh, the first chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party DPP in Taiwan.

8. Zhao 赵

The eighth most common Chinese family name is Zhao. It was the royal surname of the Song dynasty during the years 960-1279.

Zhao is the Mandarin Romanization in Pinyin Chinese; however, in the Wade-Giles system still used on Taiwan, Zhao is Romanized as Chao. In Cantonese Zhao is spelled and pronounced as Chiu or Ziu while in Minnan. Zhao is spelled and pronounced as Teo.

Important Chinese figures bearing the surname of Zhao include: Zhao Ziyang, the former President of China in 1989; Yuen Ren Chao, a Chinese linguist; and Vincent Zhao, an artist and actor.

9. Zhou 周

Zhou is the ninth most common Chinese surname in the world. It has its origin in the Zhou dynasty many years ago.

Zhou is the Mandarin Pinyin Romanization used in China. In Taiwan, the name is Romanized Chou among Mandarin speakers. Hong Kong and Cantonese speakers Romanize and pronounce Zhou as Chow or Chau. Minnan speakers spell and pronounce Zhou as Chew or Chiu.

Well-known Chinese bearing the surname of Zhou include: Zhou Enlai, the first Premier of the PRC; Zhou Shuren, the great revolutionary Communist writer who used the pen name of Lu Xun; Zhou Long, a composer; and William Kwai Sun Chow, a martial artist.

10. Wu 吴

Finally, the tenth most common Chinese surname is Wu. The name for this surname originates in the ancient state of Wu in present Jiangsu Province.

The Mandarin spelling and pronunciation of this surname is Wu. Cantonese and Hakka speakers spell and pronounce Wu as Ng. Minnan and Hokkien speakers use the Romanization and spelling of Ngoh or Goh for Wu.

Notable Chinese with the surname of Wu include: Wu Yi, Vice-Premier of the PRC; Wu BaiFu, Taiwanese born Japanese inventor of instant noodles; and Woo Kwong Chiang, Hong Kong entrepreneur, billionaire, and politician.


Among the Chinese, there are only about 400 surnames which are used. The ten most commonly used among Chinese have been listed in this hub.









Ten Most Common Chinese Surnames

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© 2014 Paul Richard Kuehn

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Comments 6 comments

Santi Lio profile image

Santi Lio 24 months ago from erehwon

Interesting stuff.


BlossomSB profile image

BlossomSB 24 months ago from Victoria, Australia

Thanks for an interesting hub. There are so many interesting topics concerning Mandarin and it's good to learn more about them.


sweetpikez profile image

sweetpikez 24 months ago

Dear Paul,

This is an interesting article. I just knew it now. Thanks for sharing.

Voted up and interesting.

Nice read,

Sweetpikez


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 23 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

Thanks for the comments and I am very happy that you found my hub interesting. Hopefully, I can do a comparable hub on Thai surnames.


peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 23 months ago from Home Sweet Home

you did a great hub on the chinese names, yes these are popular surnames in malaysia and singapore. Most are LIM , TAN, CHAN, WONG, very common, must be their ancestors have many mistress


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 23 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

&peachpurple Thanks for your praise of this hub and I'm happy you liked it. Years ago, the rich Mandarin Chinese men had a lot of minor wives. I think these surnames are popular in most East Asian and Southeast Asian countries.

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