Eight Ancient Chinese Surnames and Their Evolved Chinese Last Names — History, List, and Meanings
About 18,000 to 23,000 surnames have appeared throughout history; today, about 3000 to 4000 Chinese last names are commonly used.
The exact number is large and unclear; however, these last names all evolved from Eight Ancient Chinese Surnames during the Matriarchal period:
Since that period, an essential rule was that people with the same surname could not get married.
With the growth of the population, people developed "Shi" to further identify themselves, which included their fiefs, noble titles, political occupations, living places, professions, etc.
Therefore, ancient surnames were people's origin, while "Shi" represented people's present situation and social status.
During these vast transformations, many people changed their "Shi". The commonest used their former states' or fiefs' names as their new surnames to identify their origin or commemorate their ancestors.
In the subsequent Han Dynasty (202 BC — 220 AD), ancient surname and "Shi" gradually merged and formed today's Chinese family names, some of which are typical Asian last names.
Ji 姬 and Its Evolved Common Chinese Surnames
The surname of Yellow Emperor (about 2717 BC — 2599 BC), who lived near a river named Ji.
Unearthed Bronze Ritual Water Container (Qiang Pan) with 284 Characters Carved Inside, Recorded History of First Seven Kings of the Zhou Dynasty — Baoji Museum
Some Common Chinese Last Names Evolved from Ji:
Wang 王: the king, monarch.
During the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC — 403 BC) and Warring States Period (403 BC — 221 BC), many vassal states perished, and so was the Zhou Dynasty.
To memorize these vanished kingdoms or note their former status, the Royals of these ancient Chinese states used Wang as their family name.
Today, over 100 million people on the Chinese mainland have Wang as their last name, mainly developed from Ji.
Zhou 周: name of the Zhou Dynasty; usually means perfect, complete, honest, intimate, careful, etc.
With the collapse of the Zhou Dynasty, many of Zhou's people used Zhou as their family surname to commemorate their ancestors.
Wu 吴: means vast, or big noise.
State Wu was built by a Zhou Dynasty royal, Lord Ji Chang's uncle. Sun Tzu, the writer of Art of War, had served and passed away in the State of Wu.
After State Wu perished, many of Wu's people used Wu as their surname.
During the famous Three Kingdoms (220 — 280) period, one of the kingdoms in the east was named Wu.
Spear of A King of the State Wu — Hubei Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
The following were names of vassal states of the Zhou Dynasty, whose founders were close relatives of Zhou's kings, ancient nobles, or brilliant generals who made significant contributions to Zhou.
Zheng 郑: solemn, attentive.
Guo 郭: expansion, a city's outer wall.
Guan 管: manage, govern, pipe, or a type of wind instrument.
Lu 鲁: willful like fish, capricious, forthright.
Wang 汪: vast of water, broad. Wang was the name of the fief of a son of Lu's lord.
Cai 蔡: grass, or a type of turtle used in divination in ancient times.
Huo 霍: fast, eliminate.
The most famous historical figure with the surname Huo is Huo Qubing, a brilliant general during Emperor Wu of Han's reign who significantly contributed significantly to defeating the Xiongnu.
Golden Crown of the King of Xiongnu — Inner Mongolia Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Kang 康: bran, rice, peace, abundant, praise, rich, health.
Mao 毛: hair, feather, grass, and tree.
Cao 曹: couple, peer.
Wei 卫: guard, defend, border.
Chang 常: constant, eternity, established, regular, often, rules.
The first Lord of Wei awarded a place named Chang to one of his sons.
After the State Wei perished in 209 BC, Wei's people used Wei or Chang as their surnames.
The most famous historical figure with the surname Chang is Chang Yuchun, a genius general that made exceptional contributions to establishing the Ming Dynasty.