from China Culture Information Net
No one knows exactly how many sumames are shared by China's huge population.
Rosters found among ancient Chinese documents give from 300 to 3,000. Most specialists in the field agree that the most common surnames of the Han Chinese number some 500.
Chinese surnames are believed to have originated during the prehistorical matriarchal society. This theory is supported by the Chinese character for surname, xing(姓). The character is a merger of two other characters: Nu(女)and Sheng(生), meaning “born of woman”.
A modern Han Chinese name rarely has more than three characters-with the first character being the surname, and the second and third a connotative given name. This is very different from the way ancient Chinese names were formed. An ancient Chinese name often included four components:first the family name,followed by the given name, the alias, and then what's known as the “style”.
Take the name“Confucius” as an example.His surname in Chinese is Kong(孔). His biven nameQiu(丘) meanshill His alias is Zhong Ni ( 仲尼), With Zhongmeaning the second son of the family andNitaken from the name of the hill(尼丘) where his parents had prayed for his birth. And he has manystyles, most bestowed upon him after his death.
In ancient China, one could be identified not only by the given name or the alias after the eurname,but also by the style.Although one had no choice of surname or biven name, one could choose his own alias and style According to the custom of the time, people chose their alias when they entered adulthood. This was a way of telling others that their course in life had changed and that they were now adults and moving toward their goals. People called one another by the alias as to show mutual respect.
The term“style” in a Chinese name not be familiar to you. It was used to denote a tribal society. But in time it became an honorary title which was awarded to brave military leaders or to the nobility. Gradually, the style designation began to be used in a more general way. One category of styleswass known as the Posthumous Styleit was used to honor an emperor, a duke or a prince after death. As you may have guessed, these posthumous styles often used an inflated vocabulary to praise the ruling class. Once again, let's turn to Confucius as our example. He had no less than ten of these honorary titles or styles. Through the long course of Chinese history, he has been given such titles as Supreme Mentorand Divine Master of Glory Today, you can visit the Confucius Temple at his birthplace, the town of Qufu in East China's Shandong Province.There you can read through a long list of these glorifying styles or titles.Each seems grander than the one before.Finally, you will see the name by which we know him today, simply “Confucius”or“Kong” Ziin Chinese, Kong being his family name and Zibeing an ancient title of respect for a learned or virtuous man .
The May Fourth Movement in 1919, brought with it what was known as the “Vernacular Campaign” This was a period of drastic change in the Chinese language. Classical tradition began to yield to the much less formal culture of the vernacular.And this soon influenced Chinese names. A Chinese name used to be called Xueming, meaning academic name. It implied learning and wisdom. But the Vernacular Campaign saw all sorts of characters being used to form a person's name.Then after the founding of New China in 1949, names began to take on a political touch. Parents chose names for their children which wound almost like slogans-names such as Ai Guowhich means love the country, or “Ai Dang”meaning“ love the Party” This practice reached its peak during the Cultural Revolution, when many parents gave their children names like Ai Dong, which translates as “Love Chairman Mao Zedong”, or“Guo Qing”,which means National Day Celebration Other favorite words entering the vocabulary of names included: red, revolution, oldier, guard, army, and east. Today, when you look through a telephone book you can tell approximately when persons were born by their names.
Another obvious change in Chinese names is that many people now use onllyl two characters. A study shous that, before 1966, about 90 percent of Chinese names had three characters. Except for a temporary lapse during the Han Dynasty, this three character tradition continued unbroken. The survey shouw that about half of today's younger generation in China have two-character names.
Still another change over the past few years is that parents tend to name their children with two same characters or two different characters with the same pronunciation-like Ling Ling, Juan Juan, and Yang Yanag This trend has even caught up with those who name Chinese pandas in zoos! Some of these cuddly animals have become national celebrities with names like“Huan Huan”and “Jing Jing”.