According to legends, Chinese surnames originated from the Emperor Fu Xi (2852BC). He standardized all Chinese surnames and defined matrimonial relationship. Thus a proper system of population census was established. It was also believed that there is a close relationship between surnames and totem worship; the early Chinese adopted the names or symbols of certain animals as their surname (e.g. Long (2) which means dragon.)
A song in the Shi Jing, recounting the birth of Hou Ji, the earliest ancestor of the Zhou people, shows clearly the link between surnames and totem worship. Jiang Yuan the consort of the fiery Emperor prayed to God for a son. She followed his footprints for a distance and became pregnant. The giant footprints actually belonged to a bear the Zhou people then worshipped. They gave themselves the surname ‘Ji’, which was made up of the characters ‘Nu’ and ‘Chen’. These characters represented Jiang Yuan and the bear, respectively.
The book, “Surnames of a Hundred Families”, which was popular in China during the old days, was written more than 1,000 years ago during the Northern Song Dynasty (960 AD).It records 438 surnames of which 408 are single-word surnames and 30 were double-word surnames.
According to the latest statistics from China, Chinese with the surname Zhang alone number more than 100 million, making it probably the surname which the most number of the Chinese have. Another set of statistics compiled in 1977 reveals that the number of the Chinese with the first 10 major surnames make up 40% of the Chinese population.
The 10 major Chinese surnames are:
Zhang, Wang, Li, Zhao, Chen, Yang, Wu, Liu, Huang and Zhou.
Below are the next 10 major surnames.
The Chinese with these surnames make up over 10% of the Chinese population:
Xu, Zhu, Lin, Sun, Ma, Gao, Hu, Zheng, Guo and Xiao.
The number of the Chinese in the third category of 10 major surnames
make up just about 10% of the population:
Xie, He, Xu, Song, Shen, Luo, Han, Deng, Liang and Ye.
The following 15 surnames form the fouth largest group of the Chinese surnames are:
Fang, Cui, Cheng, Pan, Cao, Feng, Wang, Cai, Yuan, Lu, Tang, Qian, Du, Peng and Lu.
A total of 70% of the Chinese population have one of the surnames above.
The surnames of the remaining 30% are comparatively rare.
Some of these surnames are:
Mao, Jiang, Bai, Wen, Guan, Liao, Miao and Chi.