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Cao is the pinyin romanization of the Chinese surname (Cáo). It is listed 26th among the Song-era Hundred Family Surnames.

Cao is romanized as Ts'ao in Wade-Giles, although the apostrophe is often omitted in practice. It is romanized Cho, Tso, and Chaw in Cantonese; Chou, Chô, and Chháu in Min Nan; and Chau, Chow in Teochew.

The Vietnamese surname based on it is now written Tào.



Cao is the 30th-most-common surname in mainland China and the 58th-most-common surname on Taiwan.

In the United States, the romanization Cao is a fairly common surname, ranked 7,425th during the 1990 census but 2,986th during the year 2000 census.[1] It is one of the few Chinese surnames whose pinyin transcription is already more common than other variants. The Wade transcription Tsao was only ranked 16,306th during the 1990 census and 12,580th during the year 2000 one. The Cantonese transcription is actually becoming less common, falling from 7,638th place to 9,925th.[1] The Korean name Cho is more common still than Cao, befitting its frequency in Korea itself, where it makes up about 2% of the South Korean population: see Cho (Korean name).


Cáo's former pronunciations have been reconstructed as *N-tsˤu in Old Chinese and Dzaw in Middle Chinese.[2] It originated from the Zhou-era Duchy of Cao founded by Ji Zhenduo. He was later claimed to have descended from the Yellow Emperor via the Zhuanxu Emperor and – in some accounts – via the Shun Emperor as well.[3][4][5] It was the origin of the modern Cāo and Zhu families.

Other surnamesEdit

Cao can also serve as the romanization for the Chinese surnames Cāo () and Cǎo () as well; however, they are not nearly so common. They were both unlisted among the Hundred Family Surnames and do not appear among any list of the current popular surnames.

Cāo was likely *tsʰˤawʔ in Old Chinese and TshawX in Middle Chinese; its original meaning was "grasp".[2] It originated from the given name of one of Cao Cao's descendants after the establishment of Cao Wei. Its modern use as a curse word depends on a recent homophone and is unrelated to the surname.

Cǎo was likely *tsʰˤuʔ in Old Chinese, but had become a homophonous TshawX by Middle Chinese; its meaning is still "grass" and similar plants.[2]

List of people with the surnameEdit

Historical figuresEdit

Modern figuresEdit


  1. ^ a b US Census Bureau. Op. cit. Public Broadcasting Service. "How Popular Is Your Last Name?" Accessed 6 Apr 2012.
  2. ^ a b c Baxter, Wm. H. & Sagart, Laurent. "Baxter–Sagart Old Chinese Reconstruction". Archived from the original on September 27, 2013.  (1.93 MB). 2011. Accessed 11 October 2011.
  3. ^ Goodman, Howard L. Ts'ao P'i Transcendent: the Political Culture of Dynasty-Founding in China at the End of the Han, p. 70. Psychology Press (1998). ISBN 0966630009. Accessed 1 Apr 2012.
  4. ^ House Of Chinn. "History of Chen". 2012. Accessed 11 Apr 2012.
  5. ^ This account was disputed by Chiang Chi, who claimed it was the Tian () who descended from Shun and not the Cao.