Chinese clan surname

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The Chinese clan surname Chinese: ; pinyin: Shi is a branch of the ancient Chinese ancestral surname. As the descendants of the same ancestor multiplied, the family would often split into several branches scattered in various places. The descendants of each branch, in addition to retaining the ancestral surname, take a clan name. In other words, the ancestral surname is the common name for all descendants of a family, while the clan name is a branch derived from the ancestral surname.[1]

Stroke order for Shi


Prior to the Qin dynasty (3rd century BC) China was largely a fengjian (feudal) society. As fiefdoms were divided and subdivided among descendants, so additional sub-surnames known as shi were created to distinguish between noble lineages according to seniority, though in theory they shared the same ancestor. In this way, a nobleman would hold a shi and a xing. Xing, however, was more important than shi.

Before the Zhou dynasty, nobles often had Ancestral Surname in addition to Clan Surname by state and official position, while the general population did not have Ancestral Surname, nor Clan Surname. at that time, only vassals and their families only had Ancestral Surname, while Clan Surname was given after the granting of land.

According to the chapter on surnames in the Han dynasty work Fengsu Tong – Xingshi Pian (風俗通姓氏篇), there are 9 origins of Chinese surnames: dynasty names, posthumous titles, ranks of nobility, state names, official positions, style names, places of residence, occupations, and events.[2] Modern scholars such as Kiang Kang-Hu proposed that there are 18 sources from which Chinese surnames may be derived,[3] while others suggested at least 24.[4] These may be names associated with a ruling dynasty such as the various titles and names of rulers, nobility and dynasty, or they may be place names of various territories, districts, towns, villages, and specific locations, the title of official posts or occupations, or names of objects, or they may be derived from the names of family members or clans, and in a few cases, names of contempt given by a ruler.[5]

The following are some of the common sources:[5]

  1. Xing: These were usually reserved for the central lineage of the ancient royal family, with collateral lineages taking their own shi. The traditional description was what were known as the "Eight Great Xings of High Antiquity" (), namely Jiāng (), (), Yáo (), Yíng (), (), Yún (), Guī () and Rèn (), though some sources quote () as the last one instead of Rèn. Of these xing, only Jiang and Yao have survived in their original form to modern days as frequently occurring surnames.[why?]
  2. State name: Many nobles and commoners took the name of their state, either to show their continuing allegiance or as a matter of national and ethnic identity. These are some of the most common Chinese surnames in the present day such as (, 9th most common), Zhōu (, 10th most common)
  3. Name of a fief or place of origin: Fiefdoms were often granted to collateral branches of the aristocracy and it was natural as part of the process of sub-surnaming for their names to be used. An example is Di, Marquis of Ouyang Village, whose descendants took the surname Ouyang (歐陽). There are some two hundred examples of this identified, often of two-character surnames, but few have survived to the present. Some families acquired their surname during the Han dynasty from the Commandery they resided in.[6]
  4. Names of an ancestor: Like the previous example, this was also a common origin with close to 500 or 600 examples, 200 of which are two-character surnames. Often an ancestor's courtesy name would be used. For example, Yuan Taotu took the second character of his grandfather's courtesy name Boyuan () as his surname. Sometimes titles granted to ancestors could also be taken as surnames.
  5. Seniority within the family: In ancient usage, the characters of meng () (meant for the son or child born from the secondary wife/-ves and the concubines, while bo , bearing the same notion, was retained for the son or child born from the primary wife), zhong (), shu () and ji () were used to denote the first, second, third and fourth (or last) eldest sons in a family. These were sometimes adopted as surnames. Of these, Meng is the best known, being the surname of the philosopher Mencius.
  6. Official positions, such as Shǐ (, "historian"), (, "royal librarian"), Líng (, "ice master"), Cāng (, "granary manager"), Kù (, "store manager"), Jiàn (, "adviser"), Shàngguān (上官, "high official"), Tàishǐ (太史, "grand historian"), Zhōngháng (中行, "commander of middle column"), Yuèzhèng (樂正, "chief musician"), and in the case of Shang's "Five Officials" (五官), namely Sīmǎ (司馬, "minister of horses", akin to defence minister), Sītú (司徒, "minister of the masses", akin to treasurer), Sīkōng (司空, "minister of works", akin to minister of infrastructure), Sīshì (司士, "minister of yeomen", akin to chief ombudsman) and Sīkòu (司寇, "minister of bandits", akin to attorney general);
  7. General occupations, as with Táo (, "potter"), (, "butcher"), (, "diviner"), Jiàng (, "craftsman"), (, "shaman") and Chú (, "cook").
  8. Titles of nobility, such as Wáng (, "king"), Hóu (, "marquis"), Xiàhóu (夏侯, "Marquis of Xia") and Gōngsūn (公孫, "Duke's grandchild")
  9. Royal decree by the Emperor, such as Kuang (), bestowed amongst other gifts to Kuang Yuping, previously Fang Yuping (方愈平), by Emperor Xiaozong of Song, upon making Yuping's daughter an imperial concubine.[7][better source needed]
  10. Ethnic and religious groups: Non-Han Chinese peoples in China sometimes took the name of their ethnic groups as sinicized surnames, such as (, "barbarian"), Jīn (, "Jurchen"), Mǎn (滿, "Manchu"), (, "Di people"), Huí (, "Hui people") and Mùróng (慕容, a Xianbei tribe). Many Hui Muslims adopted the surname Ma (), an old Chinese surname, when they were required to use Chinese surnames during the Ming dynasty as it sounded close to the first syllable of Mohammad; it was also fitting for some of those who were caravaneers as the word means "horse".[8]

Many also changed their surnames throughout history for a number of reasons.

  • A ruler may bestow his own surname on those he considered to have given outstanding service to him; for example, the surname Liu () was granted by emperors in the Han dynasty, Li () during the Tang dynasty, and Zhao () from the Song dynasty.
  • Others, however, may avoid using the name of a ruler, for example Shi () was changed to Shuai () to avoid conflict with the name of Sima Shi. Others may modify their name in order to escape from their enemies at times of turmoil, for example Duanmu (端木) to Mu ( and ), and Gong () to Gong ().
  • The name may also be changed by simplification of the writing, e.g. Mu () to Mo (), or reducing from double or multiple character names to single character names, e.g. Duangan (段干) to Duan ().
  • It may also have occurred through error, or changed due to a dissatisfaction with the name (e.g. , "sorrow", to , "heartfelt feeling").[9]

In the Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties, men were called by their Clan Surname and women were called by their Ancestral Surname, Clan Surname was used to distinguish between nobility and poor people, the nobles had Clan Surname and the poor people had Clan Surname. Ancestral Surname is used to distinguish marriage. Two people of the same Ancestral Surname could not intermarry, and Ancestral Surname and Clan Surname were different, while Clan Surname and Ancestral Surname were different, then they could intermarry. This tradition has been maintained in China since then, and intermarriage with people of the same Ancestral Surname is considered taboo. In modern times, this tradition has been gradually broken, but many people still do not approve of intermarriage with the same Ancestral Surname.

The difference between xing and shi became blurred in the Spring and Autumn period starting with women. For example: Chunqiu referred to Duke Xuan of Lu's consort Lady Mujiang (穆姜), who bore the clan name (姓, xing) Jiang, as Jiangshi 姜氏, "[lady of the] Jiang shi" (!).[10]

After the states of China were unified by Qin Shi Huang in 221 BC, Ancestral surnames gradually spread to the lower classes. Most surnames that survive to the present day were originally shi.

Shi will change with the change of fief and official position, so there will be a person's descendants have several shi or father and son have different shi in two generations. In addition, different xing may be ordained in the same way between shi, so there will be different xing but the same shi.

In ancient times, xing and shi were completely different. For example Confucius was a descendant of Imperial Clan [ja; zh] of the Shang, had the xing Zi, and the shi Kong.

During the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period, the Ritual Music System broke down, the patriarchal system disintegrated, and the surname system also underwent fundamental changes. At this point shi begins to change to xing. After the Warring States Period, civilians also had a xing, and Baixing became a common name for the people. This reflects the decline of the nobility and the rise of the commoners.

After the Qin and Han dynasties, Xing and Shi were unified, and surnames were called "Xingshi" combining the two characters.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "博客來-秦始皇︰一場歷史的思辨之旅". 2020-02-12. Archived from the original on 2020-02-12. Retrieved 2022-07-22.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  2. ^ Du Ruofu (杜若甫) (June 1986). "Surnames in China / 中国的姓氏". Journal of Chinese Linguistics. 14 (2): 315–328. JSTOR 23767123.
  3. ^ Kiang Kang-Hu (1934). On Chinese Studies. pp. 127–8. Archived from the original on 2020-07-29. Retrieved 2022-07-22.
  4. ^ Sheau-yueh J. Chao (2009). In Search of Your Asian Roots : Genealogical Research on Chinese Surnames. Clearfield. pp. 4–7. ISBN 978-0806349466. Archived from the original on 2021-06-30. Retrieved 2022-07-22.
  5. ^ a b Russell Jones (1997). Chinese names. Pelanduk Publications. pp. 1–3. ISBN 978-9679786194.
  6. ^ Chao, Sheau-yueh J. 尋根溯源中國人的姓氏: Genealogical Research on Chinese Surnames. p. ix.
  7. ^ 褚興英, ed. (2021-08-21). "百家姓中為何沒有"鄺"?鄺姓源出何處?". Archived from the original on 2022-07-25. Retrieved 2022-07-25.
  8. ^ Leif Manger (18 October 2013). Muslim Diversity: Local Islam in Global Contexts. Routledge. p. 132. ISBN 9781136818578. Archived from the original on 3 July 2021. Retrieved 22 July 2022.
  9. ^ Sheau-yueh J. Chao (2009). In Search of Your Asian Roots : Genealogical Research on Chinese Surnames. Clearfield. pp. 8–9. ISBN 978-0806349466. Archived from the original on 2020-07-29. Retrieved 2022-07-22.
  10. ^ Edwin G. Pulleyblank (2000). "Ji 姬 and Jiang 姜: The Role of Exogamic Clans in the Organization of the Zhou Polity" (PDF). Early China. 25: 1–27. doi:10.1017/S0362502800004259. S2CID 162159081. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2022-01-20. Retrieved 2022-07-22.