Friday, January 25, 2008

So Many People...

...So Few Names

When I wrote the post “What’s In A Name” (about the Olympics) I remembered that I had started a while back to write about Chinese Family names. I think the idea was triggered by the fact that 3 out of 7 of the company’s drivers are called Wang. One being our driver!

So what’s the reality: 85 percent out of China's 1.3 billion people share only 100 surnames even more, 70% of the Chinese population uses the same 45 surnames.

Sources differ but mostly the top ten being:

  1. 李 Li
  2. 王 Wang
  3. 張 张 Zhang
  4. 劉 刘 Liu
  5. 陳 陈 Chen
  6. 楊 杨 Yang
  7. 黃 黄 Huang
  8. 趙 赵 Zhao
  9. 周 Zhou
  10. 吳 吴 Wu.

our name came 41st on the list (it was 36th in 1990) 蘇 苏 Su

Having the same name as other people is an annoying fact of life for many people in China, causing lots of problems in household registration and daily life. To avoid giving their children names that are too common, some parents opt for rare and difficult characters. But this practice also creates problems, because computer input systems often do not recognize rare characters. According to the public security department, more than 40,000 people in Beijing are unable to get their identity cards because the rare characters in their names cannot be keyed into the computer.

Traditionally, the father's family name is the first choice for a Chinese kid's surname, although the use of the mother's name is not uncommon. Under a new draft regulation released by the ministry of public security, parents will be able to combine their surnames for their children, a move that could open up 1.28 million new possibilities.