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Albert Kawasi

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Sept 17, 2005

Chinese surnames origin

This started out as a piece on the origin of the Lee/Li surname. However, after a quick check around the Net it became obvious a much more prudent course of action is for me to channel my energy elsewhere.

The Chinese equivalent to surnames is two words xing shi (姡Z氡Z). In modern day Chinese, these two words whether used individually or jointly mean the same. When inquiring about a person's surname we commonly asked "What is your surname (xing)?" Sometimes when referring to a group of people belonging to the same clan we would say they are the "Wang sie brothers" or whatever the surname is. As you can see in both cases xing and shi have the same meaning. However, in ancient China this wasn't the case. Each did represented a different concept.

Xing and shi was used to denote the relationship between the ruler and his subject. From usage shi had the same meaning as tribe while xing was a reference to family or clan. This is why marriage between a couple from the same shi was allowed but not same xing.

From the structure of the character we know the concept of xing is very old. The character xing is made up of two characters: female (奡Z) on the left and birth (ZZZ) on the right. The female character denotes the fact it originated when China was still in the maternal society stage. And the birth character means it can only be obtained through birth. A good example of this is the surname of the ruler of the Zhou Dynasty, Ji (姡Z).

At first only rulers had xing and shi. However, it was never used together nor with the ruler's name. Let's look at the Yellow Emperor (黡Z帡Z). All ancient writings said his name is Hsien Yuan (ZZZ軡Z轡Z), xing Gongsun (姡ZZZ孫) and You Hung Shi (ZZZZZZ氡Z). These references to him were always used separately. Nowhere does Kung Sun Hsien Yuan (ZZ孫軡Z轡Z) or You Hung Hsien Yuan (ZZZZZZ軡Z轡Z) appeared together. Then it may be concluded that combining Xing and name occurred at a much later day.

Since the ruler had exclusive rights to surnames they began to use it as rewords by bestowing it upon followers in recognition of loyalty or accomplishments. For this reason the nobles were the next group of people to have surnames. These surnames could be a reflection of an official title or position in the royal court, location of the fiefdom, or place of resident.

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