China, unlike many other countries, allows its citizens to choose their own names (first name and aliases) and the freedom to take up the surname of either parent.
It is also quite common to have a compound surname as opposed to restricting people to only one surname. In fact, out of over 4000 surnames, there are really rare and unique surnames that can be counted among the top 100 rare Chinese last names of all time.
Chinese names play a vital role in their cultural richness. They are the first identity marker of a person and the first introduction of someone to the Chinese way of dealing with things. Typically, a Chinese name consists of two to three characters with family names being placed before the given name. Unlike many other countries globally, a married woman in China isn't obliged to change her maiden name post marriage.
Unlike the naming system of kids in other countries, the Chinese find it inappropriate to name their child after an older relative or even a mythological character. The Chinese also lay great emphasis on using titles for the respective genders and it is considered inappropriate to refer to a married woman as "Miss". Owing to their deep respect for their rich culture, it is considered a great honour to refer to people by their work titles.
The Chinese choose an "English" name for themselves or are bestowed by one by their school teachers. This is primarily done because Chinese names are difficult to pronounce and can sometimes be very long. The other factor is to let a non-native person know the gender in case of communication over the phone.
Out of over 4000 surnames that belong to about 85% of China's population, there are three most popular ones that have been adopted by 20% of the total population - Wang, Li, and Zhang. So, chances are that every third or fourth person that you bump into in China would be a Wang, a Li, or a Zhang. Ever wondered why there are so few Chinese surnames for such a hugely populated nation? The reason may have to do with the ancient system of relaying the surnames down generations which have been used by the majority of people today. What's also interesting is that Mandarin uses a special technique called "Pinyin" to teach non-native Chinese speakers to help with the correct pronunciation of Chinese surnames.
Rare Chinese Last Names That Originated From Ruling Dynasties
According to historical records, Chinese surname followed the maternal lineage and was dictated by the village that people lived in or their family name. About 3000 years back, family names could only be adopted by rulers. Then, with the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties, the concept of having a family name came into being.
The rarest Chinese last name to make to this list of "top 100" would ideally be "通过 Tōngguò" meaning "By" if you go by usage statistic. Going by the oldest one in use per ancient Chinese last names record, it would be 贶 Kuàng meaning "Bestow". Some of the rare Chinese last names handed down the generations are:
1. 广场 Guǎngchǎng surname meaning the shape Square.
2. 历史 Lìshǐ surname literally meaning "history".
3. 章节 Zhāngjié a surname implying "chapter".
4. 土地 Tǔdì an interesting last name meaning "land".
5. 河 Hé another interesting one implying "river".
6. 洞 Dòng a surname literally meaning "hole".
7. 洪水 Hóngs huǐ meaning "flood".
8. 矿 Kuàng a name implying "mine".
9. 文本 Wénběn meaning Text much to one's surprise.
10. 陶器Táoqì a surname implying "pottery".
11. 头发 Tóufǎ a surname meaning "hair" as per ancient records.
12. 冢 Zhǒng a surname quite literally implying "a mound".
13. 一个 Yīgè meaning "an".
14. 折Zhé meaning "fold"
15. 给 Gěi a beautiful surname meaning to "give".
16. 游览 Yóulǎn an interesting choice meaning "tour".
17. 汤 Tāng is a surname quite interestingly meaning "soup".
18. 严格 Yángé literally meaning "strict".
19. 发布 Fābù a surname signifying "to release".
20. 穿着Chuānzhuó a surname meaning "wore".
21. 熊 Xióng an animal-inspired name meaning "bear".
22. 分割 Fēngē a surname meaning "segment".
23. 简单 Jiǎndān a simple surname meaning "easy".
Rare Chinese Last Names With Interesting Meanings
Chinese last names have not only been inspired by previous generations but also from everyday things, weather, and even commonly used words. Hence, the surnames can be anything, it could mean summer or a village or even the mood that you are experiencing such as gloomy.
Some of the top 100 rare surnames making their way into this list are:
24. 小麦 Xiǎomài a surname implying the food item "wheat".
25. 祝贺 Zhùhè meaning to "congratulate".
26. 村 Cūn a name denoting a "village".
27. 路 Lù a name denoting a "road".
28. 工资 Gōngzī an interesting choice of surname meaning "to pay".
29. 依靠 Yīkào a name meaning "to rely".
30. 经常 Jīngcháng a name implying "often".
31. 牛 Niú a surname meaning "cattle".
32. 万 Wàn a name implying a numeric value of Ten Thousand.
33. 关掉 Guān diào simply meaning "turn off".
34. 学科 Xuékē a name meaning just what Chinese follow religiously every day - Discipline.
35. 温度 Wēndù a name implying "temperature".
36. 完成 Wánchéng short and simple meaning "complete".
37. 房间 Fángjiān quite simply implying "room".
38. 特别 Tèbié an interesting choice for the last name meaning "especially".
39. 可乐 Kělè meaning "coca cola" (much to one’s surprise).
40. 仪表 Yíbiǎo meaning "a measuring standard meter".
41. 谈论 Tánlùn a name to keep it simple and to “talk”.
42. 宫 Gōng a surname implying "palace".
43. 应用 Yìngyòng a name meaning "to apply".
44. 同 Tóng is a surname meaning the same in English "tong".
45. 然而 Rán'ér a surname meaning "yet".
46. 单 Dān a name denoting a quantity "single".
47. 包 Bāo a surname meaning "package".
48. 解 Jiě a name implying "a solution".
49. 涂料 Túliào is a surname that means "paint".
50. 欧洲 Ōuzhōu a surname meaning "europe".
51. 分 Fēn a name meaning "min".
52. 汽车 Qìchē a mode of transport inspired last name Car.
53. 守卫 Shǒuwèi a surname implying "guard".
54. 战争 Zhànzhēng a shocking last name meaning "war".
55. 阴沉 Yīnchén a name inspired by an emotion "gloomy".
56. 古 Gǔ meaning "ancient".
57. 衣服 Yīfú a surname that means "clothes".
58. 在危险之中 Zài wéixiǎn zhī zhōng a very very rare family name meaning “in danger".
59. 羊 Yáng is a surname that means "sheep".
60. 种类 Zhǒnglèi the last name that stands for "species".
61. 暴力 Bàolì a surname inspired by an emotion: violent.
62. 悲哀 Bēi'āi a name inspired by an emotion "sorrow".
63. 酱 Jiàng the last name that stands for a food item "sauce".
64. 油 Yóu the last name that stands for a food item "oil".
65. 盐 Yán the last name that stands for a food item "salt".
66. 豆子 Dòuzi the last name that stands for a food item "beans".
67. 死亡 Sǐwáng an astonishing but in-use last name meaning "death".
68. 是 Shì a rare surname meaning "yes".
69. 通过 Tōngguò the rarest surname per records meaning "by".
70. 关Guān a name denoting distance "close".
71. 姚明 Yáomíng = Yao the last name having no English equivalent.
72. 厂 Chǎng meaning "a plant".
73. 称重 Chēng zhòng meaning "to weigh".
74. 阴 Yīn = Yin the last name having no English equivalent.
75. 幸运 Xìngyùn the last name meaning "lucky".
76. 展览 Zhǎnlǎn meaning "exhibition".
77. 元 Yuán Yuan the last name having no English equivalent.
78. 便宜的 Piányí de an interesting choice of the surname meaning "inexpensive".
79. 斤 īn Jin the surname having no English equivalent.
80. 丰富Fēngfù an interesting choice of the last name meaning "rich".
81. 奉Fèng a name implying "bong".
82. 司馬 Sīmǎ means controller of horses and comes under the category of an occupational surname
83. 公孫 Gōngsūn means child of the palace. It is a rare compound surname
84. 智慧Zhìhuì a name meaning "wisdom".
85. 赞 Zàn the last name having no English equivalent.
Rare Chinese Surnames Inspired By Numeric System
Last names equivalent to numerals are not very rare in the Chinese family names system; it has been a prevalent system from the era of ruling erstwhile dynasties. However, here are some of the rare surnames based which are numeric family names.
86. 零 Líng "zero".
87. 一 Yī "one". Founder of the Shang Dynasty, Tang got descendants to change their surnames to read Yi.
88. 二 Èr "two".
89. 三 Sān "three". Inspired by the ancient residence of Sanshou.
90. 四 Sì "four".
91. 五 Wǔ "five". This Chinese surname was believed to help fight enemies.
92. 六 Liù "six". After banishment from Ming Chengzu, Fang Xiaoru changed his surname to six.
93. 七 Qī "seven". It was adopted by the Qi family.
94. 八 Bā "eight". It is inspired by Qiang nationality.
95. 九 Jiǔ "nine". IT is named after ancestors.
96. 十 Shí "ten". This surname originated from the Xianbei clan, later changed to Shi.
97. 百 Bǎi "hundred". It was adopted during the reign of the yellow emperor, Sun Boyi.
98. 千 Qiān "thousand". It was adopted during the time of the Three Kingdoms.
99. 十亿 Shí yì "billion".
100. 兆 Zhào "trillion".
Kidadl has lots of great names articles to inspire you. If you liked our suggestions for Rare Chinese Surnames then why not take a look at Thai Last Names, or for something different take a look at Czech Last Names.
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