8 Rare Chinese Surnames Still Used Today

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According to recent estimates, more than 6,000 surnames are currently used by people of Chinese origin around the world. However, 50% of the Han Chinese population use only 19 common surnames, and 1.2 billion (86% of the total population) use the same 100 surnames.

It means there are thousands of uncommon surnames used only by 13% population. The exact data on these surnames are often not publicly available.  

China has a very complex and rich history. It is reflected in the surnames of the people that we can find today. There were two types of surnames used in ancient China: xing and shi. Xing represented the clan names, and shi denoted the branch lineage name.

The surnames that are used today are mostly shi. However, sometimes family names may contain both xing and shi. The surnames are patrilineal, and women usually do not change their surnames after marriage.

Here we list 9 of the rare Chinese surnames that you can find in today’s world. Here we list only those surnames on which data is available.

8. Pi

Rarity: Rare
Meaning: Leather/skin

Pi is listed as the 85th surname in the Hundreds of Chinese Surnames, a Chinese classic that lists 507 Chinese surnames. The book was composed during the Song Dynasty by some unknown author. According to recent estimates, it is 279th most common surname in China. 

There are a few theories regarding the origin of this surname. Some historians believe the surname is derived from Pi Kung-Kao, the ruler of the state of Pi and the fifteenth son of Chou Wen-wang. The state of Pi was located in present-day Shen-his province.

According to some other historians, the surname was derived from Fan Chung-pi, who was a ruler of the vassal state of Yang-fan. After a few generations, the descendants of the Fan family took the surname Pi. Whereas some others believe the surname has its root in the Spring and Autumn period. They attribute the surname to Pi Hsien, a feudal territory ruled by Hsiao-yu. 

Did you know?

A study conducted in 2008 concluded that Pi was not among the top 300 common surnames in China. However, another study conducted five years later suggests it is the 279th most common surname used by around 0.017% of the population. Most of the people with the Pi surname currently live in Hunan province.  

7. Ling

Rarity: Rare
Meaning: Multiple meaning
Pinyin: Líng/ Lín (Mandarin)
Chinese: 冀/ 凌/ 令/ 林

Ling represents four Chinese surnames. One among them is 冀, meaning zero. It is believed only eight people in China use this surname, and it will be extinct soon. Ling Kai, the renowned bilingual Singaporean singer-songwriter, uses this surname.

is another variation that has its root in Zhou Dynasty. It is an occupational surname given to the people working in the ice storage of the royal court. 

令 is a short form of the surname Linghu 令狐. It is less common than 凌. 

The fourth variation is 林. In Mandarin, it is pronounced as Lín. 

Did you know?

In ancient times, Chinese imperial palaces would store the winter ice in a cellar to be able to enjoy them during the summer. A court official would be responsible for handling and storing the ice. During Zhou Dynasty’s rule, a descendant of Kang Shu held the post. He was the eighth son of Wen Wang, ruler of the state of Wei. Later the descendants of this iceman adopted Ling (meaning ice) as their surname. 

6. Yun

Rarity: Rare
Meaning: to revolve
Pinyin: Yún
Chinese: 雲/云

Yun is a rare Chinese surname that is shared by approximately 156,000 people. It is 323rd common surname in China. 

The Chinese surname Yun is often confused with the Korean surname Yun. However, that is a different surname originating from another root word.   

Yun surname is most commonly used by a Chinese-speaking Mongol ethnic group known as Tumeds. Mongolians usually do not use a surname while writing their names. It is believed that during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), some Tumeds used the surname Yun. Some historians believe it has an even more ancient root.

Did you know?

After the Communist Revolution of 1949, Mongols began to enroll in schools in large numbers. Around this time, it became a social norm among the Tumbeds to adopt Yun as their surname. 

5. Ban

Rarity: Rare
Meaning: Stripes (of a tiger)
Pinyin: Ban

The origin of the Ban surname can be traced back to the royal surname Mi (芈). The Mi family ruled the State of Chu in ancient China (present-day Hubei and Hunan province). 

It is said, a grandson of Chu ruler Ruo’ao was abandoned as an infant in Zhumengze, and there he was nursed by a tigress. Thus, later he was named Gouwutu (gòu meaning milk and wūtú meaning tiger). He became the Prime Minister of Chu in the 7th century BC. Gouwutu was also known as Dou Ban. In Chou language, Ban means stripes of a tiger. 

Later his descendants took the surname Ban to honor the legacy of Dou Ban. Currently, Ban is not ranked in the top 300 common Chinese surnames.     

Did you know?

During the rule of the Han Dynasty, multiple renowned figures used the surname Ban. Chinese scholar and poet Ban Jieyu, or Lady Ban, is among them. One of her famous poems, Yuan Ge Xing or Song of Resentment, was read and recited for many centuries after her death.  

4. Situ

Rarity: Very Rare
Meaning: Minister over the masses
Pinyin: Sītú
Chinese: 司徒

Situ is a Chinese compound surname that originated from the ancient Chinese title Situ. Most people using this surname live in the Kaiping region of Guangdong province.

According to the Sixth National Population Census of the People’s Republic of China in 2010, the surname Situ is used by around 45,000 people in China. It is the fourth most common compound surname but doesn’t find its place among the top 400 Chinese surnames.

Did you know?  

The surname Situ is written with multiple spellings by the Chinese population. Situ is the most common spelling. However, it is also written as Szeto, Seto, Soohoo, Ssutu, Sitou, and Seetoo.

3. Dugu

Rarity: Extremely Rare
Meaning: NA
Pinyin: Dugu
Chinese: 獨孤

Dugu is a compound surname, which means it uses more than one character. It is an extremely rare surname that has its root in Xianbei, an ancient Proto-Mongolic nomadic tribe.

Dugu was an influential aristocratic family living in the north-western parts of China around the 6th century. Three women from this family became empresses of three successive dynasties- Northern Zhou, Sui, and Tand. The Dugus are best known for these three sisters known as Dugu sisters.  

Did you know?

A small population in North Korea uses the same surname. Most of them live near the Chinese border and are believed to be the descendants of the same clan.

2. Si

Rarity: Extremely Rare
Meaning: East and West

Si is an ancient Chinese surname used during the rule of Xia Dynasty, the first dynasty in traditional Chinese historiography. The ruler of the Xia dynasty used the surname and later others adopted it.

It is believed that the founder of Xia Dynasty Yu the Great was a descendant of Emperor Yo. The exact time period of Xia Dynasty is still somewhat obscured. The traditional chronology by Liu Xin estimates they rule China between 2205 and 1766 BC. According to the Bamboo Annals, they were the rule between 1989 and 1558 BC. The latest Chinese Government project concludes Xia Dynasty ruled from 2070 to 1600 BC.

The recent estimate says in Mainland China, the surname Si is used by only 2000 people.

Did you know?

According to Chinese mythologies, the mother of Emperor Dayu swallowed Job’s tears and gave birth to Dayu. Thus, she gave him the surname Si, as it is homophonous to the plant name of Job’s tear.  

1. Gui

Rarity: Rarest
Meaning: Ghost
Pinyin: Guì
Traditional Chinese: 歸/归

Gui is the rarest Chinese surname on this list. It is an ancient surname ranked as the 3159th common surname used in present-day China. 

Gui was a xing surname used by the ruler of Chen and Tian Qi. It is believed that the legendary sage king Emperor Shun was the ancestor of the Gui clan. 

Later, the people from the clan used various surnames like Chen, Sun, Wen, and Tian.

Did you know?

Currently, less than 1000 people across the world use the surname Gui.  


Head of Content at Rarest.org


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