What's in a surname? A combination of mother's and father's

By Zhu Zhe (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-06-12 06:57

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.

But babies could soon have a surname combining the parents' family names.

So, if a father's family name is Zhou, and the mother, Zhu, the baby could have four options for the surname: Zhou, Zhu, Zhouzhu or Zhuzhou.

A regulation on name registration drafted by the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) allows a baby to have the combined surname.

The ministry said it had distributed the draft to police departments across the country for comments.

The Marriage Law stipulates that a newborn can have the surname of either the father or the mother, but does not mention a combined surname.

A nationwide survey released by the MPS in April shows that about 85 percent of the Chinese share only 100 surnames, with Wang being the most popular.

There are 93 million Wangs in China, followed closely by 92 million with the family name Li and 88 million called Zhang, Xinhua said in a report.

Another seven common names - including Chen, Zhou and Lin - have at last 20 million members each, it added.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences has reported that at least 100,000 people share the name of "Wang Tao", making it the most popular.

Such names cause great trouble in daily life; and the new regulation can vastly reduce name repetition, said Guan Xihua, a household registration officer with the Beijing public security bureau.

Based on the existing 1,600 often-used surnames, another 1.28 million surnames could be created, she said.

Du Ruofu, a researcher on Chinese surnames who retired from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said combined surnames are becoming popular with young, modern couples, though they are not strictly permitted by law.

He said including the mother's surname also shows gender equality and a clear stipulation would promote the trend.

Seven of the 10 people China Daily randomly surveyed said they welcome such a change, with the rest against it.

Du also noted that it is important to encourage people from ethnic minority groups to use traditional surnames. He said many have adopted those of the Hans, which harms their cultural heritage.

The draft allows ethnic minority letters or characters in the name, but bans any foreign letters, self-made characters, Chinese pinyin, Arabic numerals or the original complex form of simplified Chinese characters.

(China Daily 06/12/2007 page1)

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