He must weigh a Tan! Or did you call the Wong number? You have got to give them a Chan!
Aside from these quirky English puns, most Chinese surnames have rather interesting origins. And as most Malaysians can tell, the local Chinese community tends to favour several popular surnames.
It should be noted that due to the nature of the Chinese language, anglicisation can result in the same surname being interpreted differently according to dialects.
For example, the Mandarin “Huang” is read as “Wong” in Cantonese and “Ooi” or “Ng” in Hokkien.
All the same, have you ever wondered what’s the most popular surname out there and its meaning? Or where it came from?
Here are five of the most popular surnames among the Malaysian Chinese community and their significance:
1. Wang (王)
When translated from Chinese, the surname Wang literally means “king” and is the most common Chinese surname throughout the world.
In addition to its Mandarin version, it can be read as Wong in Cantonese and Hakka, Ong or Bong in Hokkien and Heng in Teochew.
Of course, there are numerous tales as to how this regal surname came about.
The most common one being how the conquered kings of the first Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, endowed their descendants with the surname to remind them of their royal heritage.
One of the most prolific Wangs in Chinese history was the founder and only emperor of the short-lived Xin Dynasty, Wang Mang, a controversial usurper of the previous Western Han Dynasty.
2. Li (李)
The second most common name in Chinese populations, Li is anglicised as Lee in Malaysia and Singapore.
If you are a fan of all things Korean, you might have noticed many Korean stars with the name Lee. That is because it is derived from the same Chinese character.
Li translates to “plum” and there is a traditional story associated with its origins. It involves a minister, who while escaping from his tyrant king, survived his journey solely by consuming plums. The minister then changed his surname in gratitude to the fruit.
Numerous famous Chinese historical figures have had the surname of Li, the most famous being Li Er, better known as Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism.
In Malaysia, the most famous Lee has to be the badminton star, Lee Chong Wei.
3. Chen (陈)
One of the most common surnames in southern Chinese communities, Chen is read as Chan in Cantonese, Tan in Hokkien, Tang in Teochew and Chin in Hakka.
Much of the Chen clan are found in a part of China that used to be historically known as the Chen commandery, not surprising since the clan named itself after the area.
When directly translated, Chen means “ancient” and it is believed by some that the Chens can trace their ancestry back to the legendary Emperor Shun.
The Tran Dynasty of Vietnam that ruled from 1225 to 1400 were descended from the Chen clan, with Tran being the Vietnamese version of Chen.
Aside from making a name for themselves in politics, modern-day Chens have often been making appearances on the silver screen, with Jackie Chan being among the most famous.
4. Huang (黃)
A name with a history stretching back before the unification of China, Huang, when directly translated, means “yellow”.
In Malaysia, it is common to see its Cantonese version Wong, the Hokkien and Teochew Ng, the Hokkien Ooi and Wee, and the Hainanese Wee.
Considering its rich history, the surname Huang has been shared by numerous historical figures, with elderly general of the Three Kingdoms period, Huang Zhong, being one such example.
It should also be noted that the man often dubbed “Father of the Chinese people” is none other than Emperor Huang Di, the legendary Yellow Emperor.
5. Zhang (张)
Read and written as Cheong in Malaysia, the Hokkien version of this popular surname is Teo or Teoh, the Hakka variant being Chong. In East Malaysia, Zhang is romanised as Tiong instead.
The character of Zhang is the combination of two other characters, namely that of “gong”, which means bow and “chang”, which means wide.
An old Chinese legend suggests that the surname first came about thanks to the aforementioned Yellow Emperor, who happened to have a grandson named Hui.
Inspired by a constellation resembling a bow, the boy invented the bow and arrow and was thus awarded the name of Zhang.
The legendary Three Kingdoms period also saw many figures named Zhang fighting on the frontlines, among them being Zhang Fei, Zhang Liao, Zhang Ren and Zhang Yang.
Source: 5 common Chinese surnames and their significance
By Noel Wong.
#RobertReview: 9 | 10
Published: 26th April 2021.
The 5 Most Common Chinese Surnames, the Meanings, and its Cantonese, Hakka, Hokkien Anglicised Variants. 王 Wang, Wong, Ong, Heng, 李 Li, Lee, 陈 Chen, Chan, Tan, Tang, Chin, Tran, 黃 Huang, Ng, Ooi, Wee, 张 Zhang, Cheong, Teoh, Chong, Tiong.