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November 30, 2014

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Royalty runs deep in Wang surname

WANG is one of the better surnames to have in China as it means king. Royal families in the past often had the surname.

It is the second most common surname in the country with an estimated 90 million people using it. About 7.2 percent of the population has the surname Wang.

There are several branches of the Wang family and many were descendants of royal families who could not keep their original surname for safety reasons.

One of the major branches of Wang is said to originate from the family of Ji in the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC). Ji Gaogong, the crown prince of King Ling in the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, changed his family name to Wang to mark their royal history.

Many royal families renamed themselves Wang when their kingdoms were destroyed by the first Qin dynasty emperor. They needed to hide their identities to avoid being assassinated, yet wanted to mark their royal history in some way. It turned out to be a clever move as their enemies couldn’t find them due to the sheer number of families with the surname Wang. Similar situations occurred when other dynasties ended.

There are also cases of people being granted the surname or simplifying compound surnames like Wangzi and Wangfu into Wang. Some minority people also chose Wang as their Han surname.

The name originated in northern China and started to move southwards at the end of the Western Jin Dynasty (AD 265-316). Some families settled in Fujian, Sichuan, Anhui and Jiangxi provinces in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). Wang families later turned up Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Guangdong provinces in the Song Dynasty (960-1279).

Wang Mang had a big influence on the history of Chinese surnames during his short reign in the Xin Dynasty (AD 9-24).

Chinese given names usually have two characters. The middle character together with the surname revealed a person’s background. But Wang Mang insisted all men were equal under the law. He commanded people to adopt only one character for their given name, except for criminals, who would have two given names so everyone would know they had broken the law.


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