Compelled in the Song Dynasty, “The Hundred Family Names” is a classic text in which nearly all the common surnames of China can be found. The text is organized in lines of four characters each. For the first 32 lines, the last character of every second line is rhymed.
“The Hundred Family Names” was originally composed by 411 family names, and the number was later expanded to 504. Above all the surnames, there are 444 with single character, and 60 with double characters.
The surnames in “The Hundred Family Names” are not listed in order of popularity. Actually, the first four of “The Hundred Family Names” derive from the most important families in the empire during the Song Dynasty: Zhao (赵) is the family name of the Song Dynasty emperors, Qian (钱) is the family name of the kings of Wuyue. Sun (孙) is the family name of the queen of Wuyue, and Li (李) is the family name of the kings of Southern Tang.
Unlike westerners, Chinese family names are placed before the given name. Generally speaking, Chinese family names are passed from father to children. However, nowadays in China some children also adopt their mother’s surname.
The most popular three surnames in China are Li(李), Wang(王) and Zhang(张), respectively occupying about 7.9%, 7.4% and 7.1% of the whole Chinese population. There are 270 million Chinese people who own one of these top three surnames.