On the news this morning they mentioned that China is suffering from a chronic shortage of names, which leads to many cases of mistaken identity. They gave an example of one man who was arrested by mistake – it was one of his neighbours with the same name who the police were after.
The ordinary people of China are traditional known as 老百姓 (lǎobǎixìng), which means ‘old 100 surnames’. This comes from the ancient tradition that citizens adopt one of a hundred single character surnames. Today there are up to 450 surnames in use in some areas of China, such as Beijing – though fewer in other areas. Here is a list of the current top 100 Chinese surnames.
According to an article on this topic in the Telegraph, the most popular surname in China is 王 (wáng), closely followed by 李 (lǐ), which between them account for 14% of the population or some 185 million people.
One solution being considered is to allow children to take the surnames of both parents. The Chinese government is also considering allowing a greater range of characters to be used as surnames, and also for the use of ethnic minority surnames, which are usually replaced with Chinese surname with a similar sound.