A Cultural Comparison of English and Chinese Family Names

Topics: Given name, Family name, Chinese name Pages: 7 (2234 words) Published: March 11, 2013

Asian Social Science

Vol. 6, No. 11; November 2010

A Cultural Comparison of English and Chinese Family Names
Hongmei Zhu
School of Foreign languages, Henan University of Technology
Lotus Street, Hi-Tech Development Zone, Zhengzhou 450001, Henan, China Tel: 86-371-6775-6797

E-mail: zhuhongmei@haut.edu

The family names of humans are formed and used in the long process of the course of history and the development of society. Family names, being a part of culture, are closely related to history and culture. English and Chinese names are different in their origins and name orders, which is certain to be reflected in their perspective culture. Therefore an exploration of their reflections in the cultural aspects of historical development, feudal history, historical tradition, historical influence and current social situation will be beneficial for the deepening of English study and the mutual understanding and communication of the East and the West. Keywords: Cultural comparison, English family names, Chinese family names, Origin, Name order The word "culture" comes from the Latin root "colere" (to inhabit, to cultivate, or to honor). In general, it refers to human activity; different definitions of culture reflect different theories for understanding, or criteria for valuing, human activity. Culture is traditionally the oldest human character, its significant traces separating Homo from australopithecines, and Man from the Animals, though new discoveries are blurring these edges in our day. Sir Edward B. Tylor wrote in 1871 that "culture or civilization, taken in its wide ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society" while a 2002 document from the United Nations agency UNESCO states that culture is the "set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group and that it encompasses, in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs". [UNESCO, 2002]. It is generally accepted that language is part of culture. It carries culture, thus be influenced by culture. Names including family names, which is a part of language, are sure to reflect the distinct culture of the people using it. This paper intends to start from the English and Chinese family names from the perspectives of the origin and order so as to reveal their reflections on their own culture.

A family name (in Western contexts often referred to as a last name or surname) is part of a person's name indicating the family to which the person belongs.A family name is the most fundamental and most significant symbols showing the identification of the members of a society. The use of family names is widespread in cultures around the world, which means family names are part of culture. As far as English and Chinese names are concerned, their cultural differences can be shown in the origins of their family names and the different orders of their names so as to make us learn about the development history of a society or a nation and some other aspects of its culture, which is the purpose of this paper intending to make an analysis between English and Chinese family names from their cultures reflected.

1. Cultural reflections of the origins of family names
If we trace back into the origins of Chinese family names, we can see that Chinese family names are closely related to the development history of the Chinese nation. According to legend, family names started with Emperor Fu Xi in 2852 BC. His administration standardized the naming system in order to facilitate census-taking, and the use of census information. For scientific documentation that matrilineal surnames existed in China before the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC) and that "by the time of the Shang Dynasty they (Chinese surnames) had...

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