My wife’s family name is Chen （陈）and is also the surname I give when people ask for my Chinese name which is currently Chen Lěi Long (Great Dragon) but it changes pretty often. I’ll find one I like eventually. Anyway, while looking up a list of the most common Chinese surnames, I was surprised to find the meaning and history behind the Chen family name.
Chen was originally the name of a vassal state that served the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC) during the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history. It was a minor country located in what is now eastern Hubei province and was ruled over by the Chen royal family who were descendants of Emperor Shun, a legendary leader from the 2300-2200’s BC and was one of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors.
Later on, Chen became a satellite state of the much larger and more powerful Chu Kingdom and was forced to join in its wars of conquest before being completely annexed in 479 BC. Many commoners of the small kingdom changed their family names to Chen in honor of their beloved home country. Today, most with the Chen name are descended from the same conquered people.
Chen, spelled Chan in Hong Kong and Macau, is the most common family name in Guangdong, Zhejiang, Fujian, Hong Kong and Macau. This also means that I share my surname with my kung fu idol, JACKIE CHAN!!!!!! Where once I thought the name was just like all the others, I’m quite pleased to discover that it’s very unique and has its own identity. How many people can say that about their family names?