Clans & Surnames 

As you probably know, the normal way to present your Chinese name is in the order Surname-Name-Name e.g. " 张爱秀,Zong(1) Oi(4) Xiu(4) ". The vast majority of Chinese surnames are one character only. How then, did Chinese Mauritians end up with such strange surnames? You may already know that they were altered through various administrative processes at the time of Chinese immigration to the island, often through paperwork from the Hong Kong stopover.

Let us take for example, a fictional character from Moiyan 李國中 : 李国中 Lǐ Guó Zhōng : Li(3) Guêd(5) Zung(1). On passing through Hong Kong in 1934, he gets processed by the British system of that time and sent on his way to Mauritius. His papers now list his full name as his surname - I believe this was used to ensure more accurate records, due to the incredibly small variety in Chinese surnames, but will update once I have found some proper evidence.

On landing in Mauritius, the papers from Hong Kong are processed and his official Mauritian surname is now Li Kwok Chung. Why the different spelling? Because the officials in Hong Kong used the Cantonese-Romanization of those days to write his name in the Latin script. I doubt they were bothered that Mr Li himself never pronounced his name that way!

Now, I am uncertain as to whether this is the way that all Chinese immigrants were given their surnames - perhaps some were named on arrival in Mauritius only? More research is needed and I will update when I find something.

Back to our fictional friend Mr Li then. Li's descendants all grow up with the surname Li Kwok Chung. However, after emigrating to Canada, Li's oldest son Pierre changes the family surname to plain old Li, so as to return to the 'proper' surname.

lternatively, Li's official surname might have been rendered as 'Kwok Chung' or even 'Ah Chung', presumably dependant on how accurate his immigration officer wanted to be that day! In these cases, his children would grow up as Pierre Kwok Chung, or Marie Ah Chung and would not necessarily know that their real surname was Li, unless their father told them.

Hence the Hakka question: 姓脈個 : 姓脉个 xiang(4) mag(5) gê(4)? hat is your surname?

In the two tables below I have listed ome common surnames in pinyin-alphabetical order. The columns from left to right show:

  • T - the Traditional character
  • S - the Simplified character
  • Pinyin for Standard Chinese pronunciation
  • Hakka Romanization
  • Official? - the surname that is probably on your official documents, unless your surname is of the 'Kwok Chung' / 'Ah Chung' type.

You can see the room for error in this mess! Your Hakka surname might be 劉 Liu(2) ut your passport says 'Lau'. Then your neighbour might be 廖 Liau(4) but his passport says 'Liu'. If you're not certain, best get an elderly member of the family to write your surname as a Chinese character - then you'll know for sure!

Let me know if your surname is not listed or if there is something you'd like to correct.