The earliest Chinese family names can be traced back to over 4,700 years to Wong Di (Huang Ti), the legendary Yellow Emperor, who gave 12 different names to his sons. From these 12 names, clan and family names developed and there has been over 9,000 different names in Chinese history. However, today’s reference books only list 445 monosyllabic names and 60 dissyllabic names, and of the latter, only less than half a dozen are still in existence.
My clan name, Wong 黃, may be a common surname today, but this wasn’t always the case.
The rise of the family name Wong is only a recent development because during the Song Dynasty (A.D. 960 – 1279), Wong only occupied position no.96 in “Bak Ga Xing (Bei jia xing) ” (Hundred Family Surnames) – a compilation of over 400 listed surnames. This is far behind many surnames which are considered obscure among Chinese communities. So what this all means is that the Wong Clan was probably not a very important clan in the twelfth to thirteenth centuries.
The origin of the Wong clan could be traced a thousand years prior to the founding of the Zhou dynasty (1122 – 256 B.C.) There are a number of versions of it’s origin, but most genealogies and historic records agree that the Wong surname originated during the Xia Dynasty from Ji Lu Zhong, a descendant of the Yellow Emperor, Wong Di - where his descendants were each given a small kingdom to rule. One of them was given the state called Wong in today’s Hubei province (the region of present day Wuhan City). The people of this state then adopted the state’s name as their surname. During the Warring States period, the state of Chu in South China annexed the state of Wong.
The Wong people then migrated from North China and gathered around the KwongHa (Jiangxia) area in today’s Hobak (Hubei) province. Today, people with the surname, Wong, like myself (to differentiate from a similar sounding, but different clan “Wang”), affiliate ourselves to this ancestral area by stating,
“we are KwongHa Wongs (Jiangxia Huangs)”
From China’s Golden age, the Tang Dynasty (AD 618 – AD 907), Wongs migrated from Hubei to the southern provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi, Hainan and others. It is now the third largest surname clan in South China today. And as a result, many early sojourners at the turn of the last century brought the family name to North America … resulting in the English transliteration “Wong” version, becoming one of the more popular family names in the Chinese North American communities. Of recent, with renewed immigration to North America, different English transliterations of the clan name are becoming popular in Canada – in particular, “Huang”.
It is believed that our family first touched down in Guangdong province somewhere near Kaiping / Taishan region sometime before 1700.
Before dad passed away, he left behind an ancestral family book that traces our family back over 115 generations… and as my colleage Ng Po Sing mentioned “that would be around the time of the Shang Dynasty (1480 – 1050 B.C.)”. I am now in the process of translating this important document into English.