In the United States, just fewer than two thousand surnames covers over half the population. One percent of the population has the name Smith. This is also true in China. Approximately one hundred names covers over three quarters of the population. The most common choices are Wang, Zhang, and Li.
Names have a huge weight on culture, and it is something that we tend to forget about in daily life. We never fully appreciate that they determine a large part of our identity. They come into use day after day whether it is signing a letter, sending an email, or registering for a website.
More recently, people have been changing their surnames and supplementing it with an ornamental name. They usually have some meaning to the person who is making the change. They prefer that meaning instead of the one given at birth. Ornamental names have been gaining popularity since the later 19th century.
Many surnames have had their meaning lost in translation over the years. No matter, we should endeavor to embrace the philosophy they represent. Surnames may lie in the background of our lives but they play a larger part than one would imagine.
Of course, ornamental names, adoptions, altered and spelling changes present special (if not impossible) challenges when doing genealogical research. If you can start your research with a birth name, this will help tremendously in documenting family lineage.
This is especially true for women in western cultures because their last name is that of their husband. Therefore, her children will need to trace their lineage through their fatherís name and their mother's birth name.
Tracing family roots through DNA testing is gaining in popularity. As more and more people do DNA testing, you no doubt will find family members that you otherwise would not have found though tracing by name. Of course, you must know your own genetic markers by having a DNA test.
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