The one Chinese character 胡 was used for many hu words besides the Hu surname.
In Classical Chinese, hu 胡 meant: "dewlap; wattle" and was a variant Chinese character for "how; why; what" (he 何), "long-lasting; far-reaching" (xia 遐), "part of a dagger-axe", hu- in "butterfly" (hudie 蝴蝶), and "Northern Barbarians".
In Modern Standard Mandarin, hu 胡 means: "foreign" (e.g., huqin 胡琴 "two-stringed bowed instruments"), "recklessly; irrelevantly" (hushuo 胡說 "talk nonsense; drivel"), "dewlap", (literary) "why; when; how", "Surname", and (historical) "non-Han peoples in the northwest" (Huren 胡人 "the Northern tribes"); or 胡 is a variant character for hu 鬍 (huzi 胡子/鬍子"moustache; beard; whiskers; bandit") and hu 衚 (hutong 胡同/衚衕 "lane; alley"). Compare Honghuzi 紅胡子 (literally "Red Beards") "bandits in the Sino-Russian borderlands".
Non-Chinese peoples and ethnic minorities in China sometimes took the Chinese exonym for their ethnic group as their surname. The best example is Hu 胡, which was anciently used to refer to "barbarian" groups on the northern and western frontiers of China. In modern usage, this common Hu surname is semantically neutral and no longer has derogatory or pejorative connotations. In addition, some individuals adopted Chinese surnames that sound similar to their names, such as Hu from Husaiyin 胡赛因 "Husayn (Hussain, Hussein, etc.)".
Within the ancient Chinese Sinocentric worldview (see Hua-Yi distinction), the central Hua or Huaxia 華夏 "Chinese" were encircled by "non-Chinese peoples, foreigners", many of whom were pejoratively named with Chinese "barbarian" exonyms (e.g., Nanman 南蠻 "Southern Barbarians" and Beidi 北狄 "Northern Barbarians"). Hu 胡 was the exonym for several "barbarian, non-Chinese" peoples. For instance, Jiehu 羯胡 for the Jie "a branch of the Xiongnu" or Qianghu 羌胡 for the Qiang "ancient nationality in West China".
Hu 胡 is used for various northern and western peoples of non-Chinese stock. It was commonly used for people of Persian, Sogdian, Turkish, Xianbi, Indian and Kushan origin and, occasionally, for the Xiongnu (probably because of their connections with the Tonghu or Eastern Hu – a separate tribe conquered by the Xiongnu).
Two historically significant Hu names are this Donghu 東胡 (literally "Eastern Barbarians") "ancient Mongolian nomadic group" and the Wu Hu 五胡 ("Five Barbarians") "five nomadic tribes involved in the Wu Hu uprising" (304-316 CE) against the Jin Dynasty.
The Hu 胡 surname's historical origins are uncertain, and Chinese scholars have proposed four hypotheses. First, Hu could derive from the family of Hu Gongman 胡公滿 "Duke Man of Hu". King Wu of Zhou (r. 1046-043 BCE) enfeoffed his son-in-law Gui Man 媯滿 (supposedly a descendent of the mythical ruler Shun) with the state of Chen 陳 (in modern Henan Province) and titled him Hu Gong 胡公 "Duke of Hu". When Chu (state) annexed Chen in 479 BCE, the Hu family name was replaced by the Chen (surname) 陳. Second, Hu could derive from two Zhou vassal states named Hu 胡, one located near Luohe (Henan Province) or another near Fuyang (Anhui Province). Third, Hu could derive from non-Chinese people adopting it as their surname. For example, in the 496 Change of Xianbei names to Han names, Hegu/Gegu 紇骨 was changed to Hu 胡. Fourth, Hu could derive from the clan name of the ancient Tiele people 敕勒 within the Xiongnu confederation.
Hu (Foochow Romanized: Hù; POJ: Hô or Ô) was also one of the eight surnames of the first Han Chinese clans who first moved out the Central Plains into Fujian province (八姓入閩; Foochow Romanized: Báik Sáng Ĭk Mìng) during the Wu Hu uprising.
- Hu Songshan 虎嵩山 Chinese Muslim Imam
- Hu Jintao 胡锦涛, former General Secretary of the Communist Party of China and the former President of the People's Republic of China
- Myolie Wu 胡杏兒, Hong Kong singer and actress
- Hu Jia 胡佳, a jailed pro-democracy activist in the People's Republic of China
- Hu Bin, Chinese freestyle swimmer
- Hu Shih 胡适, Chinese writer and scholar
- Hu Yaobang 胡耀邦, former Chairman of the Communist Party of China and General Secretary of the Communist Party of China
- Hu Qiaomu 胡乔木, People's Republic of China politician
- Hu Qili 胡启立, former member of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China
- Hu Bei-Lok 胡比乐, American theoretical physicist
- Kelly Hu 胡凯丽, American actress
- Richard Hu 胡赐道, former Finance Minister of Singapore
- Gordon Ying Sheung Wu 胡應湘, chairman of the board of Hopewell Holdings Ltd.
- Hu Zaobin 胡藻斌, early 20th-century Chinese painter, famous for painting tigers
- Hu Fei 胡芾, a boxer known primarily in China for his power and relentless style, and is the defending champion in the Chinese National games.
- China renews top 100 surnames, Li still the biggest, People's Daily Online, January 11, 2006.
- Bernhard Karlgren. Grammata Serica Recensa. Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities. 1957:34.
- John DeFrancis, ed. ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary. University of Hawaii Press. 2003:374.
- Hill, John E. (2009) Through the Jade Gate to Rome: A Study of the Silk Routes during the Later Han Dynasty, 1st to 2nd Centuries CE, p. 192. BookSurge, Charleston, South Carolina. ISBN 978-1-4392-2134-1.
- "胡"这个姓的起源是那里~~怎么来的?, Baidu Encyclopedia (Chinese).