Lin (surname)

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"Lam (surname)" redirects here. For the another surname romanized as Lam in Cantonese, see Lan (surname 蓝).
Lin (林)
Pronunciation Lín (Mandarin)
Lim (Min Nan)
Lam (Cantonese)
Language(s) Chinese
Language(s) Middle Chinese
Meaning "forest"
Other names
Variant(s) Lim, Lam

Lín (Chinese: ) is the Mandarin Chinese form of a Chinese surname for "Forest" or "Trees" that is also used in Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines. It is also common among overseas Chinese where it is sometimes pronounced "Lim" because many Chinese descendants are part of the Southern Min diaspora and speak a language/dialect that is also part of the Min Nan group. In Hong Kong and Macao, it's "Lam".

Name origin[edit]

King Zhou of Shang (reigned 1154 BC to 1122 BC), the last king of the Shang dynasty, had three uncles advising him and his administration. The king's uncles were Bi Gan (also spelled Pi Kan), Qi Zi, and Wei Zi. Together the three men were known as "The Three Kindhearted Men of Shang" in the kingdom.[1] Bi Gan was the son of Prince Ding, son of King Shang and, thus, was King Zhou's uncle.

Unfortunately, Zhou was a cruel king, and the state's citizens suffered tremendously. His three uncles could not persuade him to change his ways. Failing in their duty to advise the king, Wei Zi resigned. Qi Zi faked insanity and was relieved of his post. Only Bi Gan stayed on to continue advising the king to change his ways. "Servants who are afraid of being killed and refrain from telling the truth are not righteous" he said. This put him in danger of incurring the king's wrath. Bi Gan stayed at the palace for three days and nights to try to persuade the bloodthirsty and immoral king to mend his ways.[2]

The stubborn king would not relent and had his uncle, Bi Gan, who was arrested for treason. Upon hearing this, his pregnant wife (surname Chen) escaped into the forest to protect her unborn child from death. She knew, in time, the king would execute Bi Gan and his entire family. The baby was born in the forest. Alone with no one to help, she grabbed hold of two trees and gave birth to a baby boy whom she named Jian. When she reached the nearest town, she gave her child the surname Lin (Chinese character depicted by two trees).

Before long, Shang Zhou was overthrown and killed by Zhou Wu Wang (Zhou Dynasty, 1134 BC to 256 BC). Zhou Wu Wang knew about the courageous court adviser Bi Gan and sought his wife and child. When he found them, he honoured them in respect of Bi Gan. The mother and child were restored back into the royal family. The new king conferred the surname Lin (meaning woods or forest) on Bi Gan's son, because he was born in the woods.[3]

Different versions of the name[edit]

  • This family name is common among the Malaysian Chinese community. However, because the vast majority of Chinese Malaysians romanized their surnames according to the pronunciations of their respective southern Chinese dialects, it is very rarely romanized as "Lin". The Hakka, Hokkien, Teochew and Hainan communities romanize it as "Lim" whereas the Cantonese-speaking community uses "Lam".
  • A Korean surname Im (Korean name) is the Korean equivalent of "Lin". Specifically, only the first and by far the more numerous of the two clan branches of 임, 수풀 림 (Supul-Lim), is equivalent to "Lin". The second, 맡길 임(Matgil-Im), is equivalent to the rare Chinese surname Ren. The romanization of 林 is commonly spelt "Lim" (임) with the rarer spelling being "Rim" (림). While the romanization of 任 (임) is commonly spelt "Im" with the rarer spelling being "Yim".
  • A common Japanese surname, Hayashi, is written with the same character 林 and also means forest.
  • The Vietnamese surname, "Lâm", was formerly written using the same Chinese character.
  • In Singapore, although "Lim" and "Lam" are generally more common variants, the extremely rare spelling "Lynn" can be found in select families of Chinese, Japanese, or other East-Asian ancestry (also transcribed using the 林 character) and bears no known relation to the English or Scottish surname of the same spelling, or alternate spelling "Ling".
  • According to an unofficial count undertaken by the American company infoUSA, "Lam" is the third most common surname found in Canadian telephone directories.[4]
  • A rare Chinese surname which is also transcribed Lin is (pinyin Lìn).
  • Indonesians of Chinese ancestry bearing this surname sometimes spell it as "Liem."
  • Filipinos of Chinese descent with this surname mostly use the Hokkien spelling "Lim", as the majority have Fujianese ancestry. It is sometimes found in hispanicised compound surnames such as "Limtiaco"; this type of Filipino surname is often derived from the original name of a Spanish-era immigrant patriarch.
  • Prominent Thai-Chinese royalist families with this surname are bestowed by member of the royal family some indigenised derivative such as "Limthongkul" "Sirilim".

Notable people surnamed Lin[edit]

This is a Chinese name, meaning the surname is stated "before" the given name, though Chinese living in Western countries will often put their surname after their given name.


(Mandarin and Shanghainese form):


(Cantonese form)


(Also Cantonese form)


(Southern Min)


(Indonesian and Dutch form):


  • Lin Chong, character in the Chinese novel The Water Margin (Shuihu Zhuan)
  • Lin Daiyu, major character in the Chinese novel Dream of the Red Chamber

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Common surnames". (CBC News). 2007-07-26. Retrieved 2008-01-27. ...the source is a Nebraska-based company called infoUSA, which claims to have put together a directory of every telephone listing in Canada. 

External links[edit]