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".
According to tradition, the Hu 胡 surname has several historical origins. First, Hu could derive from the family of Duke Hu of Chen. King Wu of Zhou (r. 1046-043 BCE) enfeoffed his son-in-law Gui Man 媯滿 (supposedly a descendent of the legendary sage king Emperor Shun) with the state of Chen (in modern Henan Province). His posthumous name was Duke Hu, and some of his descendants adopted Hu as their surname. 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 within the Xiongnu confederation.
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.
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.
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.
The surname 虎 (Hǔ), which means "Tiger", is rare in China to the point where a lot of people are not aware that it is used as a surname. Some believe it came from the name of a 4,300 year old chancellor while others believe it originates among the Hui Muslim minority.
- Hu Songshan 虎嵩山 Chinese Hui Muslim Imam of the Yihewani sect
- 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 Weide 胡惟德, politician and diplomat of the Qing dynasty and the Republic 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.
- Hu Ge 胡歌, a famous Chinese actor.
- Jason Hu 胡志强, Republic of China politician
- Hồ Dynasty 胡朝:
- China renews top 100 surnames, Li still the biggest, People's Daily Online, January 11, 2006.
- Meaning of Chinese names - H
- Bernhard Karlgren. Grammata Serica Recensa. Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities. 1957:34.
- 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.
- Taylor 2013, p. 166.
- ed. Hall 2008, p. 161.
- Wang, Guanqun, ed. (2010-02-10). ""Tiger" a rare but strong family name in China". Xinhua. Retrieved 30 April 2013.
- "'Tiger' rare but strong family name in China". China Daily. 2010-02-10. Retrieved 30 April 2013.
- Yang, Chiu-ying (Mar 25, 2009). "Man on the hunt for rare family names". Taipei Times. p. 4. Retrieved 30 April 2013.