Lin (surname)

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Lin (林)
PronunciationLín (Mandarin)
Lim, Liem (Min Nan or Hokkien, Teochew, Korean, Taiwanese Minnan, Indonesian)
Lam, Lum (Cantonese)
Ling (Eastern Min, Northern Min, Wu Chinese)
Hayashi (Japanese)
Lim (Thai)
Lâm (Vietnamese)
Language(s)Middle Chinese
Meaning"Forest”, "Woods", "Trees", “Sun Goddess” and “Gemstone”

Lin ([lǐn]; Chinese: ; pinyin: Lín) is the Mandarin romanization of the Chinese surname written 林. It is also used in Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines (among the Chinese Filipino community).

Among Taiwan and overseas Chinese families, it is sometimes pronounced and spelled as Lim because many Chinese descendants are part of the Southern Min diaspora and speak Min Nan, Hokkien or Teochew. In Cantonese-speaking regions such as Hong Kong and Macau it is spelled as Lam or Lum.

Within mainland China, it is currently around the 18th most common surname.

In Japan, the character 林 is also used but goes by the pronunciation Hayashi, which is the 19th most common surname in Japan.

Name origin[edit]

King Zhou of Shang (reigned 1154 to 1122 BC), the last king of the Shang dynasty, had three uncles advising him and his administration. The king's uncles were Prince Bi Gan, Prince Jizi, and Prince Weizi. Together the three princes were known as "The Three Kind-Hearted Men of Shang" in the kingdom.[1] Prince Bi Gan was the son of King Wen Ding; he was the brother of King Zhou's father and, thus, was King Zhou's uncle, and served as the king's chancellor.

Zhou was a cruel king, but his three uncles could not persuade him to change his ways. Failing in their duty to advise the king, Prince Weizi resigned. Prince Jizi faked insanity and was relieved of his post. Only Prince 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. Prince Bi Gan stayed at the palace for three days and nights to try to persuade the blood-thirsty and immoral king to mend his ways.[2]

The stubborn king would not relent and had Prince Bi Gan arrested for treason. Upon hearing this, his pregnant wife escaped into the forest and went into labor there. With no one to help her, she gave birth to a boy in the rocky cave in the forest, in a placed called Chang Lin (長林).[3]

Before long, King Zhou was overthrown by King Wu of the Zhou dynasty. King Wu knew about the courageous royal court chancellor Prince Bi Gan and sought his wife and child. When he found them, he honoured them in respect of Prince Bi Gan. The mother and child were restored to the royal family. The new king conferred the surname Lin (meaning forest) and the Duchy of Bo'ling on Prince Bi Gan's son, named Lin (Lim/Lam) Jian (林坚).[citation needed]

Other origins[edit]


Within China, 林 is the 2nd most common surname in Fujian,[4] 4th most common in the city of Haikou, and 10th most common in the city of Guangzhou.[5]

In 2019 it was the 18th most common surname in Mainland China.[6]

Different versions of the name[edit]

  • Among the Malaysian Chinese it is not commonly spelled Lin but rather Lim or Lam. The Hakka, Hokkien, Teochew and Hainan communities romanize it as "Lim" whereas the Cantonese-speaking community uses "Lam" or "Lum".
  • The Korean surname Im ( in South Korean spelling; in North Korean spelling; commonly romanized as Lim or Rim) is the Korean pronunciation of the same Chinese character (林). A much less common Korean surname Im is derived from another character (; spelled Im in both North and South Korean) the character used to write the surname Ren. In Korean, the former is called Supul Rim (수풀 림) and the latter Matgil Im (맡길 임) when they need to be distinguished.
  • A common Japanese surname, Hayashi, is written with the same character 林 and also means forest. A much rarer Japanese surname, Rin, is also written with same character.
  • The Vietnamese surname, "Lâm", was formerly written using the same character.
  • In Singapore, although "Lim" and "Lam" are generally more common variants, the extremely rare spelling "Lyn" 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".
  • A rare Chinese surname which is also transcribed Lin is / (pinyin Lìn), for example the Warring States period statesman Lin Xiangru .
  • Indonesians of Chinese ancestry bearing this surname sometimes spell it as "Liem", pronounced from Fuqing dialect.
  • Guamanians and 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 "Limjoco" in the Philippines, and "Limtiaco" in Guam; this type of surname is often derived from the full and complete 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" "Limpisthira."
  • The character "霖" (Lín, "heavy rain showers") is also a popular personal name among ethnic Chinese people.

Notable people surnamed Lin[edit]

This is an East Asian name, meaning the surname is stated "before" the given name, though East Asian persons living in Western countries will often put their surname after their given name.


Mandarin and Wu Chinese:


Cantonese form


Alternate Cantonese form


Southern Min or Hokkien or Teochew




Eastern Min, Northern Min, and Wu form:

See also[edit]


  1. ^[dead link]
  2. ^ "People's Daily Online -- History of a Chinese surname: Lin".
  3. ^ a b c d e f The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland
  4. ^ Tencent (福建省十大姓氏你知道多少?大姓带来大的文化,值得深究)
  5. ^ ""(Chinese)
  6. ^ "新京报 - 好新闻,无止境".
  7. ^ PBS episode Finding Your Roots February 2, 2016