Is your last name spelled Lin, Lim, Ling or Lum? If so, there’s a good chance that the original Chinese surname of your ancestors is 林, pronounced Lin in Mandarin.
Lin (林), meaning ‘forest’, is the 18th most common surname in China. Any communities worldwide in places like Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan and Singapore also share the same surname.
The roots of the Lin family stretch far and wide. Most Lin descendants can trace their ancestry back to the bloodlines of government officials who lived and ruled during the Spring and Autumn Period (770 to 476 BC, or the first half of the Eastern Zhou period).
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What are the origins of Lin?
Many believe that the surname Lin originated under the reign of King Zhou (帝辛), who was the last king of the Shang dynasty of ancient China. King Zhou was known to be a draconian leader who ruled with an iron fist. He would often mete out severe punishments and enact troublesome laws. However, his uncle Prince Bi Gan (比干) was a man of morals and sought to persuade King Zhou to change his ways. In anger, the king ordered for the arrest of the prince. Upon hearing this, the Prince’s pregnant wife escaped into a nearby forest and conceived their child in secret. Shortly thereafter, King Zhou was overthrown by King Wu of the Zhou dynasty (周武王). To commemorate Prince Bi Gan’s bravery and loyal service, the new king officially conferred the surname ‘Lin’ on Prince Bi Gan’s newborn son — the first Lin ancestor.
Other historical accounts trace the origins of the Lin clan to King Ping of Zhou (周平王). King Ping’s grandson first went by his personal name Ji Lin (姬林), but he was later acknowledged as King Huan of Zhou (周桓王) after succeeding his grandfather.
There is also evidence to suggest that the Lin clan (or its various branches) may have originated elsewhere. During the Northern and Southern Dynasties, Emperor Xiaowen ordered the Xianbei (鲜卑) Mongolian nomadic tribe to change their surnames to Lin. In addition, it is historically recorded that the Taiwanese Gaoshan (高山） tribe, one of the biggest groups that migrated from China to Taiwan, changed their surnames to Lin in tribute to the forests of their homeland.
Did you know?
The Chinese character for ‘wood’ is 木 (mu). Comprised of two 木 characters, the surname Lin (林) evokes the imagery of a pair of trees standing side by side — thus symbolizing ‘forest’!
Image: The Guardian
|Symbols||木 (wood, tree)|
|Legendary Ancestor||King Wen Wu Ding 文武丁of the Shang Dynasty|
|Founding Ancestor||Lin Jian 林坚, the son of Prince Bi Gan|
|Cantonese||Lem, Lum, Lam|
|Hainanese||Lam, Leem, Lewn, Liam, Lim, Lum, Lin|
|Hakka||Lim, Lam, Ling, Lin|
|Hokkien||Lim, Lem, Leng, Lin, Ling, Lng|
|Teochew||Lim, Lean, Lin, Ling|
|United States||Lam, Lamb, Lamm, Land, Lem, Lemm, Liem, Lim, Limm, Lin, Ling, Linn, Lum, Lym, Lynn|
|Trinidad and Tobago||Nim|
|Australia||Ah Len, Leem|
|Indonesia||Alim, Salim, Limantoro, Lim, Liemena, Liemantika, Limianto, Liem, Mulialim, Limijanto, Limanto, Liman, Limawan, Halim, Limijati, Muslim, Haliman, Ruslim, Linus, Limiardi, Nursalim, Suharlim, Nastalim, Satyalim, Lemandjaja, Halimkusuma, Lemanjaya, Lesmana, Limantara, Linanto, Wono, Limandi, Lanandi, Limiardja, Lembata, Lamono, Laksono, Laksana, lamsano, Laksamanda, Talim, Lemandau, Limijanti, Talin, Limyadi, Limandau, Lumenta, Taslim, Baroleh, Limputra, Limansubronoto, Mursalim, Limarta|
|Korea||Lim, Im, Rim|
|Ling, Lim, Lin, Lum, Lam|
|Hawaii||Aiko, Ban, Chan-lam, Loy, Lumho, Poy, Sing, Suey, Wei|
|Peru||Asin, Asaulau, Lau|
|Suriname||Lim, Liem, Lam|
Who are famous Lins in modern history?
From emperors, prime ministers, and generals, to intellectuals, film stars and pro ballers: there’s nothing that Lins can’t do. Some of the most prominent Lins in modern history include:
- Jeremy Lin: Taiwanese-American professional basketball player for the Guangzhou Loong Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association
- JJ Lin: Singaporean singer, songwriter, record producer and actor
- Lin Biao: Chinese politician and Marshal of the People’s Republic of China who was pivotal in the Communist victory during the Chinese Civil War
- Nora Lum: Known by her stage name Awkwafina, the American actress, rapper, and comedian has starred in Hollywood hits like Ocean’s 8, Crazy Rich Asians, and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
- Peggy Lam: Founding chairperson of the Hong Kong Federation of Women
How do Lin families stay connected today?
Lins around the world celebrate their ancestry through global and regional Lin clan associations, which organize gatherings, community activities and dinner events on a regular basis. Clan associations had their origins in China but were later reproduced overseas by migrant populations. These Lin clan associations thus play an important role in promoting cohesion and togetherness among overseas Chinese communities.
Are you a Lin? Who were your ancestors?
You can find the stories of your ancestors in a Lin zupu, or family history book. Known as the Holy Grail of Chinese genealogy, a zupu records the names of your ancestors, their values, migration journeys, and more.
What do you know about your family history? Tell us in the comments!
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