Tan Surname Or Chan Surname? Lim or Lin? Here’s a Concise Guide to Confusing Surnames in S’pore

Tell me, have you ever been confused by the sheer variety of surnames in Singapore? There’s Tan surname, Chen surname, Lim surname, etcetera.

Some surnames are written the same in Chinese, but becomes totally different when you write them in English. Here’s the quick answer: It’s all about the dialect.

Here is a concise guide to confusing surnames in Singapore you need to know!

1. 陈

This surname is one of the most common surnames in Singapore. Tan in Chinese translates to Chen. For Singaporean Hakka people, it’s Chin and for Cantonese, it’s ChanTeochew, Hokkien and Hainanese people in Singapore translate it as Tan.

Tan surname people out there, you should feel proud you share the same surname as Jackie Chan.

2. 林

Lin surname is the second most common surname in Singapore. The Hakka, Hokkien, Teochew and Hainan communities translate it as Lim while the Cantonese community translates it to Lam. Fun fact: if your surname is spelt as Lin, you’re one of the rare few.

Like JJ Lin.

3. 李

Lee is the second most common surname in China, it is typically Hakka people who have this surname. Other than the Cantonese people in Hong Kong who translate the surname to Lei, most Chinese communities translate it to Lee.

4. 黄

The Hokkien and Teochew communities in Singapore translates Huang to Ng while some Hakka families have the surname of Wong.

5. 吴 / 伍

For the Hakka and Cantonese communities in Singapore, this surname is translated to Ng. The Hokkien people, on the other hand, translate it to Goh.

6. 王 / 汪

An auspicious surname, the Hokkien people in Singapore translate it to Ong while the Cantonese, Hakka and Teochew communities translate it to Wong.

7. 蔡

The Hokkien and Teochew people in Singapore with this surname translate it to Chua.

8. 曾

Hokkien and Teochew communities in Singapore translate this to Chan. Notice that the English version of this surname is the same as 陈 for Cantonese people.

9. 許 / 许

A surname of the Hokkien and Teochew communities in Singapore, they translate this to Koh.

10. 张

Another surname of the Hokkien and Teochew communities in Singapore, they translate this to Teo.

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11. 洪

Belonging to the Hokkien and Teochew communities in Singapore, they translate this surname to Ang.

12. 楊 / 杨

The Hokkien and Teochew people in Singapore translate this surname to Yeo. Notice the Chinese word for this is the same as 楊丞琳, but hers is translated to Yang.

13. 鄭 / 郑

The moment you see this surname, you know the person is Hakka. They translate this to Tay.

14. 何

Yes, the famous surname. After all, that’s the singer of “China Wine”, right? The Teochew, Hainanese, Cantonese, Hokkien, and Hakka all translate this surname to Ho.

15. 劉 / 刘

Belonging to the Teochew and Hokkien community in Singapore, this Chinese surname is translated to Low. In Cantonese, it’s pronounced as Lau, as in Andy Lau.

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16. 谢 / 謝

In Singapore, the common translation is Chia but there are also various other forms like Cheah, Seah, Sia, Cha, Tse, Chay. This could be because of the colonial period where British clerks, who are unfamiliar with the Chinese dialect, started forming their own version of it.

Pretty cool, isn’t it? Now you know why some people have Tan surname, and others, Chan. It’s not just because he’s from a different country!



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