The country’s one-child rule, which ran from 1979 to 2016, meant daughters have also been tasked with safeguarding their parents’ wealth and bloodline — previously this had been the preserve of male heirs.
This caused a shift in some family’s attitudes but it was the law change to allow couples to have two children that has ignited the trend for kids to be given the maternal name.
Now, some parents are giving the father’s family name to the first born and the mother’s to the second child.
Few statistics exist on the issue, but one in 10 babies born in Shanghai in 2018 had their mother’s surname, according to the city’s population management office.
Others are giving children double-barreled names using one from each parent.
According to a 2019 study on Chinese names by internet giant Tencent, more than 1.1 million people in China had a combined last name, a tenfold increase from 1990.
“China was under the one-child rule when our first son was born, and my husband insisted on following tradition and giving his name,” Wang, an insurance agent, said.
“But I saw my chance when a second child was allowed in 2016.”
Her eight-year-old son, He Wenshi, has his dad’s surname, while his sibling Wang Yunshi has hers.
The situation has become so common that several of the older boy’s classmates have their mother’s name.
“He thinks it’s normal for his two-year old brother to have a different family name. He doesn’t ask why,” said Wang.