This article in the Winnipeg Free Press  is good for a laugh. It would appear that they ran out of last names in China a long time ago, and China now have so many people with the same name that the Chinese government are considering some amusing measures to fix it.
To get an idea of how serious this problem is, 85% of China’s population share a mere hundred surnames…that would be like having the entire Sydney White Pages filled with just Smiths and Browns.
A quote from the article:
In April, a survey reported by Xinhua News Agency said that Wang was the most common surname in China, with about 93 million people sharing the name. That was followed by Li with about 92 million and Zhang with about 87 million.
The Chinese Academy of Sciences has reported that at least 100,000 people share the name of “Wang Tao”, the newspaper said, causing problems in daily life.
The solution to this, apparently, is to alter Chinese laws to allow children to be given hyphenated names (such as what I have). This would unfortunately take a few generations for the effect to take hold, and of course the problem there would either be only slightly fixed, or result in names that won’t fit on a page in the phone book. It also doesn’t help from a pronunciation point of view that many last names are very similar:
Under a proposal distributed to police departments around the country by the Ministry of Public Security, parents called Zhou and Zhu would have four options when naming their newborn, the China Daily reported.
Their child’s surname could be Zhou, Zhu, Zhouzhu or Zhuzhou.
The simple thing from my perspective would be to allow people to change their names so that you could have a larger set of names, however there seems to be some cultural issues surrounding that idea.
One thing I do know though, until it’s fixed, trying to ring Wang Tao when I forget his number is going to result in a large profit for a bunch of phone companies.