A legislative interpretation passed by China's legislature the National People's Congress (NPC) said citizens must use parents' surnames in principle, but can choose other surnames such as those of lineal relatives, those of foster-parents or other surnames for "rational reasons", a state-run news agency reported.
    
People from ethnic minorities can name themselves based on their own custom.
    
The interpretation was based on two articles in the general principles of the Civil Law and the Marriage Law, which stipulate that all Chinese citizens have the right to name; a surname can be that of either parent, the report said.
    
However, there are many cases of people who do not follow the convention, resulting in disputes and refusal by police to register newborns.
    
Names should "respect social morality" and should not damage public interests, the legislative interpretation said.
    
Chinese names usually consist of three, or sometimes two syllables, each having its own character.
    
The family name, or surname which is usually a monosyllable that precedes the given name.
    
There are no middle names, and there is a lot of flexibility over the given name, but it rarely exceeds two characters.
    
"Surnames reflect blood heritage, ethic order and cultural tradition. Choosing surnames concerns social conventions," the law said.
    
Surnames are an important component of Chinese culture and have been important for more than 5,000 years,  Xin Chunying, deputy head of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee.
    
Following parental surnames is one of China's cultural symbols and part of China's social structure, she said, adding it is also in line with the majority's wishes and practice.
    
But considering practical situations, citizens can choose other surnames for "rational reasons," the report said.
    
In some cases, people want to choose surnames other than those of the parents.
    
A survey by Tong Jianjun, associate professor at Sun Yat-sen University, showed 66 percent of his 267 students planning not to follow convention.
    
To avoid duplication of names, more parents are choosing fancy or exotic names for their children, some having more than three characters or even having an English letter. These names are generally refused by police bureaus.

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