What Is the Origin of the Last Name Lam?

What Is the Origin of the Last Name Lam?
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Jeff Greer
June 5, 2022

Last names offer clues to someone’s ancestry. Certain common names or spellings of surnames can be associated with regions or even specific places. That applies to the origin of the Lam last name. When you see the name Lam, odds are high that the person is either of Vietnamese descent or has lineage tracing back to southern China and Hong Kong.

What does the Lam surname mean?

Lâm, or Lam, directly translates to “forest” in Vietnamese. In Chinese, the name is a variation of Lin, a very common last name among those with Chinese roots. But Lam is particularly common among Cantonese speakers in southern China and Hong Kong. In Korean, Lam translates to Im, a popular Korean last name.

Lam name origin/background

As the story goes, the Chinese version of the last name originated in the 1100s BC. After King Zhou of the Shang dynasty arrested the husband of a princess for treason, the princess escaped to the forest to give birth to their son. He was named Lin, or forest, after his place of birth.

Finding the origins of the Vietnamese version of Lam is more difficult. More than 50% of Vietnam’s land area consisted of forests before 2010, adding context to why Lam might be such a popular last name there.

Lam is a popular last name among Vietnamese and Cantonese-speaking Chinese throughout the world. It also has a strong presence in Hong Kong.

On the crowdsourced ancestry website FamilySearch.org, Lam accounts for 2,102 people in the family trees built by amateur and professional researchers. Lam was an especially popular last name in the United States between 1840 and 1920, according to Ancestry.com. That could be in part because the Dutch last name Lambert was sometimes shortened to Lam.

The most popular places of origin for the last name Lam are the Guangdong and Fujian provinces in southeastern China.

Related: Try to reconnect with family using Relative Finder

Prominent figures with the name Lam

While it’s a common surname in Vietnam and China, the number of famous Lams is relatively small worldwide.

Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc, born Lam Van Tuc, was the subject of the famous photo of a monk burning himself to death in Saigon in 1963. The photo, taken by Malcolm Browne, has become a significant moment in history–Browne won a Pulitzer Prize for it.

Vietnamese singer Lam Nhat Tien is a popular musical artist and singer who’s made seven solo albums.

Lam Nguon Tanh was a rear admiral for the Republic of Vietnam Navy who fought alongside the Americans in the Vietnam War as the chief of naval operations. He was given asylum in the U.S. after the war.

Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.