The Secret Behind The 12 Clans Iu-Mien LAST Names - Part 2

This is the second part to a series about Why Your Iu-Mien Name Matters, see the first part here.

From Shock To Amazement

"What's your adult Mien name?" My Great Uncle Fou Sio asked.

It was loud and bustling, as I sat there at the dining table next to my Great Uncle and seated around him were all my other relatives.

I replied shyly, "San Tzo" (or San Cho).

(Pictured here: two of my Great Saelee Uncles, far left Fou Ching of Oroville and far right Fou Sio of Sacramento, both helped me on this journey and I am eternally grateful -- thank you)

It was that time of year where every household was celebrating their Mien New Year.

"No, your adult name," He smiled. "That's your child name."

"Wait, what?" As I said embarrassingly.

That was the first time I was made aware that I had another mien name. If this has happened to you, don't sweat it. It's normal.

(The naming convention mostly applies to males due to an ancient patriarchy system, so ladies please don't hate us. But good news, you'll know how to name your sons which is crucial to your legacy!)

My Great Uncle wanted to help me to learn but he couldn't teach me if he didn't know where to begin. I didn't realize it at that time, but it was the spark that would set me on a journey towards self-discovery and claiming my Mien cultural identity.

Before I sat at that dining table, many many years ago, I felt out of place amongst Mien people (shoot, I didn't even know how to count in Iu-Mien language). I didn't know what to say, I didn't know how to participate, but I wanted to know.

Fortunately, my Great Uncle was patient with me (later I found out, all my other relatives were just as kind, open, and willing to help me), but it was up to me to show interest and that's exactly what I started doing.

I would often travel between cities to come visit him, to learn, and seek clarification about our Mien culture, our history, and our language. Eventually, I learned more than I sought out for and to my amazement, even learned to count to 100 (it's really easy, will share in another article), but what I'm here to share with you is about our unique last names and why they matter to you.

Brief Story About The Iu-Mien 12 Clans

It started with a war.

Now this war, it was ancient though.. like some 1,500 years ago kind of ancient (want to know the history of where Iu-Mien people come from? check out this article).

The exact time period is unknown because we didn't keep written records but what we do know from word of mouth and storytelling is that it began with one family and led to the creation of the 12 Iu-Mien clans of today.

In that war, it was fought and won by our founder and progenitor of Iu-Mien people (here's a wonderful children's book with illustrations). For his bravery and accomplishment, he was granted the right to marry a princess, or is said to believe.

If you have a child let them know, we could be descendants of royalty -- this would make a good Disney film, don't you think? Also could be linked to why our Mien books contain Cantonese (Chinese characters), which only high-ranking officials of the Imperial court were allowed to learn in those days.

Moving on, the man and the princess was granted autonomy (which basically means, "you do you") and was allowed to live in peace, have title, and land to call their own. The couple settled in a beautiful valley surrounded by intersecting rivers, high mountains, and hills. Life was pretty legit.

Of course, they had children, boys and girls. The male children were the first to form the 6 of 12 Iu-Mien clan names. The following 6 would come from marriages with the females.

Pretty cool huh?

Now, onto the part that everyone has been curious about.

Generational Iu-Mien Clan Names & Paths

To put things into perspective, every last name (finx) of the 12 Clans contains groups or sub-clans and a set of generational naming "paths," as I like to call them. In the first part of this series, I used Saelee as an example.

Within the 12 Iu Mien Clans, there are original paths and newly branched paths (I like to relate this to my favorite anime Demon Slayer and the elemental pillars which began with sun-breathing, a fighting style, then branched into flame-breathing and so on).

So within the Saelee clan, there are 3 groups or sub-clans (the head branch and 2 others) plus they have different paths. Here's what they look-like:

Original Clan

  • Saelee (Thai government attached Sae- during 1970s immigration)
  • Or Lee
  • Or Leiz (in spoken language, pronounced as "Le-Lei Mien")

Group/Sub-clans & Paths

  • Lee: Saeng, Fux, Ix, Zanx, Yauz, Wuonh
  • Lee: Yauz, Fux, Jiem, Wuonh
  • Lee: Wuonh, Zanx, Yauz, Jiem

BAONG's co-founder Michael Saelee comes from the first group and he is the 4th generation (Zanx) in the path.

Tracing Your Lineage

The following list was put together by Dr. Kal Phan, Zaigen Torne Saephan, and contributed to by many others on Facebook's Iu Mien America Group (please excuse me if I didn't mention you, no disrespect intended).

Phan: Yauz, Fux, Wuonh, Saeng. 

Phan: Fux, Saeng, Yauz, Zoih.

Phan: Fux, Jiem, Saeng, Wuonh.

Phan: Wuonh, Yauz, Fux, Zanx, Saeng.

Phan: Saeng, Yauz, Wuonh, Fuqv.

Phan: Yauz, Gueix, Fux, Wuonh.

Lee: Saeng, Fux, Ix, Zanx, Yauz, Wuonh

Lee: Yauz, Fux, Jiem, Wuonh

Lee: Wuonh, Zanx, Yauz, Jiem.

Chao[major]: Jiem, Fux, Waanc, Yunh.

Chao[minor]: Wuonh, Daqv, Zanx, Fux, Saeng

Chao[white]: Yauz, Jiem, Fux, Zoih, Yunh.

Chao[green]: Ziuh, Yauz, Wuonh, Zanx, Zoih.

Chao[dragon]: Cun, Wuonh, Yongh, Zanx, Yauz, Longh.

Chao[fish]: Wuonh, Fux, Ix,...

Chao[minor]: Fux, Jiem, Zanx, Saeng, Yunh. 

Chao[major]: Fux, Wuonh, Yunh, Jiem.

Tern: Jiem, Zanx, Yauz, Fux

Tern: Guei, Mengh, Yunh, Jiem.

Tern: Jiem, Zanx, Wuonh, Fux

Tern: Guei, Fongh, Fuqv, Daqv

Tern: Fux, Guei, Yunh, Yauz, Zanx, Wuonh

Tern:Jiem, Saeng, Yauz, Wuonh

Chen: Zanx, Wuonh, Fux, Guei, Yunh, Yauz

Yang: Wuonh, Jiem, Yunh, Tong, Zanx.

There are [literal translation] cliff-tops and cliff-bottoms, major, minor, Green, Blue, Red, White, Smoked, Pickled, Fish, etc.

This list is not in its entirety but should give you an idea of how we have evolved from the Original Iu Mien 12 Clans, branched into sub-clans, and formed generational paths.

If you'd like to learn more, I highly recommend you speak with your local elder, an uncle, your grandparents, or a shaman.

Just start the conversation with, "do I have an adult Mien name?" They might scold you for not knowing, but it is their way of acknowledging your curiosity before they proceed to inform you and it is the Old G's way of showing love.

Everyone is wants to share with you about your Mien culture and identity. They want to help you, they want you to know, so be patient and so will they. One step at a time, one day at a time.

Our history, our culture, and legacy... it begins with you :-)

Next up:

Ever wondered how to address your aunt or uncle in proper Mien Names? Check this out.





Still there? Start your journey towards claiming your Mien identity here.

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