Won (원/袁) is an uncommon Korean surname which means 'robe' in Sino-Korean Language, similar to Chinese Yuan. This surname is the 37th most common surname in Mainland China and 170th most common surname in Korean Peninsula. There are three different Chinese Characters which have the same meaning with Sino-Korean 'Won' which are 元 (Origin), 袁 (Robe) and 苑 (Garden). The number of Koreans who bear the surname of 袁 are hundred times lesser than those who bear the surname of 元 and five times greater than those who bear the surname of 苑.
According to tradition, the surname originated from a noble family of the ancient state of Chen, in what is now eastern Henan province. The written form of the character took its current standardised form around the 1st century. During the Han Dynasty, it was associated with the powerful Yuan clan of Ru'nan and later during Jin and Southern Dynasties, with the Yuan clan of Chen.
Historically, the name has been fast growing amongst Han Chinese, and has also been taken up by various non-Chinese ethnic groups. The surname is now held by more than 6.5 million people worldwide, and makes up 0.54% of the population of mainland China. Although growth has tapered off in the past six centuries, the Yuan name is still relatively widespread throughout China, as well as among overseas Chinese, with heaviest per capita concentrations in the Yangtze Delta region of central coastal China. Because the Yangtze Delta region has historically exhibited high clan consciousness, there exist a large number of Yuan genealogies, most of which are now held in public institutions. Renewed interest in ancestry outside mainland China has been encouraged by the PRC government.
Traditional sources trace the surname to Yuan Taotu, a 7th-century BC Chen nobleman, who was part of a collateral branch of the family of the marquis ruling that state. He selected the second character in his grandfather's style name, Boyuan (伯爰), to be his own family name. Yuan Taotu was granted a feoff in Yangxia (陽夏), in what is now Taikang county, Henan. This estate is regarded as the ancestral home of the earliest Yuan clan. Through its connection with the ruling family of Chen, the Yuan house could also claim ancestry from the semi-legendary Emperor Shun. Descendants of Yuan house are mentioned by name in the Zuo Zhuan as holding high office in the state of Chen until it was extinguished by Chu in 479 BC.
An alternate, much less widely accepted theory, suggests that the surname Yuan is derived from Xuanyuan (軒轅 or 玄袁), the clan name of the Yellow Emperor. After his death, the Yellow Emperor's estates came to be called Yuanyi (袁邑), and his descendants took their place of birth as a surname.
Prior to the unification of China in 221 BC, the surname is only known to have been present in the historical domain of Chen. Some members of the Yuan clan are known to have moved to Zheng and other neighbouring states. The process of emigration from the Yangxia heartland continued after unification. An example of this is the case of Yuan Ang, a minister to Emperor Gao of Han. His family was forced by banditry to move to Anling, in the area of modern Xi'an, some 500 km west of their ancestral homeland.
The surname Yuan could be written in at least five different ways in early Han times, and they were used interchangeably in pre-Han times. By the 1st century, the name had taken a largely standardised form (袁), which remains to the present day. An early dictionary, the Shuowen, defines this character as "a long garment", but this archaic meaning had already fallen into disuse. The Han text Qian fu lun (潛夫論: "Comments of a Recluse") suggests that the character was derived from either 1) the character ai (哀), meaning "sorrow, grief"; or 2) a combination of the characters gong (公: "lord") and gu (谷: "grain").
During the 2nd century, the Yuan surname was taken by one of the three tribal groupings of the Bandun Man, who inhabited what is now Chongqing and Sichuan. This group later migrated north to the Wei River valley, and gradually were absorbed by Han Chinese. After Emperor Xiaowen of the nomadic Xianbei moved his capital to Luoyang in 494, his clan of Tuoba changed their surname to Yuan (元) to assimilate with the Chinese population. In later centuries, this surname declined and was sometimes subsumed by the more common form of Yuan (袁).
The character of "yuan" (袁) has also been associated with the Gaoju people of Central Asia, who claimed descent from the Xuanyuan clan of the Huang Di. One of their nine clans was called Yuanhe (袁紇) or Yuanwei (袁韋), and one of their twelve major surnames was Qiyuan (乞袁). In 605, the Yuanhe defeated the Göktürks and won leadership over a tribal confederation which came to be called the Huihe (回紇). There have been suggestions that the name of Genghis Khan's tribe, Kiyad (called "Qiyan" 乞顏 or "Qiyin" 乞引 in Chinese), was a corruption of "Qiyuan". Those among the Mongols who retained the Qiyuan surname may have simplified it to "Yuan" after settling in China.
During the early 17th century, during the Qing (Manchu) dynasty, the surname is also known to have been adopted by members of the Eight Banners, including by a number of Manchu bannermen in Shenyang. Today, the surname appears among the Manchu, Mongols, Yao, Yi, Bai, Koreans and Tibetans. There are major Yuan clans among the Yao in Long'an county, Guangxi and in Funing, Yunnan.
The Yuan surname is a relatively minor one in Korea, where it is called Won (원). According to a 2000 census, there were 1,104 individuals in 343 families bearing the name in South Korea. They trace their ancestry to Won Noebo (袁賚輔/원뇌보) of Bian Prefecture (安比縣), the old administrative center of Bian-myeon Commune, Uiseong County, Northern Gyeongsang Province, ROK. This clan is known as Bian Won Clan (비안원씨/比安袁氏) or Bi-ok Won Clan (비옥원씨/比屋袁氏). During the 20th century, the Bian Won Clan were centered in the north-central area of South Korea, in the provinces of Gyeongbuk and Gangwon.