Chinese surname 余 (Yi in both Hokkien and Mandarin) ranks 29th among Chinese in the Philippines and 40th in China. Most Tsinoys with surname Yi in the Philippines are Cantonese. The Cantonese pronunciation of 余 is also Yi, and spelled Yee, Yi, or Yu.
The origin of surname Yu originated from a famous government official of Qin (秦) State with a surname You Yu (由余).
A son of the nobility of Jin (晉) State, You Yu lived during the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 B.C.) His talent was not recognized by the Jin court. So he wandered off to Xi Rong (西戎) or western Rong, a state adjacent to Qin State.
Subsequently, You Yu was ordered to visit Qin State as an envoy to assess the actual situation there. After conversation with You Yu, the King Qin Mu Gong (秦穆公) appreciated his talent.
He said, “I overheard that whenever the enemy state produced a sage, its enemy will have trouble. And now since You Yu is employed by Xi Rong, will Xi Rong bring trouble to Qin?”
Thus, Qin Mu Gong gifted the Xi Rong king many female dancers and singers, encouraging him to indulge in wine and fun all day.
The Xi Rong king dismissed all sincere remonstrations from You Yu and even refused to hear from him.
On the other hand, Qin Mu Gong kept inviting You Yu to move to Qin. Eventually, You Yu went over and was made deputy minister.
With the trust and courteous reception accorded by Qin Mu Gong and the important position given to him, You Yu fully employed his wisdom and talent.
In 623 B.C., You Yu proposed to Qin Mu Gong to make expeditions against a dozen states in Xi Rong, “to expand thousands of miles of territory” for Qin and make Qin strong.
Qin Mu Gong became a powerful chief of western China during the late Spring and Autumn period. This laid the foundation for Emperor Qin Shi Wang (秦始王) to unify the whole of China in 221 B.C.
Owing to his great contribution to Qin State by “expanding territory and benefiting the state,” the surname of the heirs of You Yu used You (由) as surname while others used Yu (余). Those with surnames You and Yu are actually descended from the same ancestor – You Yu.
First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 25, no. 3 (July 10-23, 2012): 5.