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Surnames have the potential to accurately identify ancestral origins as they are passed on from generation to generation. In this study, we developed and validated a Chinese surname list to define Chinese ethnicity.We conducted a literature review, a panel review, and a telephone survey in a randomly selected sample from a Canadian city in 2003 to develop a Chinese surname list. The list was then validated to data from the Canadian Community Health Survey. Both surveys collected information on self-reported ethnicity and surname.Of the 112,452 people analyzed in the Canadian Community Health Survey, 1.6% were self-reported as Chinese. This was similar to the 1.5% identified by the surname list. Compared with self-reported Chinese ethnicity (reference standard), the surname list had 77.7% sensitivity, 80.5% positive predictive value, 99.7% specificity, and 99.6% negative predictive value. When stratifying by sex and marital status, the positive predictive value was 78.9% for married women and 83.6% for never married women.The Chinese surname list appears to be valid in identifying Chinese ethnicity. The validity may depend on the geographic origins and Chinese dialects in given populations.