The surname Lin or Lim is a combination of two identical characters meaning wood or tree. The two trees planted side by side denote a forest.
As for the origin of this well established surname, a popular story is often told. It was harvest time and all the people in the village were out in the fields gathering the ripe grain. One of the women was in the advanced stage of pregnancy. As she worked alongside the others, the labour pains started to come at rapid intervals.
There was not enough time for her to return to her village. So she was helped to the edge of the woods and there, in the shade of two trees standing side by side, a baby boy was born.
When the time came to name the baby, what could be more appropriate than "Lin" a reference to the two trees which sheltered him and his mother when they most needed it. The baby grew up and succeeded in life. So great was his fame that his children and their children after them adopted his given name as their surname in order to perpetuate his memory.
Ancient records however maintain that the ancestor of the Lin clan was the loyal minister Bi Gan who was cruelly murdered by the tyrannical King Zhou. His son fled to the forests
(as I heard it, Bi Gan admonishedthe cruel King Zhou for some tyrannical murder: "Have a good heart" he plaeded with the King. Enraged, the King retorted, "Good heart? Carve open his chest,so we can see what his heart looks like!!" So the noble Bi Gan perished: and the order was given to wipe out his whole family: it was his pregnant mother who fled, and delivered in the eponymous forest [LSM]) and later on King Wu of Zhou gave him the Lin surname, and provided him a place in the present day Hebei province. Thereafter, during the Spring and Autumn period, his descendents wandered to the northern parts of the country, to the provinces of Shandong and Henan, settling finally in Jinan district of Shandong province.
Of the famous Lins in history, eight or nine out of ten are Hockiens. In fact, many of the prominent figures from the Lin clan came fromFujien province. Lin Chunpu was a great Qing dynasty scholar who wrote the famous Gu Shi Ji Nian.
Lin Xu, a high ranking Qing official, advocated constitutional reforms and modernization during the reign of Emperor Guangxu. He was killed when the conservatives regrouped under the Empress Dowager and reduced the emperor to a mere figurehead.
There was also the famous Lin Zhexu who, with the help of Lin Changyi waged a bitter war against the British during the first Opium war.
The reknown translator, Lin Shu, made a name for himself, with his translation of many foreign literary works like Camille into Chinese, based entirely on oral narratives.
From Your Chinese Roots: the Overseas Chinese Story: Thomas Tsu-wee Tan.
Times: ISBN 981-204-481-7