Archive for Names

Troublesome Chinese surname

This is a story about the frustration of a mom in China over the fact that the character for her child's surname, cuàn 爨, has 30 strokes (some sources say 29).

Aside from its use as a surname, this monstrosity of a glyph can also mean "to cook" and "oven; cooker; cookstove".  Although cuàn 爨 certainly should have been a candidate for simplification, so far as I know, no simplified character for it exists, at least none that is official.

There are a dozen or so alternate forms, e.g., 熶, but most of them are very obscure and cannot be found in electronic fonts.  See here for a few.

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Conehead cabbage

A new kind of cabbage for me:

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Atomic Enema

Medical apparatus and preparation from Taiwan:


Source:  "Atomic Enema Gwoyeu Romatzyh", Pinyin News (8/17/22)

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Archaic Greek in a modern world

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Sino-Semitica: of cinnamon, cassia, and katsura and Old Sinitic reconstructions, part 2

If you stroll through the grounds of the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, you may come upon this phenomenal tree:

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Ya Zuo, a Russian-Chinese name

I'm at a big conference on Tang (618-907)-Song (960-1279) transitions that is being held at Princeton University.  One of the participants was sporting a badge that announced her name as Ya Zuo.  I told her that her name sounded unusual and wondered what kind of name it was.  She happily volunteered, "It's Russian!"

I was perplexed, because she didn't look Russian (although appearances can be misleading:  I've met Russians who look ethnically Korean, Chinese, Manchurian, etc., and the maternal great-grandfather of the preeminent Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin [1799-1837], was Major-General Abram Petrovich Gannibal, a nobleman of Sub-Saharan African origin).  But we are at a conference where everyone is a China specialist, and I had heard Ya Zuo speaking some Mandarin. so I wracked my brain to figure out what characters were used to write her name, and was frustrated when I tried to figure out how it could be Russian.

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Further mystification of the Japanese writing system

"Baby Pikachu? Japan panel weighs accepting unconventional readings of kanji for names"

KYODO, STAFF REPORT
The Japan Times (May 19, 2022)

What’s in a name? In Japanese, that’s complicated.  [VHM:  You can say that again!  One of the hardest tasks in my graduate training as a Sinologist was learning how to pronounce Japanese proper nouns correctly.  This is one of the reasons I wrote the dictionary described in this post.]

An advisory body to the justice minister has compiled a draft proposal on whether and how to accept — and record on the family register — unconventional kanji readings of names for newborns and naturalized citizens. In one cited example of so-called kirakira (sparkly) names, it would be acceptable for the kanji characters 光宙 read as pikachū, which could be a hit for fans of the Pokemon universe.

The proposal is part of the ministry’s push for digitalization of the family register, an effort that would be better facilitated by adding hiragana and katakana readings to kanji names.

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A quaint and curious English village name

In studying the history of the Chinese Imperial examination system, I came upon an individual named Stafford Northcote (1818-1887), 1st Earl of Iddesleigh, who was instrumental in devising the British civil service.  Naturally, I tried to pronounce the name of the village he was from, but couldn't quite wrap my head and tongue around it.  So I decided I'd better do a bit of research on the history of Iddesleigh to see what topolectal gems lay hidden in that perplexing concatenation of six consonants and four vowels.

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Japanese orthography of Ukrainian city names

[This is a guest post by Nathan Hopson]

Like many around the world, I have been deeply saddened by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. I have been watching news from around the world, including Japan. In addition to the actual war itself, and to the sometimes inane (studio talking-head) coverage of the war as some kind of horse race, I have been disturbed by the Japanese media’s failure to update the orthography of Ukrainian cities such as the capital, Kyiv.

Not a single domestic news outlet I am aware of―including the public broadcaster, NHK―has dropped the Soviet-era Russian name “Kiev” (キエフ) to replace it with Kyiv. CNN’s Japanese site, for instance, has similarly failed to revise its choice of katakana.

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How to pronounce the surname "Mair" and other Doggie talk

People pronounce my surname all sorts of different ways — Myer, Mare, Meer, Mire, as in Golda Meir, etc., etc., with the number of syllables (one or two), accent, and vowel quality varying almost limitlessly  — but I've never once in my life "corrected" anyone, because I think they're all legitimate.  Think of the different ways to pronounce Sun Yat-sen's and Chiang Kai-shek's names, and how to pronounce 陈 (Chen, Chin, Chan, Tan).

After all, people in the same family may pronounce their own surname differently, e.g., Boucher ("Butcher, Boochez"), Naquin ("Na-can, Næ-kwin"), and the famous Penn Sinologist Derk Bodde (1909-2003) introduced himself as "Derek Bod", whereas most other people called him "Durk Bod-de").

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"Tigger Chen" and "Instant Noodle Sister"

In "Fly High, Frog Princess! Well Done, Chen No. 3!  The world’s most popular Olympians are household names. But to Chinese fans who delight in creating nicknames, they’re different characters entirely", Andrew Keh and John Liu (NYT, 2/15/22) highlight some of the affectionate monikers that have been applied to athletes at the Beijing Winter Olympics.  Here I extract several of the favorites:

Chén Sān 陈三 ("Chen No. 3") = Nathan Chen (figure skater), three-time World champion, three-time Grand Prix Final champion.

[This nickname] requires some understanding of international figure skating history. In the eyes of Chinese skating fans, he is the third prominent skater from North America with the Chinese surname Chen, which, in English, can also be spelled Chin, Chan or Tan, depending on the original dialect. Before him came Tiffany Chin, who was the U.S. national champion in 1985, and Patrick Chan, the 2018 Olympic gold medalist from Canada.

Chen's Chinese name is Chén Wēi 陈巍; some fans call him “Tigger” (Tiàotiào hǔ 跳跳虎), using the Chinese translation for the Winnie the Pooh character.

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“Who Dey?”

You'll be hearing a lot of that Cincinnati Bengals chant today.

What does it mean?  How did it originate?

To understand the meaning, you have to put it in the context of the whole chant:

"Who dey, who dey, who dey think gonna beat dem Bengals?" Fans then roar: "Nobody!"

So it's a rhetorical question.

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Betelgeuse in Greek, Latin, Arabic, English, and Chinese

AntC led me down a deep, dark rabbit hole by asking:  "Hi Professor Mair, is the Contributing Writer confused, or is it the interwebs?"

He was prompted to ask that question by having read the following statement in this article, "Orion’s love affair, Shen Xiu’s long-distance friendship on Taiwan’s winter sky", Taiwan News, by P.K. Chen, Contributing Writer (2/8/22):

The Greek constellation Orion is called “Shen Xiu” (參宿, “The Three Stars”) in China; “Shen” or “three” refers to the three stars on Orion’s belt, while “Xiu” or “place for rest” refers to where the moon remains fixed and “rests.”

Trying to figure out the relationships among the names of the constellation and its constituent stars in Greco-Latin and Sinitic nomenclature ate up an entire evening.  To start with, there are many possibilities for how to pronounce 參宿, the Chinese equivalent to Orion (constellation name): sānsù (Google Traslate), cānsù (zdic), shēnxiù (Wiktionary).  So we've got a lot of variation involving both characters of the term.  But that's just the beginning of our attempts to grapple with the language and lore concerning Sinoxenic words for Orion. 

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