Archive for Names

Xiongnu (Hunnic) Shanyu

One of the most hotly debated questions in early Chinese studies is the origin and pronunciation of the title of the ruler of the Xiongnu (Huns), which is written with these two Sinographs, 單于.  The current scholarly consensus is that the Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) pronunciation should be chányú.  Although it is much contested, the current scholarly consensus for the pronunciation of the name of the son of the first Xiongnu ruler, Tóumàn, is Mòdú (r. 209-174 BC): 

Modun, Maodun, Modu (simplified Chinese: 冒顿单于; traditional Chinese: 冒頓單于; pinyin: Mòdùn Chányú ~ Màodùn Chányú, c. 234 – c. 174 BCE), also known as Mete khan across a number of Turkic languages, was the son of Touman and the founder of the empire of the Xiongnu. He came to power by ordering his men to kill his father in 209 BCE.

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The following is a guest post by Penglin Wang, which takes a different approach, and for the first time offers a novel source for the Hunnic title.  The state he refers to is Shanshan, better known as Loulan, which would make its language Indo-European (Tocharian or Gandhari Prakrit), for which see here.

For caṃkura as a Gandhari Prakrit title, see A Dictionary of Gāndhārī here.

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Ashkenazi and Scythians

It is not my intention to stir up a firestorm, but I have for decades suspected that the names "Ashkenazi" and "Scythian" are related.  Now, after having sat on this for years and letting it gnaw away at my inwyt for far too long, I've decided to seek the collected expertise of the Language Log readership to see if there really is something to my suspicion.

Ashkenazi Jews (/ˌæʃ-, ɑːʃkəˈnɑːzi/ ASH-, AHSH-kə-NAH-zee), also known as Ashkenazic Jews or, by using the Hebrew plural suffix -im, Ashkenazim[a] are a Jewish diaspora population who coalesced in the Holy Roman Empire around the end of the first millennium.

The traditional diaspora language of Ashkenazi Jews is Yiddish (a Germanic language with elements of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Slavic languages), developed after they had moved into northern Europe: beginning with Germany and France in the Middle Ages. For centuries they used Hebrew only as a sacred language, until the revival of Hebrew as a common language in 20th century's Israel. Throughout their time in Europe, Ashkenazim have made many important contributions to its philosophy, scholarship, literature, art, music and science.

The term "Ashkenazi" refers to Jewish settlers who established communities along the Rhine river in Western Germany and in Northern France dating to the Middle Ages. Once there, they adapted traditions carried from Babylon, the Holy Land, and the Western Mediterranean to their new environment.  The Ashkenazi religious rite developed in cities such as Mainz, Worms, and Troyes. The eminent French Rishon Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki (Rashi) would have a significant influence on the Jewish religion.

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Dragon Man / Homo longi

Carl Zimmer, brother of our own Ben Zimmer, has an article in the New York Times (6/25/21) about an important archeological find in China:

"Discovery of ‘Dragon Man’ Skull in China May Add Species to Human Family Tree"

It's about this fellow, who has been dubbed "Dragon Man", and thereby hangs a tale:


Artist's impression of what Dragon Man may have looked like.
Source: "'Dragon Man’ Skull Discovery in China Tells Story of Unknown Human Ancestor", by Robert Lee Hotz, Wall Street Journal (6/25/21)

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"Baton" and "needle" in space

Martin Delson asked about a couple of Chinese expressions that appeared in this article from the San Jose Mercury News (6/17/21):

"China launches crew to its new space station", by Carlos Garcia and Shubing Wang

Complete, and more easily accessible version from Reuters (6/17/21):

"Chinese astronauts board space station module in historic mission", by Carlos Garcia

The three astronauts are Nie Haisheng, 56, Liu Boming, 54, and Tang Hongbo, 45.

"This will be the first crewed flight in the space station (construction) phase, and I'm lucky to be able to have the 'first baton,'" Nie told reporters in Jiuquan a day before the launch.

Wang Yaping, a member of the Shenzhou-12 backup team, told state media.

"In our crew, elder brother Nie is like the needle that stills the sea…".

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Must be something in the water

As part of my run through the Western Regions (Xīyù 西域) of Pennsylvania, I wrote to Ed Shaughnessy asking him which town he was from, since I knew he came from somewhere around Pittsburgh, and it might be nice to be aware of where he grew up if I happened to run through that town.  Ed wrote back that he came from Sewickley, which lies 12 miles to the northwest of Pittsburgh along the Ohio River. 

Ed himself is a distinguished Sinologist, so it is remarkable that a little river town with less than four thousand population would also be home to other well-known China specialists, including J. Stapleton Roy (former US ambassador to China [1991-1995]) and his brother David Tod Roy (former professor of Chinese literature at the University of Chicago, where he was Ed's colleague [b. 1933-d. 2016]), Catherine Swatek (professor emerita of Chinese literature at the University of British Columbia), and Jon von Kowallis (professor of Chinese Studies at the University of New South Wales in Australia).

As Ed says, "There must have been something in the water (for your Language Log people, Sewickley is said to mean Sweet Water in one or another Indian language; I presume they were the ones who inhabited Mingo)".

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Full pastry shop

The name of my favorite pastry shop in Philadelphia's Chinatown is Bǎobǐng diàn 飽餅店 (English name "Mayflower Bakery & Cafe").  They serve all sorts of Chinese pastries, cakes, buns, turnovers, etc. Their egg tarts (dàntà 蛋撻) are divine, and you can get everything at scandalously reduced prices late in the afternoon.

Nearly all of the Chinese friends who go to Bǎobǐng diàn 飽餅店 with me think the name is strange and believe that, if anything, it should be Bāobǐng diàn 包餅店, but even that seems rather odd to them.

Diàn 店 means "shop", so we won't worry about that.  Bāobǐng 包餅 would mean "bun and (flat)cake / pie / cookie / pastry", which my friends can make sense of, but they are not familiar with that wording.  On the other hand, bǎobǐng 飽餅 would mean "full (flat)cake / pie / cookie / pastry", which they have a hard time making sense of, though most of them just say, "Well, they must mean they are a shop whose (flat)cakes / pies / cookies / and pastries will / can make you full".

Oy, the joys of naming in Chinese!

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New trends in Chinese naming practices

A few days ago, a new M.A. student from the PRC named Lisite Deng wrote to me asking about a course of mine that he wanted to audit and another one that he wanted to take in the fall.  Upon seeing his name, I did a double take and stopped breathing for a few moments, because trisyllabic Chinese given names are extremely rare.  Chinese given names are mostly disyllabic, though a considerable number are also monosyllabic.  As most people know, Chinese surnames are mainly monosyllabic, though a few are disyllabic. 

Seeing the name "Lisite Deng" was perplexing, to say the least, so I asked him how he got it, and whether the government and all of its bureaus could tolerate such an irregularity.  The student gladly told me the story of his unusual personal name.  Here is how it goes: 

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The Garden of Morning Calm

[This is a guest post by S. Robert Ramsey]

You’ve probably heard Korea referred to as the “Land of the Morning Calm.” That’s a nickname for Korea that’s been used in the West at least since the 19th century.

And perhaps because Koreans agree that “Morning Calm” sounds mystical and romantic, it’s been picked up lately—often for commercial purposes—in South Korea, too. Korean Airlines, for example, has frequent flier perks for members of its “Morning Calm Club.” In 1996, an arboretum east of Seoul was given the name, “Garden of Morning Calm.”

But the nickname is a chimera, the result of a mistake—and probably one made by some starry-eyed Westerner infatuated by the mysterious Orient. ‘Morning Calm’ is a mistranslation of an ancient name for Korea, a name known only from ancient Chinese records.

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Kunlun: the origins and meanings of a mysterious place name

A recent post introduced the evocative place name, Kunlun:

"Kunlun: Roman letter phonophores for Chinese characters" (2/16/21)

As we learned from the previous post, Kunlun is known from historical and fictional sources dating to the last two millennia and more to refer to mythological and geographically locatable mountains in Central Asia and in the far west as well as to vague places in Southeast Asia and blacks associated with them.

Simply because of the wide range of referents, one cannot help but be intrigued how it transpired that the same unusual name, which mostly refers to mountains, can be so broadly dispersed.

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Napa cabbage

It's one of my favorite vegetables.  Delicious prepared in so many different ways (in soups, stir fried, I even use it for salads).  And it almost never goes bad — I can keep it in my frig for a month or more.  Plus, it looks nice — aesthetically pleasing, with its exquisite shades of light green blending into white and crêpe-like crisp and crimped, delicate texture of the upper portions of the soft, frilly leaves next to glistening, gleaming, smoothly rounded surfaces of the basal rosette.

Quick question:  what's the first thing you think of when you hear the name "Napa cabbage"?  Write it down now before clicking to the second page of this post.

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Old Japanese mochi shop name

The wording on the noren of the mochi shop featured in this article caught my eye:

"This Japanese Shop Is 1,020 Years Old", By Ben Dooley and Hisako Ueno, NYT (12/2/20):

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Biden naming arcana

It has become a meme in China to make fun of people speaking with a Henan accent.  Here are two videos of women dancing and singing Christian songs in Yùjù 豫剧 ("Henan opera") that are circulating on the Chinese internet to the accompaniment of much merriment:  first (for Easter, eulogizing the scene of the Resurrection of Jesus; folkish), second (in praise of Jesus, with an industrial, commercial, official flavor).

Comment by a Chinese friend on the first song-and-dance:

Just think of saints who resurrect from tombs riding in sedan chairs carried by angels and flying to heaven in throngs! It makes me laugh so hard. The girl in red with a piece of cloth over her head is obviously a bride. So it becomes a scene of wedding in progressing to heaven. What a combination of local customs with religion!

Further remark by the same friend:

As for the second piece, it will work perfectly well if "Zhǔ 主“ ("Lord") is replaced by "Dǎng 党“ ("Party").

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Lake name

One of my favorite places to run to from Swarthmore is a beautiful little lake about three miles away.  I've been running down there for a couple of years now after I discovered its existence when I mentioned to some folks who live in Ridley Park, where the lake is located, that I'm always looking for nice places to run, and they suggested, with some pride, that I should come down and check out their little gem of a lake.  So I tried it out and have become stuck on it.  I have to run down there at least once every week or two, otherwise I feel that something is missing in my life.

So I've been blissfully running to that pretty little lake for a couple of years, but never thought whether it had a particular name.  Yesterday, for some unknown reason (perhaps because the weather was so glorious — 70º, clear blue skies, still some autumn foliage), the thought entered my mind that I should ask some people walking around there, sitting on benches, fishing, and standing on the cute bridge at one end where there is a creek that feeds the lake, what they call that lovely, little body of water.

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