Archive for Names

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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Jipangu = Japan Country?

This was supposedly Marco Polo's word for Japan.  It has recently come back in vogue for films, games, etc.  It would seem that "Jipangu" (also spelled "Zipangu") is cognate with Jap. Nihonkoku / Nipponkoku, Ch. Rìběnguó 日本國, Kor. Ilbon-guk, Viet. Nhật Bản Quốc , but in none of the Chinese topolects I'm aware of does it sound quite like that.  Certainly it would not work for the southern or other topolects that have an entering tone final -k (or some -t) for the last of the three syllables.  Ditto for Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese.

Even the Sinitic topolects without an entering tone final don't have the right vowel shape / quality at the end to match the -u of Jipangu.

Maybe Marco Polo got it from Persian, the lingua franca of international diplomacy in his time.  Could it be that the phonotactics of Persian could not tolerate / represent any of the Sinitic topolectal forms of 國 directly but transformed one of them into something that sounded to Marco Polo like -gu?

Did Marco Polo get "Jipangu" from the Mongols?  If so, from whom did the Mongols get it?

Wiktionary entry for 日本國.

Wiktionary entry for .

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"Little competent donkey"

Announced only yesterday, Alibaba has a new robot delivery vehicle for the last mile:

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Easy Grammar from the Free Hong Kong Center

Not sure what they mean by "grammar" here, but they sure do have a message:

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Idle thoughts on "gelding"

The title and the following observations come from Rebecca Hamilton:

I was reading Patrick Leigh Fermor's Between the Woods and the Water: on Foot to Constantinople, as I convalesce from COVID-19 (I've had a hard time of it), and I stumbled upon an aside he made about the French "hongre," meaning "gelding," as does the German "wallach." He made this comment – without further explication – in the context of a discussion of the ethnographic roots of Hungarians, Wallachians, and Rumanians (in particular, the latter as being descendants of Roman occupation, if not Romans themselves). What all this means, I cannot say. It seemed like a topic you would know something about. Because I am confined to bed for the moment, if you could be so kind as to forward me some reading material, I would be very grateful. Also, anything about "Wales" or "Welsh" sharing etymological roots with "Wallach," and how "wether" fits into all this would be great.

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Chinese idol names

[This is a guest post by Alex Baumans]

I recently became aware of the Chinese idol survival programme 'Youth with you', which has resulted in the formation of the group The 9. I got to wondering about the members' names. The group consists of XIN Liu, Esther Yu, Kiki Xu, Yan Yu, Shaking, Babymonster An, Xiaotang Zhao, Snow Kong and K Lu. Of these, only Zhao Xiaotang strikes me as an original Chinese name. As my Mandarin is non existent, I can only guess at the derivation of the other stage names.

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