Archive for Names

The missing variant

"WHO — You cannot be Xi-rious! The WHO’s decision to skip the Greek letter Xi in its ludicrous naming system shows exactly who controls it", by David Spencer, Taiwan News, Contributing Writer, 2021/11/28:


(source)

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Backhill, Pekin, Peking, Beijing

Yesterday, while doing research for a paper on medieval Dunhuang popular narratives (biànwén 變文 ["transformation texts"]), I did a Google search for the Peking Library, where some of the bianwen manuscripts are kept.  Instead of the national library of China in Peking / Beijing in the PRC, I was led to the Pekin Public Library in Illinois.  That prompted me to ponder the fact that this Illinois city followed the French pronunciation, Pékin, of the Chinese capital when it took its name, rather than the English Peking.

Following the official Hanyu Pinyin Romanization of the PRC, English now transcribes 北京 ("Northern Capital") as Beijing (Běijīng [pèi.tɕíŋ]).  But until recently this was not always the case for English, much less for dozens of other languages around the world.  Thirty-one years ago, in "Backhill / Peking / Beijing" (see "Selected readings" below), Bosat Man wrote (p. 6):

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China's Japan

According to this website of stars with the surname Chu 楚, Sara Chu was born in Japan, China:

Chǔ Jǐn (Sara Chu), shēngrì:  1974 nián 10 yuè 29 rì (xīngqí'èr), chūshēng dì: Zhōngguó Rìběn, xīngzuò: Tiānxiēzuò

楚谨(Sara Chu),生日:1974年10月29日(星期二),出生地: 中国日本,星座:天蝎座

Chu Jin (Sara Chu), birthday: October 29, 1974 (Tuesday), place of birth:  Japan, China, constellation: Scorpio

I've never heard of Sara Chu, and I've never heard of a place in China called "Japan", but it's possible that I missed both of them.

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The African origins of the name of a black samurai

[The first part of this post, giving the historical background of the central figure, is by S. Robert Ramsey.]


Two joined panels of a Japanese folding screen painted in 1605

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The many sights and sounds of "Buchanan"

When I checked into a hotel on the east side of Pittsburgh yesterday afternoon, the manager told me he was from "Buckanen", West Virginia.  I just assumed that he was using some local variant of "Buchanan", and it sounded very unusual to me, since the only pronunciation of "Buchanan" I've ever heard is /bjuːˈkænən/.  When I started poking around and looking into the matter, however, it turns out to be not  at all that simple.

Unsurprisingly, the first person surnamed Buchanan I came across on the www was James Buchanan, Jr. (April 23, 1791 – June 1, 1868) , who served as the 15th president of the United States, from 1857 to 1861.  According to Wikipedia, his surname is pronounced /bʌˈkænən/ buh-CAN-nən.

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Pork floss Beckham

That's the name of a delectable Chinese nosh made famous by this pastry shop.  The name of the snack in Chinese is "ròusōng xiǎobèi 肉鬆小貝" ("pork floss little cowry / cowrie"), after its shape and the main ingredient of the covering in which it is encased.

If you look up the English name in this encyclopedia entry, it gives "Pork floss Beckham".  What?  How did that happen?

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Taiwan's gold medalist with an unusual name

Taiwanese weightlifter Kuo Hsing-chun (Guō Xìng-chún 郭婞淳) won a gold medal the other day in Tokyo:

"OLYMPICS/Kuo thrilled at winning Olympic gold, but could be hungry for more", Focus Taiwan (7/28/21)

Mark Swofford observes:

One odd thing about the weightlifter's name is the middle character: 婞. Wenlin gives that as an obscure character for a morpheme for "hate". That, at least for me, is an unexpected meaning, because the parts of the character are clearly, of course, 女 and 幸 — which are used for morphemes for "woman" and "good fortune".

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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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