Chinese nicknames for NBA players

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Quite an amazing thread:

[To access the complete thread, click at the top of the tweet near the author's name.]

Especially for a historian of modern Japan, for that's what Nick Kapur, the author of this lengthy tweet, does for a profession.

Nearly all of these monikers are extremely clever, but here are my favorites:

Lebron James — Xiǎo Huángdì 小皇帝 ("The Little Emperor") when he was younger, but now more often Zhān Huáng 詹皇 ("King James"), because he was born and grew up in Akron, Ohio, which is about 25 miles north of my own hometown of East Canton (Osnaburg Township). Although recruited by the NBA already when he was in high school, to please his Mom Lebron deferred in order to graduate and then was the first overall pick of the 2003 NBA draft right out of high school. King James is My Man.

Giannis Antetokounmpo — Zìmǔ Gē 字母哥 ("Letters Bro"), because his name has lots of letters and I dig alphabets.

Kobe Bryant — Wō Ké 蜗壳 ("Snail Shell"), which rhymes with wǒ Kē[bǐ] 我科[比] ("my Ko[be]"). Like Lebron, Kobe was drafted right after graduation from a suburban Philadelphia high school as the 13th overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft.  Kobe is not My Man (you can only have one of them), but I'm especially fond of his Chinese name because I have a pet snail named Arnold.

All right, that's enough from me.  Perhaps Language Log readers will have some favorites of their own.

I wonder if Emperor Xi is aware that all of this levity is going on behind his back, especially when he is ardently celebrating the 200th birthday of Karl Marx and proclaiming the necessity for young people to be serious, upright, and loyal to the Party.

[h.t. Ben Zimmer]


  1. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 8, 2018 @ 8:30 am

    Since Kobe Bryant is named indirectly after the city of Kobe, does the boring official name for him use "Kobe" in kanji, which Wikipedia tells me is 神戸?

    If "James" turns into Zhān, what does "John" turn into?

    And do Cantonese-speaking fans of LeBron James know Akron is so close to Canton?

  2. Ben Zimmer said,

    May 8, 2018 @ 10:20 am

    My favorite would have to be Steph Curry.

  3. Michael Watts said,

    May 8, 2018 @ 4:11 pm

    the second character [里] is a combination of the characters 日 ("sun") and 土 ("ground")

    How accurate is this in terms of the normal understanding of the characters? I wouldn't have considered 里 to be 日 above 土 for the obvious reason that the vertical stroke goes right through the top half, making it more obviously 田 ("field") above 土. But I also wouldn't consider it to be 田 above 土 for the less obvious reason that 里 contains just the one vertical stroke, whereas 田 over 土 would have two independent vertical strokes. (Compare 美, which might look like it has a single vertical-then-swipe-left stroke, but which is actually 兰-with-a-vertical-stroke over 大.)

    And I see that 里 is apparently its own Kangxi radical, 166, rather than being categorized under 日 (radical 72) or 土 (radical 32).

  4. Nick Kapur said,

    May 9, 2018 @ 11:35 am

    You have to use a bit of imagination and view the character 里 from the perspective of a sexual act in which the ground 土 is extending up to penetrate the sun 日.

    Although 里 is its own radical, I do think that the common understanding of this character is that it is composed of 田 and 土. However, in this context of creatively reinterpreting the character in a ribald fashion, people are quite capable of seeing it in a slightly different way. When some Chinese people protested that 里 is really made up of 田 and 土, others immediately came forward to offer the "ground extending to penetrate" argument. In other words, I did not just make this up on my own.

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