Chinese idol names

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[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.

The show has a strong K-pop idol vibe to it (to the extent of BlackPink's Lisa being one of the judges), so I wondered to what extent the mechanisms of stage names are the same as in Korea. There, it is mainly a question of the coolness factor and recognition (such as avoiding homonyms). However, as the popularity spreads around the world, easy international acceptance is an increasingly important factor.

As The9 is being aggressively marketed to an international public, I suspect this has influenced the choice in stage names. (Esther Yu, Shaking, Babymonster An and Snow Kong look to me as typical 'international' names that would be used in K-pop) Anyway, I thought this might amuse you as an example of code mixing. I include a video with their presentation.

Selected readings


  1. Thomas Rees said,

    June 24, 2020 @ 2:46 am

    When I saw the headline, I thought this would be about words like 玉皇 (Yù Huáng, Jade Emperor) or 觀音 (Guānyīn, Avalokiteśvara). Apparently “idol” is one of those words that has been borrowed from English but doesn’t mean what it means in English, like “Handy” (German for “mobile phone”) or “footing” (French for “jogging”).
    I reckon it’s almost inevitable that the wasei-eigo アイドル (aidoru) would be borrowed back with the new, “pop”, meaning; after all, in the twenty-first century we wouldn’t refer to 玉皇 and 觀音 as idols but as deities.

  2. Philip Taylor said,

    June 24, 2020 @ 3:37 am

    I had exactly the same impression as you, Thomas, when I read the headline, but I would beg to differ with your "in the twenty-first century we wouldn’t refer to 玉皇 and 觀音 as idols but as deities". 玉皇 and 觀音 are, I would suggest, deities when we think of them, but when they are represented by statues, mouldings, carvings, etc., then I think that we would still refer to the latter as idols. Would you not agree ?

  3. Thomas Rees said,

    June 26, 2020 @ 12:49 am

    Not quite. "Idol" to me means "image of a false god" (1 Cor. 8:4) “As concerning therefore the eating of thoſe things that are offered in ſacrifice vnto idoles, wee know that an idole is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.”
    I'm a modern anglo-catholic, and the term reminds me of seventeenth-century bands of puritans smashing religious art. Of course that wouldn't happen these days!

  4. Philip Taylor said,

    June 26, 2020 @ 2:36 am

    No, of course it wouldn't ! But more seriously, are not "a deity" and "a god" one and the same thing. Not being an adherent to any particular faith, I would not dream of dismissing them as "false" gods, but deities are gods, are they not ?

  5. Andreas Johansson said,

    June 26, 2020 @ 2:43 am

    Like Thomas, I find "idol" in the sense of religious image old-fashioned. If you use it now I may wonder if you're being deliberately politically incorrect.

  6. Philip Taylor said,

    June 26, 2020 @ 4:28 am

    To be honest, considerations of whether or not I am being politically correct rarely pass through my stream of consciousness. I simply use the same words for things/people/whatever that I have used throughout my life. I have never called anyone a nigger, or a paki, or a chink, or indeed any of the countless intentionally denigratory terms used for people of other ethnicity or religion, so I would not use those words today, but (the other side of the same coin) I have always thought and spoken of "coloured people" (not "black people", and certainly not "people of colour") and that is therefore how I continue to think and speak of them today. When I was a child, to call someone "coloured" was polite (at least in the UK — I have no idea what the received wisdom was in other English-speaking countries); only those seeking to be offensive would call someone "black". Like so many things that one learns as a child, the importance of being polite by saying "coloured" made such a deep and lasting impression on me that that is what I continue to do today, no matter how fashions may have changed. Similarly, "queer" was a term of abuse — how people can today choose to identify as such I simply do not understand.

  7. Thomas Rees said,

    June 26, 2020 @ 4:29 am

    Actually on 21 October 2019 the Austrian right-wing activist Alexander Freiherr von Tschuggül zu Tramin stole five figurines from the Church of Santa Maria in Traspontina near the Vatican and threw them from the Aelian Bridge (Ponte Sant'Angelo) into the Tiber. His accomplice then uploaded the video of the stunt onto YouTube. And yes, they denounced the figures as "idols".

  8. David Marjanović said,

    June 26, 2020 @ 8:19 am

    The missing link is the casting show American Idol.

  9. Thomas Rees said,

    June 26, 2020 @ 12:27 pm

    Which is itself a spin-off of Simon Fuller's 2001 ITV show Pop Idol.

  10. anonymouse said,

    June 26, 2020 @ 7:10 pm

    Re: words. I think being aware of and using the terms that various groups use to refer to themselves is demonstration of respect for those groups. Today, in a workshop about inclusive teaching, I heard a participant use the word "Orientals" in passing to refer to some of her students. Now that word wasn't always considered to be impolite- when I was a child, my mother, who is Chinese born in Taiwan, used that word to refer to herself. But people recognized that word had real problems in its connotations, and we now use different words, even my 70-year-old mother. It was a real shock to hear someone (someone way younger than my mom, too) use that word, and, well, it made me glad that she was attending that workshop.

  11. Shuheng Zhang said,

    June 27, 2020 @ 11:34 am

    The most interesting among these stage names is "Shaking". It is an approximation to the pronunciation of the girl's real name: xiè kěyín 謝可寅. Whoever gave her the stage name had a truly ingenious idea! It reminds me a few years ago when The Big Bang Theory just started to go viral in China, Chinese netizens found out that Sheldon sounded similar to Xiàhóu Dūn 夏侯惇, the name of a Chinese warrior in the Three Kingdom time (220-280CE). Following this, netizens came up with more "correspondences/transcriptions" of Three Kingdoms celebrity names with English names. See this post ("When Sheldon was translated as Xiàhóu Dūn" 当sheldon被翻译成夏侯惇以后):

  12. Joyo said,

    July 1, 2020 @ 9:58 am

    Never would I have expected to see a string of racial slurs in the comments section on a light-hearted post about pop idols. How bewildering and disappointing, Philip Taylor.

  13. Alex Baumans said,

    July 2, 2020 @ 2:41 am

    Well I had thought that 'idol' as a phenomenon in East Asian popular culture was sufficiently well known to need no explicit clarification. According to the Wikipedia article of Japanese idols, there at least it started in the 1980s, and predates UK and US casting shows quite a bit. I was surprised to see religious images pop up in the comments.

    @Shuheng Zhang. I was wondering whether Shaking was a the reverse of spelling non-Chinese names with similar sounding Chinese morphemes. It does make googling her a bit difficult.

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