Taiwan's gold medalist with an unusual name

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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".

Here's a bit from the article on how she came by her name, which was meant to sound like "xìngcún" (倖存/幸存). Then I suppose they changed the 人 to a 女 because she was a girl.

Kuo was born in the eastern county of Yilan in 1993. It was a difficult birth; the umbilical cord had wrapped around her neck, and her mother struggled in labor for over 10 hours. Kuo's given name, Hsing-chun, was chosen due to its close pronunciation to the Chinese term hsing tsun (倖存), which means to have survived by luck or accident.

ZDIC has 婞 with the meaning "hate" too, and Wiktionary has it with the meanings "stubborn, obstinate", so you have to be careful when you start making up what you think are your own characters.  They might just already exist, with a meaning that you really didn't want!

P.S.:  婞 is not among the 9,933 most frequent characters.


Selected readings


  1. Ash said,

    July 29, 2021 @ 11:43 am

    The 幸 xìng is clearly giving a sound in 婞 xìng. Given the meanings supplied by the sources below, it's doubtful that 幸 is giving any kind
    of meaning (except in the case of the 通假 meanings, in which case, 女 isn't giving a meaning).
    《說文》:「婞,很也」;《段注》:「很者,不聽從也」;《說文解字今釋》 says the 說文's definition means 剛直.
    《王力古漢語字典》 gives 剛愎自用,不聽話。(based on the 《說文》) ,引申為剛直。
    《故訓匯纂》 gives several meanings: 很也 from 《楚辭》;狠也 from 《後漢書》;很也,直也 from 《孟子》
    The 很也 and 狠也 likely mean the same thing (i.e., refer to the same spoken word).
    Any use of it meaning 幸 is highly likely to be 通假. 《漢語大字典》 says that it can mean 幸 (based upon the 《集韻》), so I supposed it's a
    通假 meaning that became permanent, i.e., a 假借 meaning.
    The 《集韻》 says that 婞 can mean the same thing as 倖, so the name choice has historical precedent.
    Seems like Unihan is treating 很也 as being 恨.

    So, for 婞 meaning 很也, it's 从女幸聲
    and for the 假借 meaning 幸 it's 从女虛从幸,幸亦聲。

  2. Denis Christopher Mair said,

    July 29, 2021 @ 11:45 am

    It's a wonderful homonym that preserves a family memory in seedlike form. As for the negative meanings of 婞, that hardly matters, because users are free to apply rare sinographs in new contexts. Even the word 幸 has male chauvinist implications, if you look for them: as a verb it used to mean that the emperor would choose a particular palace woman for conjugal relations.

  3. Michael Cannings said,

    July 29, 2021 @ 12:27 pm

    Ah, I was wondering about that character, thank you!

    As a member of the Indigenous Amis people she also has an Amis name: Tana. However, from the coverage of the last few weeks you could be forgiven for thinking her full name in Hanzi was 舉重女神郭婞淳 (Goddess of Weightlifting Kuo Hsing-chun), so ubiquitous is the epithet.

  4. Chris Button said,

    July 29, 2021 @ 9:52 pm

    I don’t think we should look at the meanings of 幸, 倖 and 婞 in such neatly defined black and white terms. The oracle-bone forms of 幸 depicted shackles/manacles. That might seem weird given it’s present sense, but then again “destiny” comes from Latin dēstinō “bind, fasten, fix”. It also meant “make up mind”, which ties in any obstinate sense of 婞.

  5. KIRINPUTRA said,

    July 31, 2021 @ 9:47 am

    Thanks, Victor.

    For most people whose Sinology was hard-fought, the temptation to bark up the wrong tree is strong!

    It would help to take a step back — permanently, if possible — and use a wider-angle lens. This is a red-pill approach.

    There is no central, timeless register of kanji and kanji-oids. There are central registers, but they’re all bound in time & geopolitically limited.

    Does the Vietnamese kanji-oid 喃 (“NÔM”) have anything to do with the “global” kanji 喃 (“NAM” in its Vietnamese reading)? Or did the same pieces just come together in the same configuration independently, twice? This is a question of fact, no more & no less.

    Maybe the circle of writers that invented the kanji-oid 喃 were aware of the kanji 喃. Or maybe they weren’t. Or maybe they were, but it didn’t “affect” them. This is a question of fact. Arguably not an important one.

    崙 is used in Taiwanese (and Hokkienese?) place names to write the morpheme “-LŪN”, which means roughly “low flat hill”. As far as we KNOW, this kanji-oid 崙 has almost nothing to do with the global kanji 崙 (崘), seen in the word 崑崙… (We can only be fairly confident that in the time & space where this kanji-oid came into being, there were men in the community who commanded the book koine and were aware of 崑崙…)

    Hokkien-Taiwanese 崙; Vietnamese 喃… These are not exceptional. Any kanji-based vernacular script will have dozens or hundreds or thousands of these “things”. How to characterize them is a socio-political question.

    VN 喃 and Hokkien 崙 didn’t make it into Kangxi’s ji-book. But a vernacular kanji-oid used around Nanjing or Hangzhou would’ve made it in several times over. (I don’t study those languages, so I don’t have examples ready to use.)

    What is the attitude of today’s Sinologists toward VN 喃 and Hokkien 崙? My observation is that Sinologists regard vernacular Vietnamese kanji-oids as “a different system”, which they may or may not find interesting. (Most do not.)

    On the other hand, Sinologists seem to have a hard time with the idea that Hokkien 崙 is part of “a different system”. They either see it as a placeholder, a “dialect character”, or both.

    “Placeholder” meaning some Sinologists — most likely “amateurs”, and Taiwanese-speaking — might see 崙 as “temporary”… They’d be anxious to discover a global kanji with an etymological connection to “-LŪN”. In their ideal world, the finding would be broadcast, and all place names updated using the discovered kanji.

    On the other hand, if there was a 21st century version of the Kangxi ji-book, “liberal” Sinologists might advocate adding the Hokkien-Taiwanese 崙 to the book — in effect expanding the concept of 中原 (“the Heartland”) to include the Straits of Formosa. (But not the valley of the Red River, for “retroactive” reasons.)

    Main point here is that 喃 & 崙 bear no substantial relation to the identical global kanji. And 婞 in 郭婞淳 is certainly the same way.

    Even w/o having heard the actual story of her name, it follows from “local knowledge” (very broadly construed) that given a 郭婞淳 in Formosa in any epoch, including this one — unless a Sinologist parent is involved, which is kind of rare — the 婞 would logically be a DIY creation, a “re-invention” of ⿰女幸 with no substantial connection to the Kangxian 婞…

    Such usages for personal names are not very common in Taiwan, nor very rare. The 樺 in 詹益樺 (CHIAM EK-HÔA) is another example. No substantial relation to the Kangxian kanji 樺, and not read in the tone a Sinologist would expect. It was really 華 with timber, b/c the family needed it, or figured the kid might need it.

    What’s interesting is that Formosan society didn’t seem to create kanji-oids this way for use in personal names till some years after WW2, with the advent of Chinese nationalist education. In the old days, creations like 崙 were part of a semi-closed set used across whole communities. (The exception was “radical assimilation” in place names.) So, basically, the practice of coining see-through kanji-oids for personal names is a figment of “pop Sinology”, imported via Republic of China language education during the Cold War…

  6. Jonathan Smith said,

    August 1, 2021 @ 9:56 am

    ^^ The Force remains strong in KIRINPUTRA How many times has, say, "唔" been coined and re-coined? A half-dozen at least? And this is the rule, not the exception, from the beginning…

    Or, to reference an earlier thread, try "The English words for 'flying rat-like mammal' and 'stick; club' are written with the same ________." Whichever term one puts in the blank — there is no standard choice for good reason — will make a terrifically awkward conceptual unit for substantive discussion of language; nonetheless, in the case of languages written with Hanzi, we have precisely "zi4 / character" to try to talk about words — to say nothing of "du2 / nian4" 'read' (!!) to try to talk about speech, etc. Ergo even the "central registers" referenced by KIRINPUTRA from Shuowen down to Pleco are ontologically inside-out in key respects.


    “[T]he written word is so intimately connected with the spoken word it represents that it manages to usurp the principal role. As much or even more importance is given to this representation of the vocal sign as to the vocal sign itself. It is rather as if people believed that in order to find out what a person looks like it is better to study his photograph than his face.”

    Saussure, Ferdinand de, 1983. Course in General Linguistics. Bally, Charles and Sechehaye, Albert (Eds). Harris, Roy (Trans.) Duckworth, London. pp. 24-25

    "Mais le mot écrit se mêle si intimement au mot parlé dont il est l’image, qu’il finit par usurper le rôle principal; on en vient à donner autant et plus d’importance à la représentation du signe vocal qu’à ce signe lui-même. C’est comme si l’on croyait que, pour connaître quelqu’un, il vaut mieux regarder sa photographie que son visage."

  7. Chris Button said,

    August 1, 2021 @ 12:51 pm

    Two concepts, oft confused:

    1. Unrelated meanings ascribed to a single character at different times

    2. Semantic drift of a single character’s meaning over time (often superficially end up appearing unrelated to earlier meaning)

  8. KIRINPUTRA said,

    August 2, 2021 @ 11:34 pm

    @Jonathan, thanks for the "it is better to study his photograph" quote!

    Regarding the "念字" complex… What are your thoughts on when or where people started referring to units of speech (where unambiguously not tied to units of writing) as “字” in speech, or using “念” (or “讀”) to mean “pronounce [unambiguously spoken unit of speech]”?

    In Formosa and the Straits, it seems to have come via Repub. of China education after 1950 (on the Taiwan side) … suggesting maybe a Lower Yangtze origin?

  9. Chris Button said,

    August 3, 2021 @ 8:29 pm

    This post made me think a little about the interchange of 人 with 女 historically. Back in the oracle bones, we have examples of them being used interchangeably, such as 毓/育 being either a 人 or 女 giving birth to a child and then settling as 女/母 (that 女 probably originally didn't mean "woman" is most likely immaterial).

    Then there are cases when the distinction has been retained as separate characters, such as 羌 and 姜 which have different referents but are most likely (dialectal?) variants.

  10. Jonathan Smith said,

    August 4, 2021 @ 9:36 am

    @KIRINPUTRA interesting question and I have no idea… although it is easy to suspect, in the spirit of Saussure, that these patterns of thought are an effect of the acquisition of literacy itself, simply more pronounced in the case of Hanzi than alphabetic orthographies given the fact that the graphemes in question index far less of the substance of the linguistic sign. (So re: alphabets, certainly the impression is widespread that the pronunciation of words is a function of their written form — "spelling" — per se.) So to the extent that things have changed over the past century in the "Sinosphere", Taiwan or elsewhere, perhaps we are seeing "natural" (?) consequences of the growing ubiquity of Hanzi literacy and associated explicit instruction?

  11. KIRINPUTRA said,

    August 4, 2021 @ 9:08 pm


  12. Jonathan Smith said,

    August 6, 2021 @ 6:53 pm

    ^^ Thanks for linking your Twitter above. I feel like you flourish in a longer form :D but maybe this is down to taste… at any rate here's hoping I can follow your Taiwanese before so very long.

  13. Chris Button said,

    August 6, 2021 @ 11:03 pm

    @ Jonathan Smith and Kirinputra

    Might I suggest that you are both missing a subtle nuance here?

    I don’t think anyone is suggesting that the 婞 in the name was not created specifically for that purpose and independent of the earlier “obstinate” 婞. That sort of goes without saying, doesn’t it?

    However, “obstinate” 婞 was coined in connection with the sense associated with 幸 at that time (see my post above regarding the semantics). The independent coining of 婞 for the name all these centuries later was also done in connection with the sense of 幸 as it has evolved until now. Hence, there is a connection between the two 婞, albeit a connection that is neither readily apparent nor largely relevant in any functional sense.

  14. KIRINPUTRA said,

    August 7, 2021 @ 5:46 am

    @ Jonathan Smith

    Thanks. Partly it’s a matter of audience — and ability (mine). Look forward to seeing you on Twitter.

    BTW I checked the 400-yr-old DICTIONARIO HISPANICO SINICUM, which mixes Hanbun (漢文) with Hokkien. For PALABRA, they give 話 (*ōa); 言 (*giân); 語 (*gú); 句 (*kù, with a slightly different gloss).

    @ Chris Button

    I’ll take your word for it.

    I wonder if there are 婞s in other systems not yet discussed here.

  15. Jonathan Smith said,

    August 7, 2021 @ 11:15 am

    @KIRINPUTRA Ah good idea — so, weirdly, I doubt ~"word" per se is a part of vernacular traditions at all (I say "weirdly" because "word" is such a central element in the toolkit of descriptive linguists, people who, after all, regard themselves as engaging 'on a level' with languages and their speakers.) 'Utterance', 'saying', 'joke', 'answer', 'prophecy', 'story' (cf. palabra), etc., etc., yes, for sure, these are operative in a literal sense — but not peculiarly abstract (but still scientifically useful!!) "word".

    Incidentally, the word "Chinese character" (zi4 字) is reconstructed to "Proto-Min" and further to "Old Chinese" on systems like Baxter & Sagart (2014) — but the correspondences fail utterly (in particular, such authors' knowledge of Southern Min must be worse than mine :D); this word must have entered Min (relatively) late from prestige varieties.

    @ Chris Button The question is always the same — where is the inscriptional context in which 'manacles' is written with "辛"? I.e., to rehash this thread, begin from attestation of actual words in actual texts, not from character form.

  16. Chris Button said,

    August 7, 2021 @ 11:48 am

    @ Jonathan Smith

    I think you made a typo. It's 幸 not 辛. Then you can just follow the usual sources. The graphic form is unambiguous, particularly when you look at forms like 執 where the shackles are on the person's hands. I say start with all the evidence and don't prejudice one approach over another. One of the biggest problems with reconstructions of old Chinese is a failure to incorporate solid oracle bone graphic evidence. The irony is that we then get a slavish adherence to xiesheng series instead…

  17. Jonathan Smith said,

    August 7, 2021 @ 2:49 pm

    @ Chris Button

    Thank you, "幸"*

    No I don't think modern scholarship equates the left side of early inscriptional "執" with "幸" — but the issue is secondary to attestational context, without which all speculation regarding character form is, at the very least, provisional ("unhinged" is generally more apt.) To be emphatic about it, respect for this context is the whole difference between thoughts on character form which are worth reading and ones that aren't.

  18. Chris Button said,

    August 7, 2021 @ 9:09 pm

    @ Jonathan Smith

    No I don't think modern scholarship equates the left side of early inscriptional "執" with "幸"

    We must be looking at different modern scholarship then!

    where is the inscriptional context in which 'manacles' is written with [幸]

    Where do I begin? They are numerous and clear. For some easily accessible examples in English, check out the many cases in Takashima's Bingbian translations, where he uses 㚔 as the transcription (old form of 幸). In BB 304, 幸 and 執 alternate in representing the sense of "shackled"

    Are you perhaps suggesting that 㚔→幸 and 幸 are unrelated? A case of graphic convergence? The different pronunciations of 執 (~ 幸) and 幸 might indicate so. Probably worth bringing 形 into the discussion here (see Tо̄dо̄'s dictionary).

  19. Jonathan Smith said,

    August 7, 2021 @ 11:38 pm

    The idea of convergence around Han is nothing new… SO it seems that, sure enough, there are some minor epigraphical and phonological obstacles for your proposals upthread :D

    but who cares about "幸" — the point was that when we place language as such front and center, work in historical Chinese suddenly need not invoke entirely made-up words like 'manacles (n.)' (please don't keep doing this… remember 'bag' 東?), words tenuously (or oops maybe not even) associated by written form alone like zhi2 ~'detain (v.)' 執, or lexicographical lint like the 'hate; obstinate' (?) that got us going here…

  20. Chris Button said,

    August 8, 2021 @ 6:34 am

    Graphic convergence with what? There was nothing to converge with. You could try polyphony. That’s another useful get out of jail—or manacles—free card. Now it’s my turn for a typo. I actually meant that 幸 and 刑 represent related words (although 形 can be ultimately brought in as well); that’s it’s word family. In BB304, I follow Takashima in assuming that 幸 is an abbreviation of 執.

    Re. 東. Now we’re really getting off topic. Takashima’s discussion of the proposal that 東 is a “bundled mat in which things are placed with a carrying rod in the middle” is convincing precisely because it does not look at 東 as an isolated form but in the context of multiple graphically related forms representing other characters. That is your graphic context, and it is undeniably thorough.

    As for the context within inscriptions, we have something that is carried/moved and clearly means “east”. What can we do with that? Make up a story about the sun in a tree and ignore all the evidence marshaled by Takashima? No, we should turn to the etymology of the word it represents and see what it turns up. 東 seems to mean “east” in the same way that “orient” does (compare Sanskrit रीति for the sense of setting in motion). And that sense ties clearly into the word family to which it belongs. I’m not going to list chunks of it out here, but if you don’t want to listen to me, you could look at what Sagart wrote about the relationship between 東 and 動, which is one component of it.

    Plucking oracle bone forms out of the air and declaring that they look like something is indeed ridiculous. But it’s also unwise to ignore palaeographical evidence because we don’t have a nicely parsed translation of every oracle bone inscription along with copious footnotes detailing why each character looks the way it does.

    At least, that’s my two cents.

  21. Chris Button said,

    August 8, 2021 @ 6:35 am

    *its (auto correct is really hurting me here)

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