Sunday, June 19, 2011

Naming your baby - Imperfect father, part II

We Chinese give babies small names (XiaoMing, )" or milk names (NaiMing, 奶) at birth, which is used at home by parents and close relatives.  In the past, a formal name sometimes was not given to a baby until months even years after birth at the time when the parents felt the need, such as enrolling a child to school.  Therefore, small name could associate with a person for life and even be better known than the formal name by the family.  A baby's name was often animal, especially bad and ugly ones, since it is believed that ugly names could make a baby strong enough to survive to fight with the high rate of infant mortality.  Nowadays however, every infant is required to be registered at birth so a formal name is usually picked early in one's life.  Accordingly, the last character of a formal name becomes a small name for the baby and this character is often called twice.  You may know of some common ones: Lingling (bell sound), Maomao (hairy), Doudou (little bean), Zhuzhu (pearl or little pig), Niuniu (cow), Xiaohu (little tiger), Datou (big head)... I remember that I loved it when the first and only small name of mine was once called Lili by one of my father's female friends.  Unfortunately, no one else followed her, not even my parents.  Modern Chinese also prefer to pick small name matching a baby's look, personality, or what the parents' wish it to be.  Also, like in the Western world, name also comes in fashion, you often can guess at which time-period someone was born by his/her name.

Regardless small or formal names, old or modern times, naming a baby in China is nothing trivial.  We believe that one's name influences everything that happens in life, therefore, the baby's name, especially the formal one, is often picked carefully by grandparents or other knowledgeable and wise people, such as fortune tellers.

Like Westerners, we also have nick names for kids. We call it flower name (Huaming, 花名). The difference is that nick name in China is more like name calling in the Western world.  Look what my nick names once were:

"African" - to make fun of my dark skin; we Chinese consider fair skinned woman beautiful;
"Lai Ku Mao, 赖哭猫" - crying cat; Mia, you may get this from your mama, sorry;
"Da Shuan Bi, 大蒜鼻" - garlic nose; to laugh at my flat nasal bridge
"Mouse eyes, 老鼠眼" - mouse eyes to ridicule my small Chinese eyes;
"Ma Da Ha, 马大哈" - to describe my taitailielie (dadalielie) or careless personality;
"Guangxi Lao, 广西老" - to mock my lovely persona that resembles the locals (my parents are from Hunan province but I was born and brought up in Guangxi.)

Do you have an image of what I was/am like now knowing these "nick" names?  Can you believe all those names were called exclusively by my loving father or evil older brother Bing?

Little girls are dumb.  I did not figure out it was I who encouraged those name calling games until years later.  I had/have no sense of humor and could not know why they were laughing when I was so mad each time hearing one of those names, yet the madder I got, the more it was called.  It also didn't seem strange to me that Bing beat other kids to death if they dared to call me any names at school.

Now when I have become a parent, I find it funny too when I see my lovely kids inherited some of our features and spontaneously I have the urge to call them funny names.

"Your nose looks funny." "Your have elephant ears." I told those to Mia when I first noticed that she has gotten his father's square nose and big ears.  After hearing that few times, the daddy rolled eyes at me so I stopped.

"Your got your daddy's teeth," I shouted out loud one day when I suddenly noticed Remy's two front teeth tilted to the right. "They both did." the daddy added.  I guess this does not considered to be name calling, although I find it equally funny to Mia's square nose and big ears.

It might not be too late now to give small names to Mia and Remy.  I used to call Mia Xiaozhu (little pig) or Zhuzhu since she was born in the year of pig and Remy Niuniu as he was born in the year of cow.  Can I still call them these names now, you think?  Starting from tomorrow, I'll insist to call Mia Zhuzhu and Remy Niuniu. I hope they stick.

What about you, do you have funny nick names?  Dare to share some?

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