The honor of hosting the 2008 Olympic Games belongs to Beijing, and excitement has been spreading across China since 2001 when the city was selected. While Americans might celebrate such an occasion by collecting limited edition bobblehead dolls or donning a favorite team jersey, the Chinese are commemorating the event with a strong show of civic pride -- including a case of baby fever.
Aug. 8, 2008, at 8:08 p.m., the time when the opening ceremony is scheduled to begin, is considered lucky, and prospective parents are hoping to bring joy and luck to their families by welcoming "Olympic babies." While chances are slight for most babies to be delivered at that precise time, some parents are considering other ways to bring Olympic luck to their newborns: specialized baby names.
Chinese names don't work the same as names in Western countries. The first noticeable difference is that Chinese words are represented by thousands of multistroke characters instead of an alphabet. Specific to naming, the order of the given name and surname (family name) is transposed. In the West, if your given name is John and your surname is Smith, you are known as John Smith. In China, however, your surname would come before your given name: Smith John.
While there are 4,100 Chinese surnames, only about 100 are used commonly; in 2006, the top four surnames were Li, Wang, Zhang and Liu, respectively [source: Xinhua News Agency]. In a country with more than 1 billion people, more than 60 million people share the Liu surname -- almost 6 percent of the Chinese population. A unique, individual name is hard to come by. Parents try to create baby names that are original or that reflect modern themes. In this tradition, thousands of parents are getting caught up in the spirit of the games. Find out more, next.
Olympic Baby Names
Trends in Chinese baby names touch on social themes, nature and celebrity.
Some parents choose words such as "responsibility" (Ze Ren) or "social security" (She Bao) for their children, and more than 6,600 Chinese are named for "democracy" (Min Zhu) [source: Xinhua News Agency]. Some parents match their surname with a given name to create words; for example, the Chinese characters "He" and "Xie" together (He Xie) mean "harmony."
According to China's Identification Numbers Search Service Center, part of the Ministry of Public Security, roughly 3,500 children have been named Aoyun (meaning "Olympics") [source 9News.com, KUSA-TV]. Some people, mostly males, have Aoyun as their given name, and many parents with the surname Yun are choosing to combine their surname with the given name Ao to create the word.
Parents searching for creative names are also looking to the five Beijing Olympic mascots, the "Fuwa": Bei Bei the fish, Jing Jing the panda, Huan Huan the Olympic flame, Ying Ying the Tibetan antelope and Ni Ni the swallow. Together -- Bei Jing Huan Ying Ni -- they mean "Beijing welcomes you!" More than 4,000 Chinese have been named for the mascots: Bei Bei (880 people), Jing Jing (1,240 people), Huan Huan (1,063 people), Ying Ying (624 people) and Ni Ni (642 people) [source: 9News.com, KUSA-TV].
Naming habits aren't the only way the Olympics are influencing Chinese culture. The government has launched self-improvement campaigns to boost public etiquette and cultivate good manners in preparation for its Olympic hosting duties. In Beijing, for example, the public is being asked to curtail its notorious spitting habit -- local residents are asked to use napkins or bags, and fines are imposed on people who are caught spitting in the street.
Local and government officials are also trying to improve and standardize English translations on signs and improve hospitality toward strangers, all in an effort to make foreigners more comfortable during their visit. So long to the infamous Dongda Anus Hospital (now known as the Dongda Proctology Hospital).
And self-improvement isn't just suggested, it's practiced. The 11th day of every month is Queuing Day, when people are encouraged to practice waiting in line instead of crowding and jumping queues. Seat-giving Day, held on the 22nd of each month, promotes to commuters the idea of giving up seats for the elderly, children, pregnant women and the disabled while riding public transportation.
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