Chinese Orphans to Get Names That Don’t Set Them Apart


The number of orphans in China stands at about 100-thousand. That’s the official number. Some child advocacy groups believe it’s much higher than that.

Life can be extremely trying for orphans in China. There is, of course, the trauma of absence and rejection: not knowing who your parents are or why they abandoned you.

There is the difficulty of getting ahead in society. Some Chinese still believe that orphans bring bad luck, which makes it harder to find a good job or get into a good school or college.

And here’s the icing on the cake: your name gives you away. Local social welfare agencies are charged with naming orphans. And traditionally, they have given them names that amount to scarlet letters.

Your surname/family name is often a shortened version (Yu, Tong, Tian) of the city or county (Yujiang, Tonggu. Tianhe) where you were abandoned and found. Your given name may be overly patriotic (Party, State, Battleship) or refer to a recent event (Defy Earthquake).

These names sound weird in English. They sound weird in Chinese too, but in a different way.

There are about 100 popular surnames in use in China (Li, Zhang, Chen etc). Eyebrows are raised if you don’t have one of those. There are more given names—and these days more kids are given obscure, sometimes goofy names. But not ones that sound like communist or patriotic slogans.

Social welfare agencies in some regions have changed their naming protocols. They now give orphans ordinary Chinese names. But that’s not happening in all of China. So, according to the state-run China Daily, Beijing is stepping in with a plan to do away with orphan-branding names once and for all.

Also in the pod this week:

  • Swivet, upscuddle and other words in the new volume of the Dictionary of American Regional English.
  • Are linguistically stereotypical depictions of Asians making a comeback in the US? Exhibit A: Congressman Pete Hoekstra’s racially-charged” Yellowgirl” TV ad that ran during the Superbowl. Hoekstra caught so much flak for it that his campaign has tried to eradicate all traces of the ad and its supporting website. Thanks to Angry Asian Man, though, you can see the site archived here.

Listen via iTunes or here.


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1 Comment

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One response to “Chinese Orphans to Get Names That Don’t Set Them Apart

  1. Love that you’re on SoundCloud now! Keep up the stellar work!

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