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What’s in a name — and where do words come from?

May 10, 2010
The most popular name for boys here (for almost 11 years) is still Jacob, but Isabella has taken over "Emma" for the most popular baby girl’s name.

I don’t know why people still go with popularity when choosing names for their babies. Here is one the side effect : I often need to call names in class to respond to my question and it’s not uncommon that five boys answered me when I called for "Ethan" or a few girls were confused and embarrassed when I asked this Emily but that Emily answered.  It’s kind of like insisting on addressing a person using the last name (surname) only basis in Korea.  Or Singapore.

"Can Mr. Kim come the the main counter?"

"Mr. Lee, Mr. Lee, urgent call for Mr. Lee."

While naming names is difficult for parents, name of dishes and where they originate is very interesting.  I don’t claim to be an etymologist but I love "researching" and thinking about the possible origin of words.  I was once told that the word "horse"has something to do with "hor" 虎 (tiger) in Fujian but I quickly realised that’s bogus science.
Words like "becak" (pronounced bay chia) in Indonesian is easily trace as originated from Fujian’s 马车 which literally means "horse car".  (no bluff you one) "Becak" is tricycle in Indonesia.   (See video below.)

Many words are like that in Indonesian.  (And this is one reason Malaysia frown upon the many imported words in Bahasa Indonesia.)  Being able to count and say a few words in Fujian dialect is popular in Indonesia.  Like it was popular to speak Bahasa Malayu (or Bahasa Indonesia) in the Middle East amongst merchants.  In Indo, so many words in Fujian gets translated and mis-used. (Similar situation also happened in the Philippines and local Tagalog has many Chinese dialects influence. )

For example, in Indonesian, Bao 包 (those dumpling with fluffy skin and meat/ egg in it) are called "Bakpao"

[picture directly linked from Jane Tong’s blog page 狗不理包子]
    [Click on picture to go to Kedai’s Hamburg recipe to make 包]

If one knows hokkien (Southern Fujian dialect), one would have easily guess that it came from Ba Pao 肉包( literally means "meat dumpling) (refer to the Wiktionary by clicking).  And it’s called Bakpao (in Indo) whether there is meat in it or not (Correction, sometimes they refer to "Bakpao daging" for meat dumpling . . ., but Bak itself is already "meat" in hokkien).  Similar for "Bacang", whether it has meat or not, whether it’s Teochew style or Hokkien style or Cantonese style, as long as it’s tied in a tetrahdronic shape, it’s called Bacang in Indonesian.  There is no "Tao Cang" 豆粽(子)(bean dumpling) or  "Ti Cang" 甜粽(子)(sweet dumpling) or "kiam Cang" 咸粽(子)(salty dumpling).

Recently we ate in a RAMEN store in Canton Michigan.  It has the usual big "ラーメン "(RAMEN in katagana) and " らーめん " (ramen in hiragana) hanging outside the store.  What really caught my eyes was the word チャンポン(Champpon in katagana) ! Champon (or JJampon) is a popular specialty food of Nagasaki and is a one of most popular Koreanized Chinese foods both in Korea and Japan.  Some (Wiki) speculated that it comes from the Okinawan dish Chanpuru and some thinks it originated from the Malaya word Campur (both mean "mix") but some was one so far-fetched as say it came from the Hokkien word Jia Peng (literally eat rice).  Singaporean will just called it ROJAK.


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  1. Vicky permalink

    Why do Korean feel it\’s rude to call them by name?

  2. Nabueh permalink

    It\’s not rude to cal them by name. IT\’s just that more than half of the people have surnames Kim.

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