bookmark_border我叫韦明涛 (my name is Wéi Míngtāo)

Chinese names tend to consist of a surname that is one syllable long, followed by a given name of either one or two syllables. This means that converting a non-Chinese name by sound results in something which doesn’t look like a name to a Chinese. (For instance, the Danish prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, is called ??·??-??? Hèl?i Tu?níng-Sh?mìtè in Chinese.)

Because of this, there is a tendency for foreigners to get Chinese names if they learn Chinese or similar. E.g., the famous computer scientist and inventor of TEX, Donald Knuth, is not called ???·??? Tángnàdé [the usual transcription of ‘Donald’] Kèn?s? or similar, but ??? G?o Dénà, because he was given this name years ago by Frances Yao (I’m not entirely sure why he got it, but possibly for the purpose of translating his books into Chinese).

Because I’ve started learning Chinese, I believe it would make matters easier if I got a Chinese name. If I had been learning Chinese in a classroom situation with a native teacher, it would presumably have been relatively simple to ask them to give me a name. However, I don’t have access to a Chinese person who knows me well enough to pick a name, so I’ve had to take charge of the process myself.

Picking a surname is actually very easy. Chinese people use a very limited number of surnames, so the best solution is probably to pick a name from the top-100 list. Given that my real surname starts with a ‘W’, I guess it’s a reasonable idea to pick one starting with the same letter in pinyin, which limits my choices to ? Wáng, ? Wú, ? Wèi, ? W?ng, ? Wéi, ? Wàn and ? W?. From these, I eliminate ? Wú and ? W? because the vowel doesn’t match Widmann at all, ? Wèi and ? Wàn because they don’t start with ‘W’ in Cantonese, and ? Wáng and ? W?ng because they end in ‘-ng’, which isn’t really suitable, so I’m left with ? Wéi (Cantonese Wai4), which suits me fine. ????

So far, so good. Unfortunately, there is no convenient list of Chinese given names, for the simple reason that Chinese people like to have unique names and they don’t tend to name their children after family members or famous people.

I was of course ultimately named after Thomas the Apostle (via Thomas Aquinas, I believe), but I reckon it wouldn’t be the Chinese way simply to give myself his Chinese name, ?? Du?m?.

On the other hand, it’s probably not a good idea to pick two random characters with appropriate pronunciations and meanings – some characters are not considered desirable, and others are seen as feminine.

Another approach is to look at my name in Japanese. Although foreigners can just write their names in katakana, the native Japanese lecturer at Aarhus University back in 1990 gave a proper Japanese name, which of course could be pronounced in Chinese, too. Alas, I’ve forgotten what it was, although I do remember that it consisted on two kanjis, and I believe both had water as their radical, and the meaning had something to do with waves. After searching through some Japanese dictionaries, I’ve come to the conclusion that the first character must have been ? tou, which in simplified Chinese is ? t?o and means “great waves”.

I’m quite happy with this character, and I could of course stop here and just call myself ?? Wéi T?o.

On the other hand, I could add another character, either one pronounced ‘ma’ or ‘mai’ for ‘-mas’, or one pronounced ‘ma’, ‘min’, ‘meng’ or ‘ming’ for ‘Martin’ (my middle name). Some of the options I’ve been able to find are ? mèng ‘first’, ? mài ‘wheat’ and ? míng ‘next, bright’. However, I’m not sure the former is used much as a given name (although it’s a common surname) and I don’t identify strongly with wheat. On the other hand, I quite like ? míng, and ?? T?omíng at a first glance looked like a reasonable name.

I got stuck here for a while – although I couldn’t find any flaws with ??? Wéi T?omíng, I was a bit anxious that I could have overlooked something, so I was looking for reassurance from somebody with native or near-native Chinese.

Fortunately my old friend Uffe Bergeton Larsen (??? Lán Wùf?i), who was a linguistics fresher with me, is now a specialist in Chinese and has a Chinese wife, and he popped up on Facebook at just the right time.

Wufei at first couldn’t see any problems with being called ??? Wéi T?omíng. However, he then asked his wife who thought that “det lyder som et kinesisk navn en ikke-kineser kunne finde på at kalde sig” (“it sounds like a Chinese name that a non-Chinese might decide to call themself”).

I therefore decided to swap the elements around (as if my name were Martin Thomas rather than Thomas Martin), and ?? Míngt?o is definitely a real name.


bookmark_borderHistorieforfalskning i Russangbogen!

Jeg opdagede rent tilfældigt, at Russerne synger 2005 – også kendt som Russangbogen – ligger på nettet i PDF-format.

Jeg sad med fornøjelse og bladede den igennem, mens jeg mindedes gamle dage, da jeg faldt over et eklatant eksempel på historieforfalskning.

På side 67 skriver de flg. om Vi har en lang vej hjem: “Denne sang har en fascinerende historie. Teksten blev en dag fundet på Mat/Fys-Studenterrådet. Da det tydeligvis var en sang, satte en flok gæve mennesker sig til at finde ud af, hvilken melodi, den var skrevet på. Det gør man ved at synge og synge indtil man opdager, at den passer som fod i handske på netop Kringsatt av fiender. God fornøjelse!”

Den sande historie er naturligvis, at da Jesper Andersen, Peter JC og undertegnede skulle lave Russangbog 1994, opdagede vi, at havde brug for en ny udgave af “Der er ingenting som maner” med noder til bagsiden. Vi gik derfor ned på biblioteket og ledte mange sangbøger igennem, til vi endelig fandt den rette bog.

Det var, mens vi sad på Kommunebiblioteket i Århus (og aldeles ikke på Studenterrådet, hvor jeg aldrig kom), at vi fandt den fremragende sang om at have en lang vej hjem. Vi kendte naturligvis også den oprindelige melodi, da der var noder i bogen, men vi mente ikke, den passede til teksten, hvorfor vi ganske rigtigt prøvede os frem, til vi fandt en bedre melodi. Som vi skrev i forsangen:

Vi fandt mange sange, vi nævner blot én,
som absolut ikke ku’ synges.
Vi gav den fluks en ny melodi
og nu kan den immervæk nynnes.

bookmark_borderHallowe’en er skotsk, ikke amerikansk!

Evil turnip lantern
Originally uploaded by PhylB

En dansk netavis, som skal forblive unævnt, skrev forleden noget ævl om den “amerikanske højtid halloween”.

Hallowe’en stammer fra Skotland (og måske Irland), og selvom den nok er kommet til Danmark via USA, kunne man da godt være sig oprindelsen bevidst.

For det første staves ordet traditionelt med apostrof på denne side af Atlanten: Hallowe’en, ikke Halloween.

For det andet bruger man traditionelt roer og ikke græskar. Som Wikipedia skriver: “The turnip has traditionally been used in Ireland and Scotland at Halloween, but immigrants to North America used the native pumpkin.”

For det tredie kalder man det, børnene gør, guising, og ikke trick-or-treating. Wikipedia: “In Scotland and Ireland, Guising — children disguised in costume going from door to door for food or coins — is a traditional Halloween custom, and is recorded in Scotland at Halloween in 1895 where masqueraders in disguise carrying lanterns made out of scooped out turnips, visit homes to be rewarded with cakes, fruit and money. The practise of Guising at Halloween in North America is first recorded in 1911.”

Og er det gået op for danskerne, at der hører karamelæbler til Hallowe’en?

Til slut er her en oplæsning af Rabbie Burns’ Hallowe’en-digt (sproget er, naturligvis, scots):

bookmark_borderA future hut heaven?

There’s an interesting article in The Herald describing how a charity is planning to build a thousand huts in Scotland.

It’s interesting, because despite Scotland’s similarity to the Scandinavian countries, the hut culture is entirely different (or rather, it’s non-existent): “In Norway more than half the population has access to a [hut]. [The proportion is] one in 12 Swedes, one in 18 Finns and one in 33 Danes. […] However, in Scotland 10 years ago a study showed there were just 700 holiday huts […] for a population of five million.”

Norway might be a difficult act to follow, but I can’t help thinking that building 1000 huts is a very small step if the deficit is about half a million!

It’s a good idea, though. The Scottish countryside is amazing, but most of the population is bottled up within the central belt. Wee huts around the lochs would be a welcome sight.

Update: It’s worth comparing the statistics about the person-to-hut ratio with the person-per-km² figures illustrated in my blog posting about wee gardens.

bookmark_borderHalf-siblings aren’t step-siblings!

In today’s census, we need to fill out how everybody in the house is related to everybody else. To do this, we need to tick some boxes that contain options such as “mother or father”, “step-mother or step-father”, “brother or sister”, “step-brother or step-sister”, etc.

However, there is no box labelled “half-brother or half-sister”. Fair enough, I thought when I filled it out, I’ll just use “brother or sister” instead – that’s how they think about each other and what they call each other when they’re not being pedantic.

However, according to this article, the official advice is to tick the “step-brother or step-sister” box for half-siblings. (The article is about the English census, but Scotland’s census contains exactly the same questions about family relationships.)

This is ludicrous! If they want those two categories conflated, that’s fair enough, but then the box should then be labelled “half-sibling or step-sibling”. Without those extra words, most people will automatically assume they should tick the “brother or sister” box, and the result will be inconsistent statistics.

It’s possible that statisticians use “step-sibling” in a different way from the rest of us, but the census will be filled out by normal people, and the language used should reflect that.

bookmark_borderSharing a meal

I happened to watch Marks & Spencer’s new Christmas dinner ad on telly the other day (embedding it here doesn’t seem to be possible).

At first it sounds nice, but listen to what is being said: The uncle gets one starter, but the niece gets another; a turkey for one half of the family, but sirloin on the bone for the other half; two different puddings.

What has happened to the idea of sitting down together to share a meal? A meal that gives you a shared experience, a meal that brings you all together?

Has the modern concept of individual microwave meals now eroded our culture to the point where people just won’t compromise and eat anything that isn’t their favourite meal?

Sharing a meal is an ancient concept in many cultures, and welcoming guests with food (such as the Slavonic bread and salt) is widespread.

So why are we increasingly getting rid of this? I know of families that hardly ever eat the same thing or at the same time.

I find it disturbing if this now spreads even to special occasions such as Christmas.

bookmark_borderIt’s all the UK’s fault

The Salt is Coming
Originally uploaded by elgringospain

Danish media are reporting that stocks of road salt are running low:

“Britain is the big culprit. They use too much [salt]”, says Per Nygaard.

He justifies this with the country’s road network, where A roads are narrow and bad. This means that in his view, all it takes is just a little bit of snow on the roadside before they begin to use road salt.

“They pour salt on by the bucketload. Their demand is enormously high,” explains the manager of Brøste [a salt distributor].