Tag Archives: traditional China

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

PIC bamboo closeup 1 Feb 2017Names are more than arbitrary, random words used to identify individuals. The surnames can, and often do, indicate family relationships. The given names, although they can be arbitrary, also often indicate something about the parents’ wishes for and/or perceptions of their child.

In China today, 100 surnames dominate: making up 85% of the country’s total surnames. And remember, China has about 1.4 billion people. Compare this to the US where, according to the 2000 census, 151,00+ surnames make up only 3% of our population’s surnames! Think about how you feel when you meet someone with your same last name. There is a sense of connection. The same is true in China—although the connection may go back hundreds of years.

Traditionally and today, the Chinese put the family name (the surname) first and then the given name (personal name) second. So that, if a person is named Liu Xiao-lung à Liu is the family name and Xiao-lung is his personal name. In the United States, we would refer to this person as Xiao-lung Liu, putting the family name last. One way to figure this out, when you’re not sure, is to remember that in most cases the family name is one word. Often, although not always, the given name is two words—and usually NOT written with a – between the words, the way I have written Xiao-lung in this post.

What’s interesting about Chinese given names is that they often carry the hopes parents have for their children. The names are meaningful. Xiao-lung means Little Dragon and, therefore, symbolizes good fortune and success. Boy’s names are likely to reflect strength, good fortune, and whatever aspirations the parents have for him, for example, in intelligence or business success. For girls’ names, traditional parents may give their child a name which reflects a desire for her to be lovely in appearance or have a sweet, peaceful demeanor. For example, Xiang-lian would mean Fragrant Lotus Flower. This is changing for women today, however. I had a female friend whose given name was Xue-wen, Studies Literature (in the past, this was more of a boy’s name). And, indeed, she did have strong academic interests and abilities.

Therefore, as with names in the West, there are gender preferences. Xiang-lian is not a name a parent would give a boy, nor would Xiao-lung be given to a girl. No more than a typical American would name their girl child Stephen or the boy child Mary.

What about your name? What does it say about you and your family?

A trip back to Ancient China

Hidden takes you back to Ancient China

What was it like to live in 1380 China? What did people do? How did they travel, dress, or eat? Where did they live? Hidden, the first adventure/mystery novel in my Ancient China trilogy, takes you back and plops you down in the middle of this fascinating time.Cover Hidden front cover only March 2015

Hidden is the story of a young, bi-racial heroine who finds her world turned up-side-down when her father, a magistrate, is threatened by enemies who are trying to accuse him of treason. Treason was considered the worst of all crimes because it was an act against the Emperor himself. If found guilty, the punishment included death or—if you were lucky—banishment to the farthest corners of the empire and social ostracism for not only her father but for every member of his own and his extended family.

To protect Mei-hua, her father sends her away to live with a friend in Hangzhou City. On the way there, Mei-hua is captured and sold as an indentured servant to a wealthy family. She must hide her identity in order to avoid the authorities and her father’s enemies. Will she be able to free herself and find her father’s friend and safety?

This is a story of survival and discovering the meaning of family, friendship and loyalty set in the intriguing and dangerous world of Ancient China.

For the history buffs among you, there is an Author’s Note section at the end of Hidden with more information on the culture of Mei-hua’s Ancient China.

You can find Hidden by searching under PA De Voe on Amazon or going to http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=pa+de+voe.

I look forward to your comments.

[pinterest]

Shén 神 Another choice for mysterious or mystery?

temple roofline in China 2009 July

 

 

 

 

Shén    Shen mysterious 2 in jpg

Last week I talked about the character mysterious / mystery that I am going to use in my Ming Dynasty trilogy covers. There are other characters with the definition of mystery or mysterious. Another one is shén. However, when the character shén is used it implies mystery in the sense of spiritual. One way for a non-native Chinese speaker to discover which character is best is to look up what other words use that particular character. This gives a good idea of the underlying connotation versus the character’s denotation.   For shén [using the on-line dictionary http://www.mdbg.net/chindict/] we do find the word mysterious/mystery with both   shén mì and it is defined asmysterious / mystery.” However, there are many other words which use shén and refer to the divine, to Daoism, mythology, mystical, gods, and the miraculous.

What does this imply? Well, if you are writing a mystery which centers on the supernatural and paranormal, perhaps you would want to use the character shén versus because it implies a particular kind of mystery or mysterious event. It subtly alters your readers to another layer of meaning and insight.

Xuán     Xuan mystery 2 in jpg

Another character which can mean mystery is xuán. When xuán is used as a part of a word, we find a predominance of words referring to philosophical and spiritual schools of thought—Daoism, Buddhism, Confucianism. Xuán is also used in word combinations that refer to something being abstruse, simply difficult to understand. So, again, we find that although xuán can be used to mean mystery, it has a different underlying connotation from both shén and .

When choosing a Chinese word we have so many choices because each character used in creating that particular word brings with it a strong intellectual and emotional component. So, while my Mei-hua trilogy has religious and folk traditions included, they are a part of the cultural background of the period, not the central component of the stories, therefore, the character I chose was .

秘 mì = secret, mysterious

 

Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China

I am working on getting out my first Mei-hua story. The novel is part of a YA historical/adventure trilogy set in 1380 China. Mei-hua, the biracial daughter of a magistrate, finds her world turned upside down when her father is targeted by a political enemy. I have had a lot of fun researching and writing this trilogy.

This year I will begin publishing the Mei-hua series as an indie author and one part of the indie project is creating covers. To tie the three books together, I wanted the covers to have a similar feel. Kelly Cochran, who is designing them, came up with a splendid idea: use a ribbon with a seal on it and place the ribbon on each front cover. Since the trilogy is also a mystery, the character for secret or mysterious [mì, mih ] is stamped on the seal.

In checking out this character (remember that the actual character used for Chinese words infuse the word itself with another layer of meaning), I noticed that mì, mih is a part of the word for secretary  秘書 mì shū, mih shu. The second character for secretary [shū, shu] means book.

This combination [mì+ shū] struck me as a wonderful description of the role of secretaries—keeping in mind that this word was apparently used historically for an official secretary, such as one who works in the government, which is often a powerful position.

What does this combination of characters mean when referring to the secretary’s role? I think it means that the secretary must be discrete and not spread information about what he does and learns in his job, because a secretary is privy to extremely sensitive information.

Of course, 秘書 mì shū, mih shu could also refer to written materials, such as ledgers and documents that the secretary writes and keeps track of. .

In either case, the Chinese character’s original meaning imparts a special meaning to the new word, secretary, with a connotation beyond the noun’s simple denotation. It suggests secrecy, confidentiality, and concealment. How much fun is that!

Why do Chinese characters look so complicated? Part 2 蝴 蝶

As we said in the last post (January  3, 2014) the radical makes up an essential part of a character but there often is a second part, which usually gives further information.  The word butterfly, hú dié, hur dier ( ) is a great example.  The first word in this combination is , hur ().

Its radical is chόng, chongr , which means bug. The second part is the character hú, hur, meaning foolish, reckless. Continue reading

Why do Chinese characters look so complicated? 蝴

I think Chinese characters are beautiful and elegant. In fact, historically, the script itself has often been used as art. You’ve probably seen some of these displayed  in museums and on walls of businesses and homes. They are often boldly written on long, vertical scrolls.

Chinese characters may look difficult at first, however, that’s only until you understand them. Personally I’m not an expert but with a bit of background anyone can learn about and appreciate them more fully. Continue reading