A name is a term used for identification. They can identify a
class or category of things,
or a single thing, either uniquely,
or within a given context.
parts of Northern nations like Canada or Russia, we have one word for snow:
“snow”. If we want to be really
precise, we will distinguish between dry snow and wet snow because wet snow is
heavy and shoveling it from your driveway is one of the more popular methods of
inviting a heart attack. But in the world’s far North the native Inuit people
have more than 30 words for snow because they live with it for most of the year
and minor differences in snow characteristics can greatly affect hunting and
survival. We have names for things that are important to us.
example, one of the most important categories of things in North America is
alcoholic drinks. The
basic categories are beer, wine, and spirits (which are distilled), and many
products not fitting easily into these categories. We have beer, bitter, ale,
stout and lager; cider, mead, kumis and sake. We have Chianti, Bordeaux,
Beaujolais and Burgundy. We have red wine, white wine, rosé wine, fruit wine,
table wine, sparkling wine, ice wine and champagne. We have sweet wines, dry
wines, fruit wines and potato wines. We have fortified wines like Port,
Madeira, Sherry and Vermouth. We have absinthe and Aquavit; we have brandy,
cognac and Armagnac. We have schnapps and fruit brandies. We have gin, vodka,
rum, scotch, bourbon, rye and sake. We have tequila and Ouzo. We have dinner
wines, table wines, aperitifs, cocktails, mixed drinks, straight drinks, neat
drinks. And we have special places for getting drunk. We have bars, wine bars
and music bars. We have dance bars, topless bars and gay bars. We have cocktail
lounges. We have pubs, beer halls, taverns and beer gardens. And I haven’t even
does China have? Almost nothing. One word – jiu – for anything with alcohol in
it. And if we want to be
precise, we have beer (pi jiu), grape wine (pu tao jiu) and the white stuff
that should kill you but somehow doesn’t – bai jiu. And China has no places
where people go to drink, awine and spirits in any supermarket or convenience store,
but you drink thoset home (or in the park, or sitting on the curb). You can
of course order them in most restaurants. But that’s all. Almost nothing to
drink, and almost no place to drink it.
category of family, in the West the “family” is the mother, the father, and the
kid. That’s it. We have
uncles, aunts and cousins, and we have grandparents, meaning we don’t like them but were born with them and had no
choice. But in China, “family” means the entire extended family plus,
occasionally, favored outsiders or even foreigners, in total comprising perhaps
50 people sharing not only emotional but often financial bonds as well.
West, we have only a handful of names for family members, generally ending with
second cousins. But in China we
have potentially hundreds of names for family members, far beyond mother,
father, son and daughter. We have names for younger and older brothers, names
for the father’s older and younger brothers and those of the mother’s and
father’s parents, their younger and older brothers and sisters. We have names
for the grandmother’s third cousin on her father’s uncle’s side of the family.
It doesn’t end. You can see that in China, we waste all our words on trivial
things like family members while in the West with our democracies and American
values we save our words for really important stuff like things you can get
drunk with. Clearly, China needs to change its attitude.
American acquaintance once asked me if all Chinese people had “American” names. I tried to deflect that by saying they were ‘Western’
names rather than ‘American’ but she countered by saying, “Well, that’s the
same thing”. But it isn’t the same thing. Her name, Theresa, is French. Her
husband’s name is Russian; her son’s name is English. There is no such thing as
an American name. Actually, that’s not quite true. There are three categories
of American names. Pocahontas is an American name, as are girls’ names that end
in i like Whoopi and Bambi. The third category is the sometimes-cute names that
black mothers give to their football-player sons, like Jemahl and Freezone.
That’s the list. But to Americans, who
copied all their names from people of other nations, the names are now as
American as Coca-Cola. Except that
Coca-Cola is Spanish.
Larry Romanoffis a retired management consultant and businessman. He has held senior executive positions in international consulting firms, and owned an international import-export business. He has been a visiting professor at Shanghai’s Fudan University, presenting case studies in international affairs to senior EMBA classes. Mr. Romanoff lives in Shanghai and is currently writing a series of ten books generally related to China and the West. He can be contacted at: email@example.com.