December 17, 2006

The traditional Chinese name "Beautiful Atlanta"

News reports on the naming of the new panda cub at the Atlanta zoo tell us that her name, Mei-Lan, means "beautiful Atlanta". You might wonder about that, especially when the article goes on to quote the director of the Chinese panda center as saying that the name is one bestowed on girls whose parents want them to step outside traditional women's roles. How on earth would the city of Atlanta have acquired such a role in traditional Chinese nomenclature?

Actually, Mei-Lan 美蘭 is a common, traditional, Chinese girl's name. It means "beautiful orchid". Here, for example, is a Yootube video of a young lady named 周美蘭 whose English name is "Jessica Chow", a finalist at a recent talent competition in Vancouver.

The article isn't entirely wrong, though. There is a connection to Atlanta. The usual Chinese spelling of Atlanta, using the characters for their sound, is 亞特蘭大 ("Asia", "special", "orchid", "big"), and in compounds it is the syllable /lan/ that is extracted to represent Atlanta, so the /lan/ of Mei-Lan can be seen as standing for Atlanta.

Posted by Bill Poser at December 17, 2006 04:23 PM