An Ignorant Take on Chinese Names

I’m fascinated by the bizarre/offensive stuff one finds in old newspapers. This name-related item, which ran in a North Carolina newspaper exactly 100 years ago today, is a case in point.

Reading the reports that come from war-ridden China and trying in vain to pronounce the unpronounceable names contained in the press dispatches, one of Lexington’s bright young men explained to an admiring circle of loafers the reason for the tongue-twisting names. He said that when a Chinese baby was born the family gathered in council and the head of the house threw down on the floor a big tin pan. The family collectively interpreted the sound that followed and the baby was named. If the pan rattled “Wung Ting Fang,” or “Bam Wam Chow,” or “Boom Wong Long” or any other mixture of sounds, the infant Chinese was duly christened and the ceremony was over. Simple, isn’t it?

The war it refers to is the Xinhai Revolution, which overthrew the Qing Dynasty and established the Republic of China in 1912.

Source: “Local Items.” Dispatch [Lexington, NC] 22 Nov. 1911: 5.


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