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Sports Illustrated’s Sign Of The Apocalypse (SOA) is supposed to be fun, a bit facetious, and a little zany. You’re supposed to chuckle over your morning coffee after reading one. You’re supposed to shake your head at the insanity and idiocy of the sports world. You know, laugh at those people who just don’t get it, those people who are precipitating the end of the world as we know it.
I bring this up because I came across this week’s SOA (the issue with Tiger):
More than 4,000 baby boys and girls in China have been named Aoyun, the Chinese word for Olympic Games.
This one, however, didn’t make me guffaw. This week’s SOA shows just how different — and misunderstood — the Chinese culture is with the so-called West. Aoyun is a perfectly fine name in Chinese culture; no one will look down on some one who’s name is Aoyun (although it would be a conversation starter). Yet, in SI, it’s a Sign Of The Apocalypse.
Parents in China — and other Asian countries — go about naming their children differently than Western countries. They name the children after mountains or rivers or revolutions or current events or whatever. A kid could be named Strong Donkey after some beloved ass that belonged to the family. Who knows. The point is that the naming customs are vastly different than the ones in the United States or Europe.
The thing that many people get hung up on are the literal translations back to English. Aoyun sounds comical to them. Who would call their child Olympics? Oh, those silly Chinese. (Olympia Dukakis is probably fine with Aoyun, methinks) What they don’t know is that the child could have been given a Westernized name. Something like Michael or Michelle.
Here’s my own example: My Chinese name, Wu Jia Le, literally means Excellent Happiness. If my parents hadn’t given me a Westernized name, people would call me Jia Le, never really knowing what the words, or characters, meant. I probably wouldn’t have gone with Excellent Happiness Wu, even though it has a nice ring to it. And if they hadn’t named me Sunny, I most likely would have chosen for myself a Westernized name, which many, many Chinese people do.
I don’t want to make this a big deal (because I don’t think it is), but it’s these nuanced misunderstandings in coverage that pop up from time to time that show there’s still a cultural gap that needs to be bridged.