Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Meaning of Names

Names are what we are known by, and called or referred to by our friends, family, relatives, co-workers, and even strangers.
Our name is the first reflection of our identity and the glimpse into our characters.

Have you ever wondered why we have the names that we do, or why our parents/grandparents spend time and put so much thought into selecting the best name for the babies before they were even born?

Some even went to the extent of consulting a medium, priest, astrologer/feng shui master or anyone in the religious authority to determine the name to suit their children based on the date, year and time of birth.
For Chinese, there is also the association with the zodiac year in which their childen are born to ensure that the right name is selected for their child.

It is all for a simple reason; besides identity is the association with the future and the good fortune of the child.
Really, it is just THAT simple.

However, the naming part is the one that could be slightly more complicated as there are just so many characters in each language; particularly the Chinese which could go up to more than thousands of characters and words.

I was having this conversation the other day, and it just hit me that I should just write an article on this, and do a quick research on the association of names and the future of the folks with great names.

Guess what? I have a list of names that can prove the theory above; that name can indeed determine the future of a child/person.
It is no wonder why most of the cultures place so much importance on the names of their offsprings as no parent would want a dim future for their child.

Even if you were to take off the superstitious and hopeful part, it is also wise and necessary to select a name that would be decent to spare your kid from the humiliation at school when other kids would make fun of his/her name.

In the olden days, Chinese farmers would tend to name their kids after animals or flowers. It is not something to laugh about, as then, not everyone had the luxury to receive any form of education, let alone higher education and thus, they do not know of the words/characters and just take it the easy way.
Furthermore, naming their sons 'Ah Ngau' (translates to Cow/Ox) means they hope for their son to be as hardworking as an ox while naming their daughters 'Ah Fa' (translates to flower) expresses their hopes for their girl to grow up beautiful and loved by everyone.

Names do hold a significant meaning/power over a person's fate/destiny in life, whether you like to believe it or not.
I am not urging for you to believe nor am I promoting/encouraging astrology calculations to decide on a name for your newborn.
I am not a huge believer myself, but I have indeed seen very good cases where the name brought success to the person.

I used to hear my parents tell me of this particular doctor whose Chinese name literally means 'drop/strip off underwear' and guess what, he is a gynaecologist!

Let's look at some celebrity examples:
Jackie Chan's chinese name is Seng Long; which translates to Successful Dragon. It was not his original name per se, but look at where he is today; tracing all the way back to his beginner days as an unknown stuntman.

Chinese names usually are selected based on the entirety of the meaning and also the compatibility of the birth date.
Usually Chinese names for boys contain words/characters like:
Seng - Success
Hock/Fook - Luck
Fatt/Huat - Prosperity
Loong - Dragon (Power and authority)
Hong/Kin - Health
Sui - Wealth

For girls:
Sam/Sum - Heart/Nobility/purity
Mei - Beauty

For English names, usually they take after famous people, or for Catholics, they take on patron saint names for their children to ensure they are blessed and patronized by the holy saints and angels.

Every name given is with thought and careful consideration, and I have seen more than enough examples; particularly of Chinese ancestry which had proven this point.
(I won't go too much into the western/English or names from other cultures as that would be too lengthy)

In my family, there are several examples already, but for privacy reasons I won't reveal the full name nor the relationship of the person to me.
Chinese Name means Golden Complete Circle/Reunion and yes, this person has a decent and complete life with a complete family (wife and kids), a job, car, house and decent salary to bring him through his life.

Smooth Fortune: This is a very lucky and fortunate person as he can win almost anything or get anything he want if he tried/participate.

Far Foresight/thinking: This person has displayed extraordinary calmness even in the most panicky situations. Furthermore, most of his plannings never went wrong.

Heart of a flower: Unique and rare, and yes, she is one who seeks to be recognized as an unique individual and not to be lumped as the majority.

Smooth and let it be: the person is the most carefree that I have seen, and nothing worries him at all because he does not care too much about anything in the world and just lets nature takes its course.

Now, moving away from the names in my family and celebrities like superstar Jackie Chan, there are also names in Christianity/western culture which are worth looking into:
Mahatma Gandhi is one of the most influential and respectable figures in history, and uniquely, his name Mahatma means 'one of a great soul, one respected for his spirituality'.

Just another one for thought, Bill Gates, which I have just realized and associate...isn't he the one turning on the tap or opening(gates) opportunities for the $$ (bills) to flow in?
That is a nice thought and association, ain't it?

Each name given is selected based on much care, thought and consideration and reflects on our parents' hopes, faith and prayers for us in our lives.
We should be thankful for their time and efforts.

Your name is yourself, and be yourself, and don't let yourself be affected by the superstition alone.
If you love your name, good for you...and if you dislike your name, too bad, but you can change it if you want.
Always remember, you can change your first name if you don't like it, but your surname is something that you can never be rid of unless you want to disown your own family.
That would be disowning who you truly are, as a tree can never be without its roots.

I hope to continue another time on this interesting topic, and do drop me your thoughts if you have any.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Dumpling Festival aka Dragon Boat Festival

The fifth day of the fifth lunar month in the Chinese Lunar Calendar is dedicated to the Dumpling Festival/Dragon Boat festival, or also known as the Duanwu Jie (端午节) in Chinese (Mandarin).

The day falls on the 6th of June this year (what a pure coincidence!); which was yesterday.
As the name suggested, the festival is largely associated with the dumplings (food) and the dragon boat (activity) which formed the celebration of the festival.

The festival and the notion of dumplings and dragon boat takes us back to the early periods; BCE (Before the Common Era) during the existence of the warring states; 278 BCE, in ancient China.
As this is a Chinese festival, it is no surprise that the whole thing started from China.

The famous icon believed and popularly attributed to the origin of this festival is a poet and an official, Qu Yuan (屈原) who was serving the king of the ancient state of Chu, in the warring states period of the Zhou Dynasty. He was of royal descent and served the government. He opposed to the ruler's decision to form an alliance with the powerful Qin forces at that time, thus incurred the wrath of the king who sent him away on exile based on the allegations of treason.
When the Qin took over the capital of Chu and the kingdom, Qu Yuan was distressed and ended his life by jumping into the river.
His death was mourned by many who had supported and liked him, and they made lumps of rice to throw into the river where he died to distract the fishes from feasting on his body.
There were also some who went to the extent of rowing their boats to uncover his body and at the same time, scare away the fishes in the river.
He was dearly remembered for his loyalty and also for his poetry, which were mostly written during his time in exile.

The acts of the lumps of the rice, led to the notion of the dumplings today, while the boat rowing/paddling led its way to the dragon boat race today.

Other Sources of Origin
Qu Yuan remained the most popular figure to be associated with the origin of this festival, but there were places in China; i.e: Zhejiang which also commemmorates the filial piety of Cao E who tried to rescue her father and drowned to her death while doing so.

In short, most of the sources and stories related to the origin had something to do with the notion of loyalty/filial piety and included suicide/death in the river, and the acts of trying to protect the body from the fishes.

Rice Dumplings
Image Hosted by PicturePush - Photo Sharing
The notion of dumpling came from the lumps of rice, which is now largely associated with the glutinous rice dumplings; also known as Zhongzi (粽子) in Mandarin or also Zong 粽 in Cantonese.
The rice dumpling is usually wrapped in bamboo leaves; in a triangular or tetrahedral shape.
The glutinous rice is the main part of the dumpling, and is usually cooked by stir-frying.

The traditional zong/zhang (Hokkien) is composed of black mushrooms, salted egg yolk, pork, chestnuts, and may contain traces of dried scallops/shrimps too.

The making of zhang/zong is a long and tedious process, and usually take a few hours and is a family activity (like all Chinese festivals) in the olden days.

There are also different types of zong with their fillings available, such as red bean paste, mung bean paste, chicken, or sometimes, no filling at all which requires the dumplings to be eaten with sugar or sweet syrup.

Dragon Boat Race
The paddling of the boat to search for the poet's body or to scare away the fishes gave birth to the idea of the dragon boat race which coincides with the celebration of the festival.
The notion of the dragon came about due to the period of the dumpling festival which occurs during the summer solstice, where the day presides longer. As the sun is often associated with the yang energy and also the iconic dragon, thus the boat race came to be known as the Dragon Boat Race, a symbol of the weather.

The Dragon Boat race is an annual event in a few countries like Malaysia, Singapore and China.

The dragon boat race is most popular and garnered much public attention in Malaysia; which usually takes place in Penang, an island located in the northern region off the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia where most of the professionals participate to win the tournament every year.
Even schools sent their best teams to partake in the exciting race which attracted not only the foreigners but also local tourists from all over Malaysia to make that trip to the state to watch the race in action.

Public Holiday
The festival is observed as a public holiday in China and states in the republic; which includes Taiwan, Macau and China.

This year, in Malaysia, we were fortunate enough to have the festival coincide with the public holiday replacement of the king's birthday which fell on Saturday, and thus some of the companies replaced the holiday for their employees on the following Monday which was the day of the festival, thus making it a longer weekend :)

For more on the Zong (food), please refer to my food blog :)