USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Name’
Folk speech
Foodways
general
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

The Dumber the Name, The Better the Food

My sister got this saying from a guy she was seeing at the time. He was extremely well traveled, and used this trick for finding close to/authentic Chinese food in America.

Allegra: “So his advice is to look for the Chinese restaurant with the weirdest name – the name that makes no sense in English. Go there and you are sure to have some authentic fare at the right price.”

Me: What do you mean by weird?

Allegra: ” Well there are names which make no sense and are a sort of enigmatic challenge for the discerning brain. Do they actually make sense and would be clear to those who were more culturally aware and cosmopolitan? Or are they purposely inscrutable so as to attract attention? Who knows, but here are some real-life examples:

I Don’t Know Chinese Restaurant

New Fook Lam Moon (was there an Old Fook Lam Moon?)

Concubine and The Shanghai

New Cultural Revolution Restaurant

Confucius Pao

The New Edinburgh Rendezvous Mandarin Kitchen

Nice Day Happy Garden

Me: Have you tried this out anywhere in New York City?

Allegra: “I haven’t yet. But now that I’m thinking about it, I fully intend to.”

Analysis: Perhaps perpetuating this rule of thumb – “The dumber the name, the better the food” is a way for people to deal with their fear of the unknown and bestow some honor on their xenophobia. Or, maybe the rule of thumb is true – at least as a self-fulfilling prophecy. People will think the food is better if they’ve found a place with a truly confusing name.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
Magic
Protection

Don’t Write In Red

The Main Piece
In Korea it is commonly known that if you write someone’s name in red, then they will die. It does not have written in any particular way or on any particular object, but simply in red ink. The color represents the blood of the person as if one was smearing it across the canvass. She has heard several stories of incidents happening where a person has died coincidentally after their name was written in red. While the myth can not be proven to be true or not, these rumors ventilate throughout Korea, keeping people on edge and careful of what they write.
Background Information
My informant is Elizabeth Kim, a current first year undergraduate student and personal friend of mine at USC, she is also a full and third generation Korean. She states that it is because of her almost annual trips to Korea that she has heard of these various rumors, stories, and superstitions. She tells me about how she enjoys hearing these stories just as she enjoys hearing a scary story. There is the possibility that it could be real which keeps her excited. She hears it from her friends that live in Korea and sometimes even cousins or aunts members at family gatherings.
Context
I was interviewing Elizabeth towards the second semester of our freshman year outside of Parkside Apartment at USC. The setting was casual and conversation flowed easily as we discussed the folklore she knew of.
Personal Thoughts
Hearing this piece of folklore actually made me a little nervous at first. I can not count the amount of times I have written people’s names in red. In fact, I have written my own name in red hundreds of times. In elementary school teachers make you correct other students’ paperwork and write “Corrected By: ______.” However, this also makes me consider the fact that everyone dies at some point and one’s name is always being written down. So perhaps it only makes sense or perhaps just coincidence that one dies and their name is written in red.

Life cycle
Narrative

Origin of a Name

D is a 57 year old man. He is a practicing cardiologist at a hospital in the northern suburbs of Illinois. He identifies as American as he grew up in Boston, but he strongly associates with his Scottish heritage as well. D completed his undergraduate studies at Dartmouth University and he attended Cornell University for his degree in medicine. During his studies, both undergraduate and med school, D studied abroad in France two times. While in medical school, D studied at the Faculté de Médecine et de Maïeutique de Lille in Lille, France. English is his primary language, yet he is also fluent in French.

Me: Can you tell me about your Scottish heritage?

D: Well, my last name is Campbell, and it’s, well, the name is Scottish. Um, the name comes from the Clan Campbell.

Me: Do you know what the name means?

D: Campbell, or, well, I guess it was Cambéal if you want to to get specific, which is made up of two Scottish Gaelic words that when put together translate to mean “crooked mouth.”

Me: Why crooked mouth?

D: It (Cambéal) was more of a nickname than anything. It took the place as a surname later on.

Me: But then why were they nicknamed “crooked mouth.”

D: Oh, yeah, well the Clan Campbell wasn’t a very popular group in Scotland highlands. They supported the British government, so the highlanders didn’t really get along with them. Mostly the name is taken to mean, untrustworthy or tricksters, other things alongs those lines.

Me: Why? I mean, can you give me some history?

D:  The Campbell’s were responsible for many massacres, and many people hated for their support of the British government, but I think the most prominent one is probably the Massacre of Glencoe. In the late 1600’s, the British government used their supporters, the Campbells, in a plan to suppress Jacobitism. After spending over a week in Glencoe, taking advantage of the MacDonald’s hospitality, the Campbells killed around 40 unarmed Clan MacDonald men, women, and children. And I visited Glencoe during a backpacking trip with my buddies in college. I remember asking for Campbell plaid. The saleswoman at the shop gave me a dead stare and told me “we don’t sell that here.” There were also signs in some store windows that said “no dogs or Campbells allowed.”

Me: Wow, they really don’t like Campbells there do they?

D: I think Glencoe is a specific case because the massacre was so terrible. I didn’t get the same reaction in other parts of Scotland. For the most part, it was a long time ago and people don’t care so much anymore. I found Campbell plaid pretty easily as soon as we travelled closer to Edinbourgh.

Me: How do you know all of this?

D: My father mostly, and this little green book he gave me. It that talks all about the history of the Campbell Clan. I gave the book to my kids to read as well. It’s important to know where you come from.

D’s heritage obviously means a lot to him, most of it ties into his last name. He knows a lot about Clan Campbell and their history. He has the tartan specific to the Clan Campbell as well, so he is proud of his heritage. Regardless of the questionable things that his ancestors did, the family still has a rich history. He wants his kids to know about their ancestry as well because he passed down the book about their family that his father gave him to his children.

Here is the link to the book D is talking about: http://www.amazon.com/The-Campbells-Campbell-Scottish-Mini-book/dp/1852170360

Folk speech

Don’t be such a nudge!

The informant is a 22 year old college graduate that is now working at a software company in Madison, WI. He grew up in Upton, Massachusetts until he left Upton to go to college in Los Angeles, California. . Upton is a small (population 7,542) town about 45 minutes south-west of Boston. He grew up in a loosely Catholic household with both of his parents and two younger sisters (3 years younger and 7 years younger). His maternal grandmother alternated between living in Massachusetts and living in Florida throughout his childhood (and continues to do so now). She grew up in Massachusetts.

When the informant was a child, he often spent time with his maternal grandmother. He is not the oldest or the youngest of her grandchildren, but is outnumbered by girls 4 to 2 when he was growing up. When he was being obnoxious, his grandmother would call him a “nudge.” Though she was not malicious when saying this, the informant stated that she only said this when she was “trying not to be angry” at whatever small-child antics the informant was involved in. Though he cannot remember exactly when she started doing this, she only did so rarely.  She no longer seriously calls him this.

Though the informant has no children as of now, he sometimes teasingly calls his girlfriend a nudge when she asks for something that is particularly reminiscent of a child’s want, like a juice box or other similar rather un-adult food item like grilled cheese. I think his frame of mind is slightly different than when his grandmother was originally using the term, as he is rarely actually getting annoyed with the girlfriend when he calls her this. He does not call anyone but his girlfriend this, as it could come off as rude or strange to someone who does not know the story behind it.

Using somewhat silly names like nudge seem to diffuse tension. Small children, especially those with a somewhat stubborn streak like my informant, can be quite irritating to others and create tension within someone who is “supposed” to be nice and motherly towards a child, as a grandmother is. Using a silly but slightly negative name helps relieve this tension between having to be kind and being irritated out of one’s mind. This does not apply when the informant is using the term with his girlfriend. In that case, it is simply to tease her for wanting childish things by calling her a name that refers to a child.

Adulthood
Customs
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Mormon women don’t have middle names

“My mother comes from a Mormon family, and none of the women in her family are supposed to have middle names, because you’re supposed to get married and take your original surname as your middle name and then take your husband’s surname. But then she gave herself a middle name when she became forty because that had frustrated her.”

 

My informant told me this story about her mother and made it seem as though this is a common practice among Mormon women. In a strongly male-dominated culture that values marriage as much as Mormonism does, this did not come as a surprise to me. By taking your husband’s surname, you become part of a new family unit, and keeping your original surname as your middle name keeps a connection to your original family. The name her mother gave herself, incidentally, was her father’s first name.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general

How to name babies

Informant Background: The informant was born in rural parts of China called Hainan. She lived there with her grandparents where she attended elementary school. She moved to the United States when she was thirteen. She speaks both Chinese and English. She lives in Los Angeles with her mother but travels back to visit her relatives in Beijing and Hainan every year. She and her mother still practice a lot of Chinese traditions and celebrate Chinese holidays through special meals.

 

Babies are named as dogs, cat, rock, or owl as a pet name so that they would not be thought of as human because the parents are not sure if the baby will survive. If the baby survives the first year then the baby will get human name. Chinese parents who want boys would name their daughter to sound like “asking for a son,” “praying for a son,” or boy’s name so that their next baby will be a boy.

The informant said she learned this she was growing up in China. She said that nowadays it is less practiced. But sometimes the child will be given an official name but the parents will still call their baby using the pet name. The practice of naming daughters to “pray for a son” has lessens as well. The informant said she personally knows some girls whose names are homonym of the word son.

 

This shows the importance of why some people celebrate first birthday for their baby even though the baby will not remember the event. It is evident that the celebration is for the family and the community to celebrate the survival and the integration of a new member. This is also similar to some Western culture the belief that children are not yet human unless they survive the first year or two. This also shows the fear of the fragility of newborns, especially in the past where there was no advanced medical practice to ensure the baby’s survival. Parents do not want to give babies human names with fear of the babies dying while the connection is already established. Parents then want to make sure their child would survive before they become an official part of the family. Otherwise if the baby did not survive they would lose an “official” member of family (and society). Giving the baby an official name and last name is to integrate the baby as a new member/individual to the community. Not making that official until the survival of the child is guaranteed can prevent that community from constantly losing their members due to death at a young age. This also shows how the individual identity within society is not established until after the first year of survival.

The naming of baby girls to “pray” or “ask” for a son seems very strange but yet understandable since Chinese culture is a patrimonial society. The particular way of naming of baby girls is the direct reflection of how Chinese culture preference in male and how male is the dominant gender. Daughters are then perceived as the stage before the baby boy is born. The parents then use the daughters to pray for a son. Naming their daughters to sound like they are saying “praying for a son” forces them to say it constantly in hope that it would come true.

This shows again how an individual is integrated into a community through different methods; also when the individual is integrated.

 

general
Legends
Myths
Narrative
Tales /märchen

How Red Hill (Bukit Merah) Got its Name

A long time ago, in the annals of Malayan history, when Singapore was merely a little sleepy fishing village, there was a bloody event that stained the soil of the (present day) Red Hill red with blood. In these early years, fish that had sharp, sword like mouths used to swim up to the shore and attack fishermen, making it unable for them to venture out and fish. Nobody had any idea what to do, the Sultan tried ordering soldiers to attack, but these attempts only made attacks more frequent and causing the soldiers themselves more harm than the fish.

Then one day, a young boy,  who lived on the hill came up with a solution. He advised the Sultan to use banana tree trunks as a wall to ward off the attacks, as the fishes mouth would get stuck in the tree and they can kill the fish more easily.  This plan worked very well, and the fish eventually stopped attacking.

However, the boy became a hero in the eyes of the villages and the Sultan became threatened by him, growing paranoid that the villagers might want this young boy to become the next ruler and overthrow him. His paranoia increased day by day, until one day, he ordered a small squad of his elite guards to assassinate the boy in his sleep. That night, the head of the this team took out his kris (wavy blade dagger) and stabbed the boy in the heart. Killing him instantly.

The blood that flowed out would not stop gushing out of the wound, this scared the soldiers and they ran away as fast as possible. This young boy’s blood coated the hill that he lived. None of the villagers knew who ordered the boy kill, but that it was a tragic event, and to commemorate this event, they called the hill Bukit Merah (Red Hill) to remember this boy by.

My informant was informed of this legend when he was a boy in Singapore during the 1990s. This was told to him by one of his older cousins at a family reunion, when they were watching a TV special on the origin of place names in Singapore. He suspected it was partially to scare the living daylights out of him, but nevertheless, it stuck. Because of the story though, he went to look up the actual reason what made the soil on that hill red, and it was because of the soil type on that hill tended to have a reddish hue to it.

Fishermen in rural villages are not the most rational or scientific of people, and the most likely reason for the name would be that as the soil, without any plants or crops growing on it would look like blood soaked soil to these uneducated villagers in the early part of the last millennium. Therefore naming the place, Red Hill or Bukit Merah.

There are many versions of this story. In some versions, like this one, the species of fish attacking the village is unknown, others name it as swordfish and some call it Gar fish. In another version of this story, the boy does not die and it the blood coming out was the blood of the earth from a homunculus which, a witch created to throw off the guards from actually killing the boy.

[geolocation]