The informant in a 26-year old man, born and raised in Long Island, New York.
BF: My uncle used to tell us all riddles. He’d tell us the riddle, but he wouldn’t tell us the answer until we were thirteen. And the cruel thing was that he’d tell us when we were–me and my cousins–were all like ten years old, so we’d have to wait years. We should’ve just googled them, if we’d known.
What was one of those riddles?
BF: This one, it’s the only one I still remember. So, a guy is visiting another guy in jail. The guard asks Guy A if he knows Guy B, and A says “Brothers and sisters, I have none. But that man’s father is my father’s son”.
So who is the prisoner?
BF: My uncle never even told me the answer, I forgot until I was seventeen! So, “that man’s father is my father’s son”. “My father’s son” just means “myself”, so “that man’s father is myself”.. so he is the guy’s father–the prisoner is the son. The father refers to himself, which is why it’s tricky.
The riddle is told in many different ways with other setups, but the main question usually remains the same.
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.
The following is a riddle my informant told to me:
A man and his son were driving down an icy road. When they took a corner, the car flipped. After a while, two ambulances came, one took the father to a hospital in the west, the other took the son to an hospital in the east. The nurses rushed the son into surgery, because he was losing a lot of blood. The doctor entered, and after looking at the boy exclaimed: ” I can’t operate on this boy, he is my son!” How can this be?
Answer: The doctor is the boy’s mother
My informant told me that he tells this riddle often at parties or to his kids’ friends. Half of the time people guess the answer right away, but the other half of the time it completely stumps them.
When I first heard this riddle from my informant I could not figure it out. I thought it had to do with the sun rising, or another meaning of the word: “son”. As it turns out, it just reflected how the term “doctor” is still associated more with men than with women. I believe that this riddle is important because it pokes fun at the sexism of American society.