Tag Archives: names

Naming your children with things like water for good personalities

HK: Chinese people are really superstitious about how you name your child––so all the Chinese children have like, names that are made up of Chinese characters, right? And within those characters, there are characters that mean certain things.

MW: What’s your name?

HK: Well, let’s just say that basically my name has a lot of fire character in it. Too much probably, that’s probably why I’m such a bitch.

MW: Haha. So then what did you name your kids?

HK: All my kids, we decided, had to have water in their names. In Chinese you know it as the part of the character, the “radical,” known as san dian shui. It’s basically three dots at the edge of some characters that denotate that the character is related to water. We did that so they would balance me out. Cause now I’m such a bitch, by my kids are pretty cool. Keeps the family balanced.

MW: And how does this make you feel?

HK: Well, again, it’s that superstition feeling where you feel like you should just do it because if you don’t you worry about what might happen, and then otherwise your mother in law can blame everything bad that happens on you because you didn’t name your kids water or whatever. But they all have nice names. I like them.


The informant, HK, was born in New York but has parents who are from China. She married and has three children. 


HK now lives in Texas––I collected this story over a Zoom call. She has been one of my mother’s closest friends since college, and often, they would commiserate together with all of my other Chinese aunties about certain things their Chinese parents would make them do, or general annoyance over Chinese tradition. This was one of those calls.


With a lot of other superstitions from any culture, you do it to avoid a consequence; but with names, it’s more fun, especially if you’re born in America. American names generally don’t have any meaning, or at least any meaning that everyone knows. In Chinese, every name means something, and generally, everyone knows that meaning. So of course there will be superstitions surrounding names because the meanings are so clear, but it adds a lot of beauty to the literal title of your identity. It’s something that I feel like a lot of Americans might miss out on.


Main Piece:

Interviewer: Can you tell me how your children get their names?

Informant: Yes. Traditionally, in our Native ways, someone may change their name 2-4 times throughout the course of their life.

Interviewer: You mean they would get nicknames?

Informant: No, they would change their names. When they are born they may be given a name that speaks to how their parents want them to be. But over time, there may be a defining moment or incident in their life that would cause them to be known by another name. This might be from an act of bravery, an accident, or just an unusual experience.

Interviewer: And everyone, including their family, would then call them by this new name?

Informant: Yes, especially their family. And this might happen a few times throughout their lives.

Interviewer: Do you have an “Indian name?” 

Informant: Yes, my name is “Atsiniki.”

Interviewer: What does it mean?

Informant: Story Teller.


The informant is a Choctaw man in his early 50’s. He was born in Texas and grew up in Oklahoma. He currently resides in Tennessee with his wife and children.


During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my father. My dad and I decided to have cigars in the back yard and I asked if he could share a few stories regarding our Native culture. I’ve grown up learning about these many traditions but asked him to explain them as if sharing with someone unfamiliar with the culture.


Names are an interesting thing. They travel with us, shaping how we see ourselves and the rest of the world. They help build our reality and draw meaning within chaos. When we can name something, we come a bit closer to understanding it; or at least conceiving it a bit better. A lifespan shows movement so it’s interesting to see that reflected in names as well. Many people have nicknames or change their name to mark a new phase in their life, which shows the importance of identity that can be found in a name. 

Culinta (Cullies) and Ginkles (Ginks)

  • Conext: The following informant, T, is a 56 yr. old married mother of three. She comes from a large Italian family. She explains to me the alternative names she and her entire extended family use for vagina (culinta/cullie) and penis (ginkle/ginks). The informant also sings me a song she created when her daughter was a toddler that incorporates a variant of the word culinta that is now sung throughout her family to female toddlers. The conversation took place in the informants kitchen as we looked at old family photos and remembered other folkspeech used among the family. 
  • Text:

T: “In my family growing up we would call vaginas culintas and penises ginkles and I don’t know where it came from. But it came from my dad’s side of the family, and they we’re Italian, and they would really call it a cullie or a ginks or a ginkle and we would just reference that…

And so when [my daughter] was little I made up this song about putting her pull-ups on in the kitchen and it would go… it goes like this…

‘Put the pulls on the cules and make the coffee in the kitchen’

And now that’s a family song. And all of the nieces, all of my nieces, sing that song to their kids.”

  • Analysis: Sex is a very tabboo subject in American society. The conversation of genitalia is also often censored. I believe this may be one of the reasons for the wide variety of vocabulary used to describe male and female genitalia. It does not shock me that my own family uses the words culinta and ginkle, because even though we’re aware of what body parts we’re referring to, it somehow makes the conversation feel appropriate to any audience. In addition, the words themselves sound more similar to Italian words, so they harken back to our ancestry. I plan on teaching the words culinta/cullie and ginkle/ginks to my children, as I’m not sure they could survive in our family without knowing the meaning of those words. Surprisingly to me, when the terms are used around non-family members, they often understand the meaning, but I would attribute this more to the context in which they are used. Perhaps from the other parts of the conversation, the person is able to pick up on the meaning of the words rather than inherently knowing the definitions. 

Going Out the Road

  • Context: The informant (A) is a 19 year old college student who lives at the Jersey Shore in South New Jersey in the summer. He explains to me the colloquial term used in his town when a person is driving from the island on which they live to stores inland. The conversation came up during a family discussion whether or not everyone in the town of Sea Isle City, NJ knows the term “out the road” means going inland or if it is specific to the informant’s family (this was never resolved). 
  • Text:

A: “Out the road is when you’re down at the shore in New Jersey… which is the southern part of Jersey in between Atlantic City and Wildwood.

And… uh… when you’re going out the road you drive inland and south towards where the shopping centers are in middle New Jersey… uh… and there’s a TJMaxx and there’s a couple other stores…

And you go out the road when you uh… when you want things… anyway that’s what out the road is.”

  • Analysis: “Out the road” is a term used to describe going from the islands to the inlands because you physically must go out the road. There is only one road leading in and out of the island in New Jersey where the informant spends his summers, so it makes sense that there is a term for this action. It creates a group of those who know the local terms and those who do not. It also creates a group of inlanders and islanders and the two are physically separated by a road as well as a specific term/speech.

La-a (pronounced “Ladasha”)

The informant told me about this joke when I asked him about some good jokes he had heard.

Informant: “So this is a joke I’ve heard from many people, some of them have claimed it to be true. The joke goes: ‘I heard about this person named Ladasha, and her name is spelled La-a. So it’s “Laa”, but it’s pronounced Ladasha. And I’ve heard this as a joke from some people. But one person who told me, actually insisted that they knew someone who knew Ladasha. Which is obviously not true.”

Collector: “Why is this a joke, what’s the funny part about it?”

Informant: “Oh, its just typography”

Collector: “When did you hear this first?”

Informant: “High school I believe, a couple years ago. I would hear about it every couple months or so. It was a thing people knew about.”

Collector: “Why do you think specifically the name Ladasha?”

Informant: “Because its funny and it sounds like a real name”

Collector: “It sounds like an African American name. Is there any reason why that is?”

Informant: “Some of those names I’ve seen do have vanity punctuation”

Collector: “So do you think this is poking fun at that?”

Informant: “Probably. I think there’s a Tiana in my high school (T’ana) so it’d be like, ‘T’ana’ so that was a vanity punctuation”

Collector: “So Ladasha could be a real name”

Informant: “Yes. But more likely I think is that someone named their baby that after they heard the joke”

This joke, in my opinion, is likely to indeed be poking fun at some African American names with unconventional punctuation, or as my informant called it, “vanity punctuation.”

Yiddish Names

*Note: The informant, Laura, is my mother. She’s a Jewish woman who identifies with Yiddish aspects of Jewish culture.


INFORMANT: “A lot of the jokes were based on misunderstandings of Yiddish words, because there was a lot of that. There were a lot of things like… my great uncles were three brothers, and in Russia they were Levenbuch, and when they came through Elllis Island, they each went through separately, and the people at Ellis Island just wrote down what they thought they heard them saying, and so when they started their life in America, one was Levenbook, one was Levenbrook, and one was Levenburg. So there was a lot of that, but the story that they like to tell was about a nervous Jewish guy coming through Ellis Island, and he was so flustered when he got there that they asked him his name and he said in Yiddish: “Jin fergessen,” which means “I forget,” and they wrote down “Shane Ferguson.” Which couldn’t be any less of a Jewish name if you tried. There was a lot of that, making fun of the language, because Yiddish is not a written-down language, it’s a spoken language, so pretty much everything we did in terms of calling things … speaking in Yiddish, calling things Yiddish names and the Yiddish jokes were all based on this language that developed over time that wasn’t really a written language but it was more like a cultural language. so it’s very rich in, you know, this is the cultural part of Judaism that we’re imbued with.”


Yiddish is an interesting case of folklore because it’s a language that’s almost completely carried by oral tradition – Yiddish is not a written language like Hebrew, and it’s hard to peg down agreed-upon spellings for many Yiddish words. Yet, Yiddish is carried on by the Jewish people and even by non-Jews, because several Yiddish words have been adopted into the general English vocabulary. People use words like “shmutz,” “shmuck,” and “nosh” on a regular basis, without really even realizing they’re using Yiddish words!

These stories are also significant to folklore because they exemplify the hilarity resulting from cultural differences. Americans at Ellis Island couldn’t quite grasp the Jewish last names of the incoming immigrants, so Jewish people often lost their names to more Americanized surnames like “Ferguson” in the case of the Shane Ferguson joke. It’s a moment of cultural mixing.

A Lineage of Names


“Yep I like it. I get asked to repeat it all the time though like when I order stuff like coffee.”

A friend’s family has maintained a naming lineage for several generations. They possess in the family a large scroll with a family tree dating back to the 1500s. It began with Thor the first, who’s grandson was given the name Thor the second. Flash forward to now, where the informant’s father is Thor the 4th. His father named his children after other Norse gods, and the first of them to have a male child will be expected to name it Thor the 5th. His father maintained the naming because he wanted to stay true to his Scandinavian roots and not betray a long established tradition. The informant doesn’t mind, and says he too would feel an obligation to continue it if he is the first to have a son.



My good friend, the informant, loves the tradition. He and his brothers all have pretty awesome sounding names that are unique. He says it makes him feel like he’s a part of something larger, but also feel unique since he doesn’t meet people who share the same story. He hinted at wanting the Thor naming right, but didn’t seem eager to rush into having children just for that purpose.



It’s certainly a unique naming scheme to come across, at least in America – I can’t speak for other regions. The dedication to cultural roots is admirable and impressive when it lasts for several generations. The informant and his father don’t have much with regards to information about the original Thor in the lineage, since the informant’s grandfather passed away very early in his son’s life. In any case, whether or not the original Thor had intention to create a pattern or that was the standard at the time isn’t known by the informant.

Ethiopian naming customs

My informant is from Washington, D.C. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Ethiopia. This her explanation of the customs surrounding the naming of newborn children in Ethiopian families:

“A lot of times, it’s a sign of respect—not necessarily for your first child, but for your second child—you will like, allow your parents to name them. But actually naming someone after someone else in your family is definitely a Westernized thing, at least in comparison to Ethiopian culture. Um… but there’s not really any repetition of names in Ethiopian families. So your dad’s… either your dad’s first name is your last name, or that’s your middle name and your paternal grandfather’s name is your last name. Um, the way my parents did it was that my dad’s name is my last name. I don’t have a middle name, um because it was like, easier, and the insurance companies wouldn’t let them do otherwise. So, yeah. And women don’t take their husband’s last name. So it’s like really hard to trace your family lineage.”

Although my informant says that Ethiopian families do not usually name their children after family members and that there is not any repetition of names within families, they do pass on the father or paternal grandfather’s name, so in a sense, those names are repeated. The tradition of keeping the father’s name in the family by using it as the child’s last name is indicative that Ethiopia is a patriarchal society: the father’s name is given to the next generation, whereas the mother’s name is not. However, Ethiopian women do keep their own last names when they marry, so in that sense, they have a certain independence from their husbands that Western women typically do not.

Chinese Naming Superstitions

The older Chinese tended to nickname their children after animals and give their boys, a girl’s name or a girl a boy’s name.

My informant knew about this custom because his older sister was given a boy’s name to ensure that the next child would be a son. His sister was born in the 1940s, and he learned about it in the 1950s when he was very young.

There are many reasons for this. In the past, people used to name their children after animals to avoid the demons from taking their children away because they would get confused when the parents would call them animals in hopes that the spirits would take the animals instead. Another reason is that the spirits would think that there was something wrong with the children if they’re called names for the other gender. Often though, Chinese families would call their older girls (especially families with no boys) by boy names in the hopes the next child would be a boy.

This is because, boys are very important for more traditional Chinese families. In the past, the daughters would become part of the family they marry, but the son would remain, carry on the family name and take charge of the farm and parents.


“Students flooded Hospitality with emails to protest the reduced hours at TroGro, and Hospitality responded favorably within a week.

Kris Klinger, director of USC Hospitality, promised to hold discussions with students and administrators to determine whether or not TroGro will continue its 24/7 operations next year.”

By Rebecca Gao through the Daily Trojan

Student input is a healthy ingredient

Although the official name is for the 24 hour snack stop at USC is called Trojan Grounds, everyone at USC refers to the place affectionately as “TroGro.”  Like many things on college campuses, this name got abbreviated.  Students commonly abbreviate because our life styles are so fast paced and they are ready for things to happen immediately.  Being the internet generation, students instant message and text message their friends in short hand.  For example, people will type “brb” instead of be right back.  This slang is so common that it is expected for people to understand.  Thus, shortening names of popular locations is a natural next step.