Why Chinese People Have Short Names

This is a story that I heard from a barber when discussing folklore origins. S is a middle aged Chinese woman who used to live in China before immigrating to the United States.

S: There was one about a boy with a super long name who fell down a well and almost died because his name was too long. I think his name was “Tiki-tiki-tembo-no-sar-embo-charri-barri-boochi-pip-perry-pembo” or something like that. It was Chinese.. custom to say the full name of a firstborn child. So the boy with the long name had a brother with a short name, and they were playing next to a well by their house. The younger brother fell into the well, so the older brother ran to their mom and said Chang fell into the well! Oh, and Chang was the name of the younger brother.

Me: Oh nooo! Were they able to save him?

S: Yes! They got a ladder to help Chang climb out of the well right away and he was just fine. Then another day, the two brothers were playing next to the well again when this time it was the older brother who fell!

Me: (groans) come on guys, do better. Silly little kids!

S: So this time, Chang runs to his mom and tries to tell her that Tiki-tiki-tembo-no-sar-embo-charri-barri-boochi-pip-perry-pembo fell into the well. But since he ran there, he was so out of breath that he could only say tiki-tiki-tembo… before running out of breath. His mom was so intent on respecting her first-born son’s name that she would not listen until he was able to say (inhales largely) Tiki-tiki-tembo-no-sar-embo-charri-barri-boochi-pip-perry-pembo. Whew! That was hard hahha.

Me: (trying to say it with her) Tiki-tiki-tembo-no-sar-embo-charri-barii-boochi alala blehhh. I couldn’t imagine having a name that long. That must suck!

S: Yeah anyways, they finally got the ladder after Chang was able to pronounce his brother’s name, but he was basically almost drowned by this point. They were able to save him, but it took him a long time to recover. And that’s why Chinese people have short names!

Me: Wow, what a cool tale! I hope that the mom learned her lesson, that could’ve ended really badly.