Editor's Note: What's in a nickname? In China, it's like analyzing Tang poetry. What seems like a cursory observation actually contains an allusion that contains a metaphor that illustrates the universal truth that we are powerless in this fatalistic world. Powerless at controlling what nickname sticks. No wonder Buzzfeed had a hard time explaining Chinese names for Western celebrities. You need years of compulsory Chinese literature from grade one to decipher this stuff. This translated article explains China's nicknames for 14 celebrities.
Chinese Netizens have some fairly unique names for Western celebrities. Apparently you haven’t made it big in China as a star unless you have your own nickname. Last month, Buzzfeed published an article titled “34 Hilarious Nicknames Chinese People Have Given Celebrities.” The article quickly went viral.
The Buzzfeed article was informative but lacked full explanations on why many of the nicknames were given. Some of the reasons behind the names were quite obvious, for example Benedict Cumberbatch of Sherlock Holmes fame is called “Curly Blessing,” because of his hair, and Brittany Spears is known as “Queen of Starbucks,” because of the numerous pictures of her carrying a Frappuccino.
Other nicknames were not as obvious. Why is Avril Lavigne called “Yeast?” This and many other nicknames were not fully explained in the original article.
The Chinese media also disagrees with Buzzfeed on the origins of a few nicknames, and suggests an alternative on one occasion.
Here are more detailed explanations for a few of the nicknames that Chinese have given celebrities:
1) Avril Lavigne: Yeast (酵母). The words for “yeast,” and “godmother,” are the same in Chinese. In China, Avril is famous for being the godmother of non-mainstream style. As the two words are the same, the nickname “godmother,” soon became “yeast."
2) Taylor Swift: Unlucky (霉霉) and Bus (公车). Taylor is very young and beautiful or měi (美) which sounds like the word méi (霉) which means bacteria or bad luck (dǎoméi, 倒霉). Chinese think that whenever Taylor Swift has a Billboard Top100 hit, bad things happen in their city. Taylor is a bringer of bad luck, but also has bad luck in her own love life. She is also called Bus because she has had a lot of boyfriends.
3) Rihanna: Queen of Shandong Province (山东天后): Chinese were not a huge fan of Rihanna’s “Princess of China,” video which features confused mishmash of Asian stereotypes. However, they are a big fan of parodying Rihanna videos by translating them with funny subtitles. The hit “We Found Love,” was parodied in the video “Weifang Love,” a city in Shandong Province (hence the nickname). “Where Have You Been,” was translated into Weihai Yobing. Weihai is another city in Shandong, and yobing is a kind of fried pancake.
4) Katy Perry: Fruit Sister (水果姐): Katy Perry has a dress covered in plastic sparkly bananas and strawberries, and has another dress that looks like a watermelon. Her name comes from her playful fashion sense, which often seems to feature fruit.
5) Lana Del Ray: Thunder Sister (打雷姐) and Queen of the Crematorium (火葬场小天后): Buzzfeed mentioned Lana Del Ray’s first nickname, Thunder Sister, which sounds like her name in Chinese. However, she has an even more ridiculous nickname: Queen of the Crematorium. Del Ray’s voice is so ethereal and tragic, listening to them is like being at a funeral or in a crematorium.
6) Kim Kardashian: Aunt Kim or Aunt Gold (金大妈): Buzzfeed translated Kim K’s nickname as Aunt Kim, but Aunt Gold is a better translation. Kim has always been on the worst-dressed list when it comes to celebrities but is covered in labels and designer brands from head to toe. In this case, taste is a something that money just can’t buy. Gold is often seen in China as a symbol for the “tuhao,” new money class.
7) Jennifer Lawrence: (大表姐) Eldest Cousin. There are two reasons behind Jennifer Lawrence’s Chinese nickname. The first is that Lawrence is also a watch brand and the same character is used in watch (shǒubiǎo, 手表) and oldest cousin (biǎojiě, 表姐). The second is that she comes off as a chill older cousin. When she won an Oscar in 2010, Netizens said it was like seeing their own cool older cousin win the prize.
8) Mariah Carey: Cow Sister (牛姐). Buzzfeed and the Chinese media differ on the origins of nickname. Buzzfeed reported that the nickname comes from Chinese thinking that Mariah Carey is awesome, becauase niú (牛) is slang for awesome in Chinese. However, the Chinese media said that Mariah was called a cow by the Western media after gaining weight and the Chinese nickname came from that.
9) Arianna Grande: Little Cow (小牛牛). Chinese think that Arianna Grade sounds just like Mariah Carey. She has even covered Mariah songs in the past, so her nickname was given in honor of her mini-me status.
10) Tom Hardy: Always Wet (汤老湿). Netizens say that Tom Hardy’s hair is really strange because it always looks wet in his movies.
11) Ke$ha: Money Woman (钱婆). Ke$ha grew up poor and had to work hard to get rich. When she left home to work she struggled for four years as a background singer or part-time waitress. She was very broke. Her stage name, Ke$ha, had a dollar sign in it, because she needed money so badly. Therefore, her Chinese fans affectionately call her “Money Woman.”
12) Selena Gomez: Silly Face (傻脸). Selena’s name transliterated into Chinese is shǎ liǎn nà (傻脸娜), which means silly or foolish face. Chinese fans also think that she has a baby face.
13) Justin Timberlake: Boss Jia (贾老板). Justin has invested in a clothing line, golf course, record company, and many more enterprises. Therefore, all of China now calls him Boss Jia.
14) Justin Bieber: Dick (丁日). Justin Bieber’s initials are J.B. J looks like the Chinese character 丁 (ding), and B looks like 日 (rì). 丁日 is also Chinese slang for penis because the word for it, jība (鸡巴) is also J.B.
Source: Wenxue City
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