And Finally

Naming rights

How netizens choose to identify global stars

Nicki Minaj accepts the award for best female hip hop artist during the 2014 BET Awards in Los Angeles

Spicy Chicken says hello

Have you heard the latest album by Spicy Chicken or seen the recent film featuring Curly Luck?

If you don’t recognise these names, you are not behind the times. It’s just you aren’t up to speed with Chinese internet slang.

Spicy Chicken is the nickname given by netizens for American rapper Nicki Minaj, so called because her surname sounds like a fiery Sichuan poultry dish called malaji. And Curly Luck is the tousled- haired actor Benedict Cumberbatch, famous for playing Sherlock Holmes (and whose name is transliterated using the Chinese character for lucky).

Here’s a few more: Katy Perry is better known as Fruit Sister, Eddie Redmayne as Little Freckles, and Jennifer Lawrence simply as Cousin.

Sometimes the unlikely identifiers result from odd usage of Chinese characters in transliteration. Other times, they are a result of the celebrities looks, or because of something memorable that the stars have done.

A few stars have multiple nicknames.

Justin Bieber, for example, is known sometimes as Baby-B, but also as “Penis Day” because his initials, JB look like the Chinese characters for the two English words.

The interesting thing about many of the names used by netizens is that they are so well established that many fans only know the stars by their homegrown labels. Their real names, especially in the cases of people like Cumberbatch, are too long and hard to say.

In most cases the nicknames are used fondly, replicating names that the Chinese use for each other. Leonardo Dicaprio is known as Little Plum because his name sounds like li, or plum, in Chinese, which is prefixed with the diminutive xiao, or small, to show fondness.

Adding ‘sister’ or ‘brother’ is common. Katy Perry is Sister Fruit for her fruit-inspired costumes, while Australian actor Chris Hemsworth is known as Brother Hammer for his role in the film Thor.

Jennifer Lawrence became Cousin due to her girl-next-door image and also as the result of a joke four years ago when a netizen claimed to be related to her.

Using the real names for stars would also look very formal in casual internet chat. And as one young netizen pointed out, full or actual names are rarely used in China. “Even bosses often have a nickname for you,” she explained.

Celebrities are not alone in getting alternative monikers. The Chinese president Xi Jinping is now regularly referred to as Xi Dada, or Papa Xi. Kim Jong-un is almost universally known as Kim Fatty the Third. And Vladimir Putin is widely described as Emperor Pu.


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