I recently learned from my mother, an avid YouTube viewer, that the first birth of a baby panda in Taiwan at Taipei Zoo has caught the adoration of the country. They had a competition to name the little dear, and pretty much the name that came out on top was Yuan Zai.
Yuan Zai’s mother is called Yuan Yuan, which literally means “round round”, somewhat equivalent to “roundy” or “tubby” in English. The baby panda Yuan Zai’s name literally means “round kid” or “kid of round”. But what really makes the name special is the Taiwanese version of its name, which is pronounced something like “eeeyah” and technically means those tasty little white and pink starch balls that you find in Taiwanese shaved ice desserts or other round starch delights. Probably the closest English equivalent would be something like “dumpling”.
My first inclination after watching the above video was to call the baby panda “mochi”, which is a Japanese rice dessert, because it seems so squishy and soft, but Yuan Zai is a much more fitting name. When I heard the Chinese name Yuan Zai, I was kind of like “Okay, that makes sense”, but when I realized its Taiwanese translation was “eeeyah”, I was like “AWWWWWWW, that’s an adowable name! Perfect!” It’s hard to explain the feeling of the word lost in translation from Taiwanese to Chinese to English, but hopefully, you get the idea.
So although the naming competition has ended, I’d like to give Yuan Zai an American English name that captures the essence of its Taiwanese name: Dumpling. Perfect indeed.