How the Giant Pandas Get Their Names

A look at the process for choosing the official names for panda cubs.
Pandas Bai Yun with baby Su Lin at the San Diego Zoo in 2005. Photograph by Albert Yu.
Pandas Bai Yun with baby Su Lin at the San Diego Zoo in 2005. Photograph by Albert Yu.

DC is once again abuzz with “panda mania,” after news of a new panda cub born Sunday
night at the National Zoo. The cub’s gender won’t be known for at least a few weeks,
as scientists are refraining from a full examination while mother and baby bond—but
they have caught glimpses of the cub as mom Mei Xiang cuddles and nurses. Speculation
has already begun as to what he or she should be named, with the Twitter hashtag #namethepanda,
but that won’t happen for some time. Per Chinese tradition, baby pandas don’t get a formal
name until they’re 100 days old.

So in the months to come, the National Zoo will receive a pre-approved list of possibilities
from their colleagues at the China Wildlife Conservation Association and will narrow
the list down to one possibility with the help of an online poll in which people from
around the world can vote for their favorites. In 2005, the zoo held a voting contest
to name Mei Xiang’s first cub, and “Tai Shan”—meaning “peaceful mountain”—captured
44 percent of the 200,000 votes. Tai Shan might be his official name, but he’s cemented
in the hearts of Washingtonians as Butterstick—so nicknamed for an off-the-cuff comment
by a zookeeper that he was “about the size of a stick of butter.”

Meanwhile, the San Diego Zoo is about to begin its own naming process for a panda
cub born earlier this year on July 29. From September 17 to 24, the zoo will be taking
name submissions at its website, with a few requirements: the name should be in Chinese,
written in Pinyin (the system used for transcribing Chinese characters into Latin
script). With some collaboration with their Chinese counterparts, the SDZ “panda team”
will narrow down the submissions to a short list and put the names up for voting from
the public.

In the past, names of panda cubs have had some significance to the cub. Tai Shan could
have been named “Hua Sheng” which means both “China Washington” and “magnificent.”
“Hua Mei,” the name given to the first panda born in the United States, means “China
USA” and signified the relationship between the Chinese and US panda conservation
efforts.

The San Diego Zoo has plans to host a formal panda naming ceremony sometime in November.
And once the National Zoo’s newest arrival reaches that 100-day milestone, he or she
too will receive a name.

What do you think the zoo’s new panda should be named? Let us know in the comments
section.

See Also:
Panda Birth Prompts Exuberant Tweeting
YouTube’s Cutest Baby Panda Videos
Pandas in the United States: A Timeline

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