Chinese Cinderella and ‘number three son’.

After a lesson in which I suggested that Adeline Yen Mah’s reference to her brother in this way showed a lack of familial warmth from the father, one of my students -the wonderful Ethan has produced this. He has also attached a sound file of his mother explaining Chinese Family address.


I think we would still be expected to focus on the impersonal nature of the address when we approach this passage, but her eis real food for thought….

Hello Mr. Peel!

This isn’t a very important e-mail so skip it if you’re busy.
I’ve just listened to my my mom explain Chinese names for a while. The file above doesn’t explain much, but does show you how confusing it can be if you didn’t grow up with it. Other than that, I did learn a lot more about my family and can figure out what Third Brother meant in the extract of Chinese Cinderella:

Chinese family names are based on many things, such as the gender, the last name, the side of the family, if the person in question is related by blood, the order of birth and who is referring to who. When I say who is referring to who, I mean in the same way we call someone an aunt, but a sister of that aunt wouldn’t. You also may have heard my mom talking about Dai Yee Ma And Fae Yee Ma, who are my “aunts”. Dai doesn’t directly translate to One – it’s more closer to Big. Fae is a made up part of the name (meaning fat (which isn’t rude in Chinese))and the actual word used would be “ee” (it sounds like ee anyways). ee being two. Hence, Dai yee ma is firstborn and Fae Yee Ma is second. The Yee part of both of the names essentially means “aunt on the mother’s side”. Finally, Ma means older. This is used because my mom is the youngest of the three sisters, so through my mom I call my aunts Ma. So, the formula boils down to this:

[Number], [Placement on family tree relative to person], [Younger or older relative to person or person’s family]
Using this I can easily narrow down what The father in Chinese Cinderella actually said.

To start, names are always relative to the person saying it, so a more direct translation of what the father said would be Third Son. Three is Sam in Chinese, and Son is Jai. Since a son or daughter is always younger than the parent, you don’t have to include the last part. Similarly, if there was only one son then there wouldn’t be a number. So what he said was Sam Jai.

I’ve over-simplified quite a bit, but that is basically how names work. If anything, these Chinese names have a far stronger kinship than our English words, despite what the exam markers will want you to believe. Chinese have a strong connection to there family, made evident earlier when Adeline’s success brings the father’s status up. Everyone has their own name, and a different name from each person of the family. This is why it would be disrespectful not to use these names. By not doing so, you choose to use the type of language that distances yourself from the person. In other words, you don’t think of them as family.

I won’t be using this in my essays so this was all essentially meaningless, but I hope I you might have at least learnt something from it!

Kind regards,

Ethan 10ZA