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What's In A (Panda Cub's) Name?


Election Day has come and gone, but your vote can still make a difference. That is in choosing a name for a new giant panda cub. The National Zoo here in Washington has put forth five possible names for the female cub born this summer. You can vote on the Smithsonian National Zoo's website.

And we want to make sure you have everything you need to make an informed decision, so we've called up our Beijing correspondent Anthony Kuhn for some help understanding the choices. Anthony, ni hao.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Ni hao, Melissa. How are you?

BLOCK: I'm great. And let's go through these names. Here's the first choice.


BLOCK: Bao Bao. Tell me what Bao Bao means.

KUHN: Bao means treasure. And when you say Bao Bao, it usually means baby, as in Bao Bao's diapers need changing. Bao Bao is hungry.


BLOCK: So you would hear that a lot.

KUHN: Yes. It's very common.

BLOCK: And full disclosure here, I should say that my daughter ran to the Internet this morning and cast her vote for Bao Bao. So that's one vote for that name. Here's the second choice for a name, Anthony, and it's similar to the one we just heard. This one is...


BLOCK: ...Zhen Bao. What is Zhen Bao?

KUHN: Zhen Bao. Well, the second character Bao, or treasure, is the same. Zhen is - also means something precious. Or as a verb, it means to cherish. So it's very close, but it doesn't have the same meaning as baby.

BLOCK: So, variations on the theme of treasure there. Here is the third choice of a possible name for the panda cub here in Washington. This one is Ling Hua.


KUHN: Oh, Ling Hua is a very pretty name, well-suited for a female cub. Ling is a sound, the sound you make when you plink at a piece of jade, and Hua is a flower. So you could translate that one as a delicate flower. It's a nice compound name.

BLOCK: OK. Number four.


BLOCK: Long Hyun.

KUHN: Long Hyun, again, is a compound. Long means dragon, a symbol of the Chinese nation, and Hyun is a pleasing sound, as in Ya(ph) Hyun, which means to rhyme. So you could sort of translate it as the sound of the dragon. And that's meant to be auspicious, not scary or anything.

BLOCK: OK. And here's the last possible choice for the name for the panda cub. This one's going to be familiar to folks who've seen the Disney movie. It is Mulan.


KUHN: Mulan. She is the legendary woman warrior who joined the army instead of her father and served dressed as a man. And eventually, she came back and showed her comrades in arms who were amazed to find out that they thought she was a man and she wasn't. It's a centuries-old tale that's been remade into movies, operas and novels.

BLOCK: Well, throwing all journalistic objectivity aside, Anthony, if you had to vote on the name for the panda cub, which one would you pick?

KUHN: That's a tough one. They all wreak of soft power.


KUHN: I have to say Ling Hua is very catchy. I'm quite taken with it but...

BLOCK: Ling Hua, this is the plinking-of-jade-delicate-flower idea.

KUHN: Yes. That's the one.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Beijing. Anthony, thanks so much.

KUHN: Thank you Melissa.

BLOCK: And, we should say, the official naming ceremony at the National Zoo will take place on December 1st. Following Chinese tradition, that will be when the cub turns 100 days old. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.
As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.