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Linguistic Characteristics and Cultural Connotations of English and Chinese Shop Names  

2009-12-13 14:06:50|  分类: 花中李的英语毕业 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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1 Introduction

English and Chinese shop names that display the generality and peculiarity of the complex psychological activities can be reflected in the similarities and differences between the oriental and western cultures.

According to Shuxiang Lv, only by contrast can we know what is common and what is special. [1] With the approach of contrast, this essay will deal with the shop names from the perspectives of linguistics, psychology and cross-cultural communication to show the linguistic characteristics and cultural connotations of English and Chinese shop names.

2 Traditional Display and Modern Fashion

In the colorful contemporary world, the public’s needs for culture could be generalized in two aspects: to keep the tradition and to pursue the modern fashion. Such a cultural tendency is also well reflected in the shop names. “Shop names” is not only a sign system for identification, but also a tool to create a cultural atmosphere by the businessmen so as to appeal to the consumers, stimulate them, and finally drive them to purchase.

2.1 The Traditional Characteristics of Chinese Shop Names

China is an old civilized nation with a deep traditional influence, and the Chinese still prefer to imitate the style of their ancestors. To show their great talent and learning, many people like to weigh their words in pursuit of grace. “Graceful” words with an air of great antiquity in shop names could well cater for people’s psychological needs.

In terms of structure, such “shop names” are word groups consisting of a modifier and the word it modifies, and most of them originate from the ancient poems or allusions, with the core words being “Zhai, Ge, Xuan, Tang, Lou, Ting, Yuan” and so on. [2] For example: Wen Bao Zhai (a stationary store, Wen Bao is the short form for Wen Fang Si Bao—the four treasures of the study: writing brush, ink stick, ink slab, and paper), Gu Yuan Lou (Gu Yuan means one’s native place), Ren He Tang (Ren He: a harmonious state of people living with each other; Ren means people and He means harmonious), Shun He Yuan (a restaurant; Shun He: lucky and peaceful), Cheng Xin Tang (a secondhand shop; Cheng Xin: honest and trustworthy), and Ming Yue Xuan (a restaurant; Ming Yue: a bright moon), and Chun Hao Tang(a restaurant; Chun: spring; Hao: beautiful) All the names mentioned above have their own origination.

Due to the cultural differences, the Chinese peculiar lexicon usually fails to find its equivalent in western culture, and vice versa. Such a phenomenon is regarded as “lexical shortage in culture”[3] Besides, English shop names are not capable of offering exact equivalents for “Zhai, Ge, Xuan, Tang, Lou, Ting, Yuan”, while often use “shop”, “store”, “restaurant” or “hotel” to name a shop. But such words are often omitted, like in Smith’s, Barber’s, MacDonald’s, Macy’s, Ethan Allen, The Pierre and so on. www.lwfree.cn

2.2 Traditional Features in English Shop Names

What should be pointed out is that some words that reflect British feudal hierarchical concept have left their trace in today’s English shop names, like king, queen, prince, noble, knight, loyal, palace, a freeman and so on. Shop names constituted by such words are King’s Garden, Victoria’s Secret, Burger King, Diary Queen, Maui Price, Royal Manor, Nobleman’s Food, Knight’s Inn, Church’s Fried Chicken, Hickey Freeman and so on.Western countries, especially America, have relatively vague hierarchical concept. The shop names listed above intend to show how sumptuous the shops are or what a good service they can provide, although some of them carry a stint of hyperbole with Burger King and Diary Queen as typical examples. In a word, as symbols for traditional concept and a fine brand, these shop names are of exceptional charm in metropolis pervasive with modern fashion.
3 Rhetorical Methods in Naming Shops
 

As a sign system, shop names bear with them distinct features from other sign systems, and moreover, it performs an obvious pragmatic function as well. In fact, shop names are considered as brief and short advertisements, which intend to motivate the customers to purchase what the shops want to sell. Therefore, rhetorical methods have always been adopted to add some color to these advertisements.

 

3.1 Simile, Hyperbole, etc in Chinese Shop Names
 
Some rhetorical methods applied in naming shop names could make them attractive and vividly express their uniqueness. For example, The Barber’s, as a shop name, could specifically identify itself. But if it adopts a sort of rhetorical method, it will really make difference such as Golden Scissors, and some drugstores, like Shen Nong Drug Store (Shen Nong expresses something magical which specifically refers to a man with magical power), Hui Chun Tang (Hui Chun: go back to the state of well-being with Chun expressing best wishes for the patients), Le Ren Tang (Le Ren: happy and kind), Jiu Sheng Tang (Jiu Sheng: long life), and some spectacle shops, such as Kang Ming Yan Jing (Kang Ming: healthy and bright; Yan Jing: spectacles), and Jing Liang Yan Jing (Jing Liang: as bright as crystals), and some shoe shops, like Shuang Xing Shoes(Shuang Xing: double stars), Yuan Da Shoes(Yuan Da: reach as far as possible), and Shou Wang Shoes(Shou Wang: the king of animals).
The shop names mentioned above have applied the rhetorical methods of metaphor and hyperbole to specify the specialties of different industries and features of products so that the consumers’ association is stimulated by the safety, economy, practicality, originality, and magnificence implied by the shop names. As a result, the consumers and the merchants are well bridged.

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3.2 Modification of Nouns in Creating English Shop Names
 

The case is the same with English shop names. For example, the copy industry is so developed in America, and generally, Copy Shop or Copy Man is commonly used as shop names. However, these names only indicate the differences between industries, but fail to list the advantageous characteristics, so they have relatively less power upon the consumers. In the shop names with adjectives as modifiers that confine or describe the center words like nouns, if proper modifiers are applied, it will vividly show the nature of shops of any kind.

Some merchants would like to take full advantage of such a feature to name a copy shop as Quick Copy or Clean Copy to skillfully boast about the service that they could offer so that the consumers’ requirement for speed or quality can be well embodied.

It is said that some adjectives in English appear very frequently, among which the commonest are new, good/better/best, fine, big, great, free, fresh, special, sure, clean, safe and so on. They serve to describe any aspect of the products, like the size, shape, look, brilliance, color or the inner quality. Because such adjectives are capable of showing the best quality of products, and they are the most appealing to the consumers, so they are widely used in advertisement.

The adjectives in English shop names are very similar to those in advertisement in that the words used by the merchants aim to attract the consumers or to cater to their psychological needs, and examples are Good Year, Good Will, Pretty Good Café, Best Buy, Big Lots, Hot Lips, Payless Drugs and so on. Sometimes compounds composed of adjectives and nouns are used, like Supervalu, Safeway, Thrift Way and so on.

4 Cultural Elements with Originality
 

Various as English and Chinese shop names are, they all hold one goal—to grasp the consumers’ attention. From the psychological and linguistic perspective, original or fore grounded things will easily catch people’s eye, stimulate their curiosity, and then comes the behavior to meet the curiosity. [4]

 

4.1 The Originality in Chinese Shop Names
 

Usually, original things cause psychological reaction by stimulating sensory organs (especially the sight and the hearing). Take the Chinese shop name “Hao Lai Wu” for an example, its pronunciation could bring association of the American film and industry center Hollywood. Similar examples are Si Wei Te (a cake shop), Dao Kou (a stationary store) and Bu Ke Shu Wu (a book store) whose pronunciations are similar with sweet, document with docu. as its shortened form and book. Besides, such shop names as Lao Yu Tou (a restaurant, old fish head), Gou Bu Li (a baozi shop, with the meaning “the dogs take no interest”), Guang Gun Ji (the unmarried chicken), Yu Ren Shu Wu (the Fool’s book store), and Hu Tu Cha Guan (a tea house, Hu Tu means confusing) create novelty and originality by vivid and fantastic words.

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4.2 The Preference to Originality in English Shop Names
 

English shop names can display no less color of novelty than Chinese ones. Fish in Mr. Fish (a sea food store) acts as a pun with two possible meanings: one is a “surname”, and the other refers to an animal’s name. Mr. Submarine (a hot-dog shop) stimulates abundant associations by the idea that a submarine has a similar shape with a hot dog. The Gap (young persons’ clothing store) refers to the generation gap implying that the clothing style suits only the young. Similar instances are Gepettois (a pan cake shop, the puppet maker in the story of Pinnochio), Creature’s Family (pets’ clinic), From Head to Toes (a beauty shop), Hit or Miss (lady’s clothing store, hit or miss originally means “adventure”, here it reminds never to miss a good opportunity.)

Some shop names demonstrate the feature of phonetic similarities, like Bi-lo (a grocery with the association of “buy low”), Toys’ R Us aims to let people know “Toys are (for) us with the word “us” to bring the businessmen and consumers closer, and “for” in “Food-4-less” is similarly pronounced with “four”, so it could be understood as Food-4-less by which people can judge how cheap the food can be allowed to be. [5]4.3 The Comparison of Number Use between Different Cultures
 

What is worthy to be mentioned is that in shop names, numbers serve a particular function. Some numbers carry with them a special cultural color in a special cultural atmosphere. For Chinese people, eight (8) and six (6) symbol luck and wealthy, while for the westerners, they prefer odd numbers like one (1) or three (3) except thirteen (13). The westerners prefer to present gifts in odd numbers, like one box of candies, three apples and so on. In westerners’ eye, the number seven (7) is a lucky one, because one usually wins the game if the number seven comes to him or her. Five thousand years of Chinese culture has nurtured many allusions and vivid metaphors. Shop names with numbers in them are characterized as being simple in structure and explicit in meaning. In particular, such names are original and easy to be memorized, so the consumers tend to pay particular attention to them. For example, Yi Pin Xiang Cai Guan (a restaurant, Yi for One; Yi Pin Xiang means being delicious at the first taste), Si Xi Tang (Si for four; Si Xi means four happiness), Wu Huan Bin Guan (a hotel, Wu for five; Wu Huan means five rings which further implies union.), Jin Liu Fu Jiu Lou (a place for drinking, Liu For Six; Jin Liu Fu means full of golden happiness), Wan Fu Supermarket (Wan for ten thousand; Wan Fu means as much happiness as possible.)

In foreign countries, shop names with numbers are not as common as in China, but such shops are closely related with people’s clothing, food, shelter and transportation. Therefore, they are exceptionally appealing. In terms of structure, the “number shop names” are divided into two groups: one completely composed of numbers and the other consisting of numbers and non-numbers. The complete ones are 21(an advanced restaurant in New York), 99(a grocery in which each commodity is no more than one dollar), 7-11(a convenient shop), 5-7-9(a clothing shop; 5-7-9 symbolizes the sizes.) Other examples are 33 Flavors (an ice cream store), Big5 (a sports shop), Lumber 88,123 DVD, Four Seasons and Supper 8 Motel

5 The Trace of Nature in Shop Names
 

The process of industrialization and urbanization offers a brand new life mode for people. However, while enjoying the fruit of modern civilization, people are also suffering pressure from all aspects of life: overgrowing population, crowded transportation, environmental pollution, fast pace of life and so on. They have to seek everywhere for somewhere relaxing and tranquil so as to recover mentally and physically. “Embracing Nature” is regarded as a spiritual pursuit and universal cultural fashion.

The businessmen know very well about the consumers’ desire to return to nature. Therefore, they spare no effort to create a country-like atmosphere that serves as an irresistible temptation to those who are troubled by the bustle and hustle of the city life.

As a commercial need, “shop names” are apt to take the theme of nostalgia and intimate relationship with animals or plants, aiming to appeal to customers and stimulate consumption.

In general, English and Chinese shop names are classified into three groups:

5.1 Local Features and Pastoral Life

Some Chinese shop names carry with them distinct local features, such as Xi Bei Jiao Zi Cheng (a dumpling restaurant in Northwest), Yi Meng Xiao Chi (a snack shop in Yi Meng District), Shan Xian Yang Rou Tang (a mutton soup shop in Shan County), Tai Wan Chan Zui Ya (Tai Wan’s famous gluttonous duck), De Zhou Pa Ji Dian (De Zhou, a small city in Shan Dong Province, is famous for “Pa Ji”, a sort of chicken), and Wei Shan Hu Yu Guan (a fish restaurant, Wei Shan Hu is abundant with fish).

Similarly, English shop names are also trying to work on the theme--embracing nature. The instances as follows will clearly illustrate that Chinese and Western cultures are alike in this respect: Kentucky Fried Chicken, Monroe Hardware, Carolina Waterbeds, Home Depot, Taco Bell, Bob’s Big Boy, Red Roof Inn, Broadway Furniture, Log Cabin Inn, Old Country Buffet, Pizza Hut, Cliff House, Old Country Buffet, Somerfield, Sand Lane Hotel, Pizza Hut, Bun and Burger Chain, Old Spaghetti, Country Kitchen, Bloomingdale’s, Ming Village, Time for You and so on.

5.2 Symbolic Meaning of Plants

The names of plants, especially those of flowers, grass and trees are often taken as shop names. It’s quite simple to justify this phenomenon. Some plants in Chinese culture are symbols of beauty that everybody admires. For example: Orchid Tang (orchid stands for nobility), Red Peony Mall (Peony for sumptuousness), Red Bean Clothing (Red Bean for missing), Pine Hotel (Pine for strong will), Rose Singing Hall (Rose for love). [6]

You can also find some plants with special symbolic meanings in English shop names, like Rose Garden (a restaurant, rose for love), Lily Hotel (lily for purity), Daffodil (a lady’s clothing shop; daffodil symbolizes spring and happiness in England). [7]

5.3 Animals’ Names for Consumers’ Associations

The animal names in Chinese shop names are often modified by another word to constitute a disyllabic one. For example, Golden Horse Hotel, Spring Swallow Restaurant, Silver Elephant Clothing, and Soaring Eagle Hardware Store. In addition, some shop names are only animal names without any modifier, like Lark Acoustics Store, Five Wolves Clothing Store, Woodpecker Clothing Store, Crocodile Clothing Store and so on. Some shops are named with the legendary “dragon” and “phoenix” to show nobility, like Golden Phoenix Clothing Store, Dragon and Phoenix Wedding Gift Shop and so on.

Westerners take a fancy to animals, so shops with animals’ names just cater to such an animal-loving mind. Such animals as small busy bees, majestic and brave King Lion, arrogant and holy eagle, loyal dogs and powerful bears are all people’s favorites. For example, Bee-Rite (a convenient store), Lion’s Share (a restaurant), Bear’s Larir Food Fair (a food store), Army Eagle (a material store), Man’s Best Friend (a pets’ shop), Bird Hut (a pets’ shop), Happy Bear’s Kitchen Center, Red Lobster (a sea food store), Red Lion Inn and so on. The animals’ names in the shop names will surely bring benefits for business.

Due to cultural differences, what is auspicious and honorable in oriental people’s eye is evil and brutal to the westerners, like the bats and the dragons for shop names. In China, “dogs” are, more than often, related with what is degrading, such as “like a dog threatening people on the strength of its master’s power”, “no ivory issues from the mouth of a dog”, while westerners regard dogs as faithful friends so that “man’s best friends” came into being.

 

6 Conclusion

The cultural differences between the eastern and western nations are reflected in different associations caused by respective culture and such differences affect people’s ideas about how to name their shops.

As discussed above, there is a superb collection of shop names so that they themselves constitute an amazing world. Short as the shop names are, they are capable of displaying the simplicity and “cream” of languages. They are the crystallization of the businessmen’s wisdom and the fruits of the old civilization and the modern fashion. “Shop names”, on one side, reflect people’s ideal and changeable psychology as well as the colorful connotations of the specific culture. Therefore, research of the “shop names” is a multi-disciplinary and multi-cultural study, and such a research is getting more and more important in today’s world with rapid economic development and strengthening cultural exchange.

[1] 吕叔湘. 中国文法要略[M]. 北京:商务印书馆,1982.

[2] 刘凤玲. 商业楼宇命名的文化透视[J]. 修辞学习, 2000.

[3] 贾玉新. 跨文化交际学[M]. 上海:上海外语教育出版社,1997.

[4] 李荫华(译). 变化中的英语[M]. 沈阳:辽宁人民出版社,1980.

[5] 贾卫国. 美国商业英语中店铺名称用语简析[J]. 山东外语教学1993,(3):21-24.

[6] 何善芬. 英汉语对比研究[M]. 上海:上海外语研究出版社,2002.

[7] 邓炎昌,刘润清:语言与文化[M]. 北京:外语教学与研究出版社,1994.

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