Saturday, November 9, 2013

Still Life With Robin: Name That Panda!

Unnamed baby panda (photo by National Zoo)
by Peggy Robin

The National Zoo has announced a list of 5 choices for the name of our new baby panda. You can vote once a day at for your favorite of the list until November 22.

The options --all supplied by the Chinese government-- are:

o  Bao Bao (宝宝): Precious, treasure.
o  Ling Hua (玲花): Darling, delicate flower.
o  Long Yun (龙韵): Long is the Chinese symbol of the dragon; Yun means charming. Combined this represents a sign of luck for panda cooperation between China and the United States.
o  Mulan (木兰): Legendary young woman, a smart and brave Chinese warrior from the fifth century; also the name for the magnolia flower in China and the United States.
o  Zhen Bao (珍宝): Treasure, valuable.

Washington Post Metro columnist John Kelly in a short but passionate piece on Wednesday ( went all out for Bao Bao, actually saying, “I beg you to vote for Bao Bao.”  Mainly, he was on a tear against Mulan, on the grounds that the story of the heroic girl warrior girl has been Disneyfied, and that “The Mouse gets enough publicity.”

I would urge just the opposite: Mulan is the only stand-out choice among a bland and boring lot. Mulan, whether from the Disney movie that Americans know or from its source as a 6th Century Chinese ballad (probably based on a much earlier folk legend -- see is a figure of bold, stirring, heroic action. Mulan is the only name among the five that is more than just a way of saying that a panda is “precious,” or “charming” or “darling.”

I especially hope we don’t end up with Bao Bao. There used to be a famous panda by that name at the Berlin Zoo, but he died in August, 2012 at the ripe old (for a panda) age of 34. Here’s his obituary: Our new panda needs her own name and her own identity!

My real wish is that we could reject all five of the names pre-selected for us by the Chinese government, and be allowed to come up with our own American (or perhaps Chinese-American) name for this American-born baby of a species indigenous to China . We may have to ship her back to the land of her ancestors when she’s just a few years old, but while we have her, why shouldn’t we be allowed to come up with a name that reflects our own feelings about her, and sounds good to us, too?


Still Life With Robin comes out on the Cleveland Park Listserv and All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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