Stuff Asian People Like

Observational Essays on Asian Culture– This blog is devoted to stuff that asian people like

Click here to view our Previous Banners and How to Share Stuff Asian People Like!

#129 Numbering Their Kids

Posted December 19th, 2009 by Peter · 41 Comments

This week’s post from Viet Nguyen is about the age old question: “Where did I come from,” but from an Asian perspective. There is a tremendous amount of truth to this post, as my name is actually “fourth” in a two-person family (go figure). At any rate, Enjoy!

stork-baby-showerFrom Wikipedia: In Western culture the White Stork is a symbol of childbirth. In Victorian times the details of human reproduction were difficult to approach, especially in reply to a younger child’s query of “Where did I come from?”; “The stork brought you to us” was the tactic used to avoid discussion of sex. The image of a stork bearing an infant wrapped in a sling held in its beak is common in popular culture.

Asian Cultures have similar childbirth myths. Asians also have similar difficulty explaining the concept of the “Birds and the Bees” to their children (please refer to #102 Being Modest about ***). In lieu of the stork myth, asians have come up with other kinds of lies they tell their kids when the dreaded “Where did I come from?” question gets popped.

trash1) One common story that gets told is that the child was found in the garbage and the parents happened to be in the vicinity so they could adopt the kid. Nevermind that this doesn’t really ANSWER the question of “where did I come from?” All it really does is give the false impression that the child was previously abandoned and left in the garbage to die. But it usually satisfied the child’s queries and most of the time, they are not traumatized.

2) Another common story that gets told is that the child was found beneath a bridge and the parents happened to be in the vicinity so they could adopt the kid. Again, this just gives the child the false impression that they were previously abandoned and left under that bridge to die. Again, the child’s query is satisfied, and after many hours of crying, he accepts that he really isn’t part of the family and is only living in the household because of the sympathy his parents had for him when he was a baby.

HOWEVER, this is actually a clever play on words. In Korean, the word for Bridge, 다리, also happens to be a homonym for the word “legs.” So when the child finally learns the truth about ***, then the parents have some wiggle room. “Well yeah Johnny, we TOLD you that you came from under 다리. What do you think it meant? A bridge? LOL you must have thought you were abandoned.”

People from Western Cultures are often entitled to a sense of identity and uniqueness when they come into this world. In fact, in addition to a surname and a personal name, all Americans as assigned a unique number; a social security number, that stays with them for their entire lives, even after they die.

Asians, however, have held this number assigning concept for centuries and in fact, commonly use their numbers to identify themselves. Like the American social security number, an asian’s number also stays with them for their entire life, even after he/she dies.

If you are asian, you are assigned your number from birth. If you happen to be the oldest of your siblings, you will be referred to as brother (or sister) #2. All your younger siblings will refer to you as “#2″ and younumbers will often times refer them by their numbers as well, be it #4 or #6. Why isn’t there a #1? No one knows. (no really, I kid you not; no one, and I mean NO ONE KNOWS)

As you get older and your generation has kids, then your nieces and nephews will also refer to you by your number. Whether you be uncle #2 or auntie #4.

Eventually, your family will get larger and larger and you will start having grandkids and grandnieces and nephews. However, they will always respect you and will never forget the love and generosity you displayed to your family as they grew from children and eventually to adults. And as a gesture of respect, they will lovingly refer to you as “Old Man #7,” even after you have left this world.

Viet Nguyen from PDX

Thanks Viet for your wonderful insight! Stay tuned for our next post around Christmas Time.

Last 5 posts by Peter

Tags: Activities · Asian Parenting · Comedy · Customs · Environment · Humor · People · Relationships · Social · Tidbits · Work

41 responses so far ↓

  • 1 John Armstrong // Dec 19, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    Why isn’t there a #1? No one knows. (no really, I kid you not; no one, and I mean NO ONE KNOWS)

    “Who are you?”
    “I am Number Two.”
    “Who is Number One?”
    “You are Number Six.”
    “I am not a number; I am a free man!”

    Sorry, I just had to.

  • 2 Lucy // Dec 19, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    really? no one refers to be my a number…

  • 3 Eurasian Sensation // Dec 19, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    In Bali, they have a naming system that indicates what number child the person was.
    The 1st child is usually called Wayan; the second is usually called Made; the 3rd is usually Nyoman, and the 4th is Ketut. If there is a fifth child, they are often named Wayan Balik (meaning “Wayan again”).
    Suffice to say, there are a helluva lot of people in Bali named Wayan.

  • 4 Viet // Dec 20, 2009 at 12:34 am

    i suspect it to be more of a vietnamese thing, actually. And perhaps a Cantonese thing too.

  • 5 sarah // Dec 20, 2009 at 4:06 am

    The bridge thing! I’ve been thinking my family and relatives were just fucking with me, but this is actually common? They still say it when I go on vacation, and I’m 20! wtf

  • 6 Peter // Dec 21, 2009 at 1:45 am

    Hehe, I know– It’s very common in Vietnamese Families and Cantonese families. I’m really interested in what other countries’ “numbering” systems are.

  • 7 Anonymous // Dec 21, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    My family told me they bought me in a supermarket.

  • 8 Ica // Dec 23, 2009 at 1:42 am

    my parents told me, i come from mommys belly, and i nvr thought abt how i got into the belly in the first place. and daddy was there because somebody had to work to make a living (never mind that my mom makes more money than dad).
    in javanese culture, children are also named after their birth order. eka (one); dwi (two); tri (three); catur (four); not sure about children number five, etc. i guess it’s a way to make people consider contraceptives or birth control: if you dont know what to call child #5, then don’t have another one!!

    p.s. for the grammar nazi mong you, i’m not sure about my use of semi-colon. and im sure you already notice that i dont care about using capital letters appropriately. so there

  • 9 lisa // Dec 23, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    heh. i’m chinese, and have a lot of uncles on one side of my family. i was taught to call them uncle 2, uncle 3, uncle 4, etc, so i could never remember their real names until i was at least 10. oddly enough, i call my youngest uncle ‘little uncle’. and the oldest uncle on that side is called ‘big uncle’. =P

  • 10 diwhflq // Jan 4, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    good good study dayday up

  • 11 loc // Jan 6, 2010 at 11:51 pm

    There is no #1 because your parents are always #1.

  • 12 blissfulting // Jan 13, 2010 at 1:33 am

    Actually, in most Chinese families, the oldest sibling is referred to as “big brother/sister…da ge/jie” Not necessarily “1st brother/sister,” but they won’t be called “2nd.” The youngest is just usually “little brother/sister…xiao di/mei.” Different even in Asian cultures, I guess.

  • 13 angie // Jan 13, 2010 at 2:01 am

    and i thought i was the only one. My mom told me she found me in a dumpster when i was just a baby. As a good Chinese daughter, i was satisfied with the answer and went on to live a happy life.

    That was until my white boyfriend told me how traumatizing it would’ve been for him if his parents had used this line on him…hahahaha

  • 14 Lulu // Jan 13, 2010 at 2:02 am

    omg soooo common in china. but we do have a #1. they’re just called laoda. Aunt #1 is dayi, etc…
    i’m the laoda!

  • 15 Mindy // Jan 18, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    The Vietnamese don’t have a number 1, because the # 1 was the first baby Prince Nguyen, and there was a royal decree that no one could be of a higher number than a prince, and that numbering convention has stuck with the Vietnamese since. Just FYI.

  • 16 Indian-Man // Jan 21, 2010 at 5:17 am

    This is true for Indians as well. #1 would be called “Eldest”… “eldest brother”, “eldest uncle”, “eldest grandpa” if bro to your grandpa.

    And the youngest would be “choto” meaning small. We even name the wives of these.. “#1 wife”, etc.. I didn’t realize other Asians did this too….

  • 17 Peter // Jan 25, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    @Indian-Man, That’s cool, I didn’t know that!

  • 18 dbals // Feb 9, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    hahahaha… I guess the garbage thing is common across all of asia. I’m from south india and my mom had told manytimes that I was found in a garbage can. If she got bored with that, she would say she found me one day at the door step or I was adopted from an orphanage.
    All this is a defense tactic if I misbehave or challenge her with the question – why did she gave birth to me without my permission.

    I don’t think it does any harm to the child though.

  • 19 phicoi // Feb 23, 2010 at 9:31 am

    Why #2 is the first?
    This is true of Viet Nam only. (I heard this from somewhere so my source is not concrete).
    If you compare the naming convention between the northern vietnamese (anh/chị Cả) versus the southern Vietnamese (anh/chị Hai) you notice that #1 does exist in the north.
    So the #2 convention is only true of the southern part.
    Now looking back into Vietnamese history, the country only existed in the northern region where modern Vietnamese culture existed. The south was occupied by the rain forest and a different country that the northern vietnamese destroyed :( . Because of this, the south was ‘cultivated’ after the north.
    As it was common of the culture of the time, the first kids always get the best portion of the inheritance. And that is why it is usually the second kid (in the family) who leave the north to go south and start a new life. Staying behind meaning putting up with a lame financial situation (they don’t divide the land up, all of it goes to the first kid).
    Because of this, when the second kids start a family in the south, they name their First kid #2.

    It’s a nice fairy tale. idk if it’s true or not.

  • 20 Someone // Mar 9, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    Actually, I got the truth xD
    But yes, in fact, the bridge story is quite common here in Korea. Shocking to say, the part about not being traumatized is mostly true too o_o;

  • 21 renr // Mar 10, 2010 at 7:24 am

    Lol this is so true! My parents claimed that my brother and I were found in the garbage bin too. As true asian kids, we accepted this and would even excitedly ask them to describe the garbage bins in question…

  • 22 Anon // Mar 13, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    LOL although the firstborn of my mom’s family is not called #2 aunt, but the 2nd girl is called #2 aunt. and then the first is called Big aunt. IDK i never noticed until now

  • 23 Anonymous // Mar 13, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    lol, my parents used to tell me that they found me in a rice cooker on the street. I didn’t think these types of stories were so common.

  • 24 Anonymous // Mar 18, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    I had read that no one was called #1 in Vietnam because doing so would show favor and invite demons, evil forces, etc. to kidnap/harass the family’s first-born (and usually favorite lol) child. Asked my grandparents about it and they confirmed this was why. Sooo, superstition wins out again lol

  • 25 Trash Kid // Apr 27, 2010 at 9:22 am

    @Anonymous, someone told me that I was found in a trash can. It was sad, but I guess now I know a lot of people have similar stories.. lol!

  • 26 Chinamerican // May 7, 2010 at 8:48 am

    Hmm, for Cantonese we just say “Big Uncle” for the first one and then use numbers for subsequent aunts and uncles.

    My mum would joke with me that I was like Son Wukong and that I burst out of a rock.

  • 27 Erik // May 11, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    lol We Appalachians have a very limited group of first names we use and instead of numbering like is mentioned in this article, we use first and middle names, or just give two first names.

  • 28 Filipina At Home // Jun 1, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    We have the numberings too in the Philippines. Among the Tagalogs (of Central Luzon) siblings are assigned certain nicknames based on their birth succession and gender.

    You could be Kuya, Diko, Sangko, Siko, if you are male or you could be Ate, Ditse, Sanse, Sitse if female. The youngest is always called bunso.

    You are addressed by these names but it is normally not the name you are given at birth.

    Other ethnic groups also have their respective addresses such as Toto (young boy), Inday (young girl), Nonoy (youngest boy), Nene (youngest girl) for the Ilongos of the Visayas Region.

    The adoption story was also circulated in my family when we were younger. My younger sister, who is the only one who has straight hair and looks slightly different from the rest of us, grew up believing she was adopted. Now I wonder if she ever took it seriously. I am sure child psychologists would frown upon such practices.
    Love this site!

  • 29 huu // Jul 13, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    Supra Footwear which started with the production of functional skateboard shoes at first, in recent years emerged as a new force with luxury materials and exaggerated form, led to many stars unconditionally in their behalf. For Mens Supra Shoes, welcome to our online store.

  • 30 Jenny // Jul 21, 2010 at 9:26 am

    Wow, what an enjoyable read! In Japan the “under the bridge” is quite common too. Japanese numbers are ichi, ni, san for 1,2, 3. The boys names that correlate for this is Ichiro is the first born, Jiro is second from ni but somehow changed to ji, and Saburo is third from san. I don’t know what the fourth son would be called.

  • 31 sarah // Aug 29, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    LOL!I could totally relate to this. I come from a relatively big family, myself being the 4th of 6th siblings. Like the chinese culture where you call the eldest bro/sis as da ge/jie, the same happens for my family.I’m Malaysian Malay btw. As I’m the 4th sibling, I’m always called Kak Chik which literally means middle sis..Hmm.. As for the “where did I come from” question, I was one of those unfortunate Asians who was told that my parents found me in the garbage and I was crying like a mad baby that they had to adopt me straightaway.Lol. Great article and a great hub xx

  • 32 J // Sep 6, 2010 at 6:36 am

    Hahaha so true. All my relatives are named numerically. Nowadays, it’s less common with the one child rule in China. and LOL yes I’ve been told I was found in the trash many times. I’m pretty sure they tell everyone.

  • 33 amazon ghd // Sep 6, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    I love your website!a

  • 34 EFX bracelet // Sep 30, 2010 at 2:15 am

    The Hottest Pop Star on earth has teamed up with the Hottest Fashion Accessory: silly bandz is releasing the most popular pack of Silly Bandz to date: The Justin Beiber silly bandz.
    power balance is Performance Technology designed to work with your body’s natural energy field.

  • 35 Anonymous // Dec 29, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    Then why am I called #1?

  • 36 Nike pas cher // Jan 12, 2011 at 3:40 am

    What a fun pattern! It’s great to hear from you and see what you’ve sent up to. All of the projects look great! You make it so simple to this.Thanks!So great , I like it

  • 37 Anon. // Jul 25, 2011 at 1:14 am

    It’s not exactly respectful to use your elder relatives’ names (as opposed to Western culture), and it would be too confusing for you to just call “Aunt” or “Uncle”, because it would be likely that more than one person would respond, so the numbering seems reasonable…

  • 38 mbtshoes // Oct 5, 2011 at 2:22 am

    i love your post .

  • 39 Susan // Jan 6, 2012 at 8:02 pm

    Haha, the “you were found in the trash” doesn’t just apply to Asian cultures. I’m Mexican and my mom used to tell me that all the time. She stills does.

  • 40 Brenda // Dec 6, 2012 at 2:12 am

    Oh goodness. I thought my grandmother was being creative when she told me the story of how all of her 9 children were found in dumpsters…

  • 41 Bob // Oct 20, 2017 at 9:17 am

    The Ancient Romans did the same thing very often. Hence names like Secundus, Quintus, Octavius for 2nd, 5th, and 8th son.

Leave a Comment