The name "Baidu"
02 Aug 2005
I recently read a Yahoo News article titled “Baidu.com Ready for Stock Market Debut.” I read the story only partly interested until I got to the part about how the name “Baidu” (百度) was chosen. Literally, it means “100 degrees,” so I figured the logic behind the name was akin to the logic behind the name “Yahoo 360.” You know, something about connections… about connecting you to the information you’re looking for. I was quite wrong.
I found an interview with the founder of Baidu, 李彦宏. I’ll give a rough translation of the part that interested me:
> Interviewer: What does the name “Baidu” mean?
> 李彦宏: The name “Baidu” is actually related to searching. Back in the second half of ’99 before the National Day festivities I was thinking about making something — about making a Chinese search engine — and I needed a name for it. I set a few conditions for myself: The first was that the domain name should be short. The second was that it had a definite connection with searching. The third was that it couldn’t be too obvious. It couldn’t have a word like “search” or “seek” in the name; it should be a bit subtler. The fourth was that Chinese people could understand it. It needn’t be an English word that Americans would understand; rather, being a Chinese language search engine, it should be understandable to Chinese people. It was actually taken from a poem by Xin Qiji (辛弃疾): “众里寻她千百度” [something like “searching for her desperately in the crowd” (?)].
I’m not good at translating, and I’m especially unqualified to translate Chinese poetry. But I believe in this usage 度 is simply used to express a degree of intensity. Together with 百, it expresses a high degree of intensity. I, rightly or wrongly, translated it above as “desperately.” I’m not sure how close I am.
For more context, here is the original poem it came from:
I can understand most of the poem without much difficulty, but again, I’m no translator, so I don’t want to touch it. I can confirm what Yahoo says, though. It “refers to a man ardently searching for his lover in a festival crowd.” If someone else wants to offer a translation, that would be nice. (Here’s a spoiler, though: in the last line, he finds her.)
Another interesting part of the article was this line: “Baidu.com’s advertising notes that Chinese has 38 ways to say ‘I.'” Huh? 38?! I wanted to factcheck this, so I did some searches. A lot of searches. Using Baidu as well as Google. I couldn’t find that claim anywhere. All I found was a Peking University BBS thread on the word “I” in various Chinese dialects.
Then I turned to Wenlin, my dictionary program. To my surprise, it listed 35! Not all of them are commonly used (or commonly used to mean “I”), but I guess that’s a start. In case you’re wondering, they are:
> ∾pr. 我 wǒ; 小 xiǎo; 咱们[-們] zánmen; 某 mǒu; 个人[個-] gèrén; 咱 zán; 余[餘] yú; 俺 ǎn; 弟 dì; 孤 gū; 区区[區區] qūqū; 侬[儂] nóng; 窃[竊] qiè; 朕 zhèn ∾n. 人家 rénjia; 兄弟 xiōngdi; 本人 běnrén; 老子 lǎozi; 臣 chén; 鄙人 bǐrén; 不才 bùcái; 不佞 bùnìng; 贱妾[賤-] jiànqiè; 某人 mǒurén; 妾 qiè; 洒家[灑-] sǎjiā; 晚生 wǎnshēng; 下官 xiàguān; 小的 xiǎode; 小可 xiǎokě; 小婿 xiǎoxù; 愚 yú; 愚兄 yúxiōng; 在下 zàixià; 治下 zhìxià
Whew! How many words does the English language have for “I”? Probably more than we might think at first.
I don’t know why I find Baidu so interesting, but I do. I’ve been working on my tags lately, so if you want to see what I’ve written about Baidu in the past, you can check out the Baidu tag.