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Can You Guess Which NBA Star Is Nicknamed “蜗壳 (Wō Ké) Snail Shell” in China?

Jun. 1, 2018

HSK 3 quiz

Many of my American Mandarin Chinese language students are surprised to learn that the NBA Basketball League is now the most popular sports league to follow in China, based on online views. The popularity of Chinese Hall of Fame player Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets, along with stars such as Kobe Bryant, have captivated Chinese audiences and helped our cultures become more interlinked. Each spring, the NBA Playoffs and Finals come around and basketball becomes one of the most popular subjects for online viewing and conversation. So, why should Chinese learners pay attention to the NBA in China?

I love teaching my students about Chinese nicknames for NBA players. Chinese netizens love to discuss NBA basketball and have crafted some very creative and thoughtful nicknames for the most famous players on the court. These nicknames help Chinese learners understand some important adjectives, as well as understand Chinese culture and imagination.

Here are the nicknames for some of the most famous and beloved players. Some stars even have more than one. Use your imagination to picture what they may look like based on the description!

1. Shaquille O’Neal

HSK 3 quiz

Chinese nickname 1: “大鲨鱼 (Dà shāyú) The Giant Shark”

大鲨鱼 (Dà shāyú) = the giant shark.

大 () = big; huge; giant.

鲨鱼 (Shāyú) = shark.

Explanation: The pronunciation of “Shaquille”, or “Shaq” sounds like “shark” and is alliterated with the word “鲨鱼 (shāyú)” in Chinese. In addition, his size is obviously enormous, so Chinese fans like to call him “大鲨鱼 (dà shāyú) The Giant Shark.”

Chinese nickname 2: “发动机 (Fādòngjī) The Motor”

发动机 (Fādòngjī) = engine; motor.

发 () = issue; send out; deliver; utter.

动 (Dòng) = act; move; stir; use.

机 () = crucial point; engine; machine.

Explanation: It is said that “发动机 (fādòngjī) The Motor” is one of Shaq’s favorite nicknames. It vividly reflects his game play style. No one could stop him under the hoop in his heyday.

2. Blake Griffin

HSK 3 quiz

Chinese nickname: “给力芬 (Gěilì fēn) Griffin the Gelivable”

给力 (Gěilì) = gelivable (Chinese Internet slang); awesome; incredible; cool/great.

给 (Gěi) = give.

力 () = strength; force.

Explanation: Blake Griffin is famous for his powerful slam dunking abilities. His nickname reflects this!

3. Stephen Curry

HSK 3 quiz

Chinese nickname 1: “萌神 (Méng shén) The Adorable”

萌 (Méng) = young and innocent; cute; adorable.

神 (Shén) = God; deity; divinity.

Explanation: Stephen Curry’s baby face has been increasingly famous in China. Additionally, he’s good at “卖萌 (màiméng)” which means to “pretend to be cute”, in a good way, to please the audience.

Chinese nickname 2: “库司令 (Kù sīlìng) Curry the Commander”

库 ():storeroom; warehouse.

司令 (Sīlìng): commander.

Explanation: This one is kinda funny in that “40” in Chinese can be pronounced as “sìshí” or to read it separately as “sì líng” which rhymes with “司令 (sīlìng).” The “40” is a reference to the 40 points Stephen Curry scored in an NBA match in China against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

4 = ()

0 = (Líng)

4. Dwyane Wade

HSK 3 quiz

Chinese nickname: “闪电侠 (Shǎndiàn xiá) The Flash”

闪电 (Shǎndiàn) = lightning.

侠 (Xiá) = a person adept in martial arts and given to chivalrous conduct.

Explanation: This one was created by Shaquille O’Neal, because Wade is the quickest on the court. His quickness and ability to simply leave people chasing thin air is expressed in this one.

5. Kobe Bryant

HSK 3 quiz

Chinese nickname 1: “蜗壳 (Wō ké) Snail Shell”

蜗 () = snail.

壳 () = casing; shell; husk.

Chinese fans like to call Kobe “我科(wǒ kē) My Kobe”, and gradually it evolved into something similar “蜗壳 (wō ké).”

HSK 3 quiz

Chinese nickname 2: “小飞侠 (Xiǎo fēi xiá) Peter Pan”

小 (Xiǎo) = small; little.

飞 (Fēi) = fly.

Explanation: It was never easy to stop Kobe in the air. He seems to be able to fly like Peter Pan. That is why we like to call him Peter Pan, the boy who could fly!

Here are two rules that Chinese people generally follow when giving nicknames:

1. Rhythm. To make it sound better, we often use “小 (xiǎo)” or “阿 (ā)” before the first name, or “儿 (ér)” after the first name. Sometimes, repetition is employed, such as “乐乐 (lè lè).”

2. Conformity. The nickname usually reflects the characteristic of the person, or we could say we give nicknames according to the shape, personality etc. of that person, just as the nickname “The Giant Shark” for Shaq.

So, now you know how these fascinating nicknames were created. Can you think of a Chinese nickname for one of your favorite hometown athletes? I’d love to hear it.

1. Which of the following nicknames do you find the most interesting or special? Tell us why and leave us a comment below!

(1) “大鲨鱼 (Dà shāyú) The Giant Shark”

(2) “发动机 (Fādòngjī) The Motor”

(3) “给力芬 (Gěilì fēn) Griffin the Gelivable”

(4) “萌神 (Méng shén) The Adorable”

(5) “库司令 (Kù sīlìng) Curry the Commander”

(6) “闪电侠 (Shǎndiàn xiá) The Flash”

(7) “蜗壳 (Wō ké) Snail Shell”

(8) “小飞侠 (Xiǎo fēi xiá) Peter Pan”

―Written by Becky Zhang―
Becky is a teacher at She has over eight years of experience teaching Mandarin Chinese to foreign students and promoting Chinese culture. She lives in Beijing but loves traveling to ancient Chinese villages. One day she’d like to be a tour guide in China!

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Qing ai Laosh,
Very Good information.

We will continue to provide better information, please follow closely with us. Thanks.

Thank you for your blog post.Really thank you! Awesome.

Thank you very much for your interest. Please continue to follow us.

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