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Over 18,000 share name with Olympic champ Liu Xiang
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As the Chinese language watchdog discourages Chinese to use unusual characters to name their babies, many new fathers and mothers turn to sporting celebrities and movie stars to name their children.

According to the latest datum released by China's Identification Numbers Search Service Center, 18,462 people share the name with the reigning world and Olympic 110m hurdles champion Liu Xiang.

On the list of homonyms, Hong Kong movie star Liu Dehua, or Andy Lau as he is known outside of the Chinese mainland, places second with 16,975.

Chinese actress Fan Bingbing tops the female namesakes with 8,000.

In China, naming babies isn't an easy job.

To make the names of their children to stand out in Chinese, many parents have used ancient characters or symbols, a trend that the State Language Commission discourages.

In an extreme case, a Chinese couple tried to name their baby "@", saying the common symbol used in email addresses showed their love for child.

The symbol @ reads "at", which, with a drawn out "T", sounds something like "ai ta", or "love him", to Mandarin speakers.

China bans names using Arabic numerals, foreign languages and symbols that don't belong to Chinese ethnic languages.

According to the State Language Commission, sixth million Chinese are named with ancient characters so obscure that computers can't recognize them.

A teacher in the Beijing 1st Experimental Elementary School told the reporter that he had to use the dictionary when he called the roll on the first school day for grade one students.

"In my class, some names contain characters that fluent speakers can't read," he said.

The trend of using peculiar names goes side by side with the practice of naming after celebrities.

Liu Xiang, the most celebrated athlete in China, contains one of the most popular surnames in China and the lucky word for Chinese - "Xiang", which means flying, said the Shanghai-based Oriental Sports Daily while explaining the over 18,000 namesakes with the star runner.

"The name of Liu Xiang has become even more popular since the Shanghai runner won China's first ever Olympic men's athletics gold medal in 2004," said the newspaper.

Liu is ranked fourth, after Li, Wang and Zhang, in the top 100 Chinese surnames in 2006. About 60 million share the family name Liu, accounting for 5.83 percent of the Chinese population of 1.3 billion.

(Xinhua News Agency September 21, 2007) 

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