I’m currently working on A Girl and Her Panda, and my American mom (my family is complicated) noted how cute it is that the Chinese name for “panda” is “xióngmāo” (熊猫), which literally means “bear cat.” That led to us coming up with a list of other animals that are not cats but have “cat” in their name. So here is my list of 5 Cats That Are Not Cats.
I don’t know why the panda is called bear cat in Chinese, but I know that people often debate if the panda is a bear at all. I suppose it is just as much a cat as it is bear or a raccoon or whatever.
Chinchillas are cute AF and are rather popular pets here in China. In my college town of Changsha, there is a nice chinchilla petshop I always visit and have to stop myself from buying one.
Chinchillas also have the coolest name in Chinese: lóngmāo (龙猫), which means “dragon cat.” That alone makes me want one as a pet!
In Chinese, the word for “owl” is “māotóuyīng” (猫头鹰), which means “cat-headed eagle.” I think that’s a pretty accurate description.
Okay, I had to cheat with the last two on this list because I couldn’t remember any other animals that use “cat” specifically in the name, but the orca – or killer whale – comes close.
In our family, we call orcas “panda whales,” but in Chinese, orcas are called “hǔjīng,” or “tiger whale,” which is a kind of cat, so close enough.
Okay, I know. I’m reeeeeealy stretching with this one, but it is so interesting it could be a separate blog post, so consider it #5 and a bonus.
In Chinese, Elvis Presley is called Māo Wáng – the King of Cats.
My mom and I had to do a bit of research and piecing together for the origin of this translation.
In English, Elvis is known as the King of Rock-n-Roll, so calling Elvis a king in Chinese was pretty easy. But why “cat”?
According to Chinese forums, many people say it is because he wiggled his hips like a cat. Even in America, Elvis had a reputation for his sexy hip moves, so I like this explanation.
The real reason is probably the more boring explanation. During the 50s, 60s, and 70s – when Elvis was most popular – China didn’t have much exposure to American culture. Elvis was first introduced in China in 2001 through his album “The Hillbilly Cat,” which was just a compilation album originally released in the 80s in the US. So it might not have been a popular album in America (Mom said she had not heard of it), but for people in China, the first time they heard Elvis, they would think of “The Hillbilly Cat,” that cool King of American pop music. Thus, the Cat King name stuck.
I hope you enjoyed learning these funny words today. If you have any questions about Chinese language or culture, you can always let me know in the comments or contact me.