Panda fans get a name to go with that adorable face

Online voters choose to call National Zoo's cub Tai Shan, Chinese for peaceful mountain

October 18, 2005|By ROB HIAASEN | ROB HIAASEN,SUN REPORTER

And on the 100th day, he was named.

All you panda groupies who log on to the National Zoo's Web site to watch the panda cub stretch and snooze now have a name to go with that ridiculously cute face: Tai Shan, as the panda was ceremoniously named yesterday before Chinese and U.S. officials in Washington.

Tai Shan (Tie-Shun) is Chinese for "peaceful mountain." He could have been named China Washington or Washington China - two other options in the zoo's naming contest - or even "dragon mountain." Luckily, voters rejected Long Shan, Chinese for dragon mountain.

Tai Shan was selected by 44 percent or about 88,000 of the 202,000 online votes cast. The runner-up was Qiang Qiang, which means "strong, powerful" (Although it seems it should mean "strong, strong.") The least popular name was Hua Sheng or "China Washington," which sounds like a scary female professional wrestler.

Since his birth, the now 13-pound panda remains the darling of the zoo's Web site, which has recorded an estimated 4 million visitors. The cub lives with his mother, Mei Xiang, indoors. Zoo officials hope they can display Tai Shan to the public in December.

The baby panda went without a name for his first 100 days in observance of a Chinese custom that originally applied to humans.

"In traditional China, when a baby grows to 100 days, it's supposed to be very strong," said Zheng Zheguang, deputy chief at the Chinese Embassy. "That tradition has also lent itself to the panda family."

For Tai Shan, those 100 days have even greater meaning, because it's rare for pandas born in captivity to live more than a few days. Tai Shan is the United States' fourth - and the National Zoo's first - panda cub to survive this long.

The panda cub did not make a cameo on his big day yesterday.

"He slept through the ceremony," said zoo spokeswoman Peper Long. "I think that's what you would want your kids to do when they are baptized."

One voter, however, won a private viewing. Rod Sallee, a 61-year-old forester from West Virginia, was randomly selected from the 202,000 voters to tour the indoor panda habitat. By then, Tai Shan had emerged from his slumber. While mom sucked an apple juice Popsicle, "he was crawling around, starting to push up and get his back legs going," Sallee said. "He was so soft and cuddly looking."

Soft and cuddly, sure. But come on, doesn't the cub look like a butterball?

"He is a little butterball," Sallee conceded, "but I think they were looking for a name that would be long term."

rob.hiaasen@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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