Panda, Panda, Bo-banda…

As most of you know, we have begun accepting suggestions from the public for naming the San Diego Zoo’s infant panda. This is our 5th go-around with the naming process, and each time it seems we have more and more “audience participation” built in. The new feature this time will be the added online option for suggesting a name. At the end of it all there will be five names offered to you for voting. I thought you might like to know a bit more about how we get from the name suggestions to the voting process.

Each day, members of the Panda Team take a look at all of the name suggestions submitted in person at the Zoo on the previous day. This can be a lot of paperwork! Today was my day for going through the names, and there were probably 200 to 300 offerings dropped in the submission box from Sunday. My first pass through separated potential Chinese names from ones the Chinese would not likely approve (Bam Bu, Oreo, Diego, Fluffy…). I was left with a handful of good options from which I had to narrow things down to a select few choices.

My choices from today will be combined with those chosen on all the other days. Staff from the Panda Team—keepers, vets, narrators, nutritionists—will all have a day for reviewing names and will pick their favorites. The Team will gather in week or so to narrow that subset of names to the final five you will vote on.

Based on our selection criteria from previous years, we typically settle on names that sound good to the ear and aren’t too hard to pronounce. Good names have a positive meaning or connotation for the bear or the species. But even with the best of intentions, we might run up against a few names that only a native Chinese speaker can clue us into as to their suitability. Case in point: Bright Star, the name so many wanted to give to Zhen Zhen in 2007. The Team seriously considered this name for the voter’s short list, until we were told by a Mandarin-speaking staff member that the Chinese phrase referred to a celebrity-type of star. This was a connotation we didn’t find appropriate for our bear. As you can see, a lot of thought and discussion goes into this process!

Obviously, not every name submitted will wind up on the voting list. Kudos go to those of you who take the time to put forward thoughtful, creative names for us to consider. I enjoyed reading through Sunday’s names today. A special thanks goes to whomever submitted “Dr. McAwesomesauce”… I got a good laugh out of that one!

Submit your suggestions online here.

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research.

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