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Chinese New Year: Is It the Year of the Goat, the Sheep or Ram? Ewe Decide

Feeling sheepish about what to call the animal celebrated this Lunar New Year? Is it the Year of the Sheep, the Goat or the Ram?

All three animals have been mentioned as the pivotal centerpiece in this year's festivities, which kicked off Thursday and employs the Chinese zodiac cycle of a rotating cast of 12 symbolic animals. For instance, this past year was the Year of the Horse and the year before that was the Year of the Snake. But why is there such creature confusion in 2015?

It all stems from the fact that the Chinese use one character for these horned animals — translated as "yang" in Mandarin, said Chinese and linguistics professor Wei Hong. Yang, when used to mean goat, is seen as something strong with a "quiet spirit," Hong said. A sheep is considered softer.

Hong said her daughter was born in the Year of the Goat, although she preferred to call it the Year of the Sheep.

"I wanted her to be soft and cute and a calm girl. So it became my personal preference," said Hong, the director of the Confucius Institute at Purdue University in Indiana.

But not everyone's sold on sheep. The NBA's Golden State Warriors unveiled Chinese New Year-themed uniforms that they will wear Friday to celebrate what the team calls the Year of the Goat. Meanwhile, the New York City Council is hosting a Lunar New Year event next week touting a Year of the Ram revelry.

Geography can also make a difference. Sheep are raised in northern China, while goats are more common in southern China, which plays into what the year is called depending on one's location.

Generally, people in mainland China seem to be keen on calling it the Year of the Goat — a nod to the country's culinary past, Hong said after reading news reports on the confusion. But she suggests English-speakers don't need to lock horns over the debate, and might want to go authentic: Year of the Yang.

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— Erik Ortiz
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