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'Salmon chaos' in Taiwan as people change their names to get free sushi

The Taiwanese government urged people to stop changing their names to include the word "salmon" since it was wasting officials' time.
The promotion prompted an unexpected craze that was dubbed "salmon chaos" on social media and by local news outlets.
The promotion prompted an unexpected craze that was dubbed "salmon chaos" on social media and by local news outlets.danilovi / Getty Images
/ Source: NBC News

What's in a name? For Ma Jeng Shiuan, a university student in Taiwan, the answer was an opportunity for some fishy business.

The 22-year-old said he officially changed his name to "Ma Jeng Shiuan Bao Zheng Gui Yu" for a few days this week, adding the words "dancing salmon" in a bid to get free sushi following a promotional offer at a national restaurant chain.

The temporary deal from "Taiwan Sushiro" offered free all-you-can-eat sushi to anyone with "gui yu" — the Chinese characters for salmon — in their name.

The promotion prompted an unexpected craze that was dubbed "salmon chaos" on social media and by local news outlets.

"I knew this event because it has gone viral on social media and many people in Taiwan know about it," Ma told NBC News via Instagram on Friday.

He said his parents were a bit concerned about his name change but that he was more relaxed since he knew he could change it back again later.

"I went to Sushiro almost 15 times," he added.

In Taiwan, individuals are legally allowed to change their name a maximum of three times. The restaurant accepted national ID cards as official proof of the customers' new names.

The government was seemingly unamused, urging people to stop wasting officials' time.

"This kind of name change not only wastes time but causes unnecessary paperwork," the country's deputy interior minister Chen Tsung-yen, told media on Thursday. "I hope everyone can be respectful to the administrative resources and be more rational about it."

More than 200 people had paid the small fee — around $3 — to change their names at Taiwan's household registration office to take advantage of the promotion, the interior ministry said Friday.

The promotion allowed the salmon-named individual to bring along five others who could also eat for free.

Ma, who is from the southern port city of Kaohsiung and majors in business management, spied an opportunity and began charging strangers a small fee to eat with him under his new salmon moniker.

"I have brought a lot of people to eat and charge them 30 percent of the original price," he said. "Besides that, I treat my best friends as well to return the favor since they have been really nice to me."

Ma said he had earned around $2,000 but had changed his name back early Friday as the promotion had ended.

The salmon chaos was not welcomed by all, however, with some uncomfortable with the deeper implications of a brief craze that had largely caught the imagination of younger people.

"It's fun to see the marketing trick works, but I won't change my name for a meal," said Jimmy Su, 49, an operations manager at a tech company in Taipei.

Although most people think it's "hilarious," Su added, he said that others felt that "changing names arbitrarily is an act of disrespect to parents."

A representative for the restaurant chain told NBC News that more than 1,800 people had enjoyed the two-day promotion.

"The current situation is way out of our expectations," the representative said, "but we are very glad the consumers have shown their love to us."

The chain said it would "learn from the experience" and "accept comments with an open mind."

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