Tikki Tikki Tembo is set in ancient China and invents an ancient Chinese custom whereby parents honor their first-born sons with long, elaborate names that everyone is obliged to say completely – no nicknames, no shortening of any kind – while second-born sons are typically given short, unimportant names. A boy named Tikki Tikki Tembo-no Sa Rembo-chari Bari Ruchi-pip Peri Pembo (“The Most Wonderful Thing in the Whole Wide World”) and his little brother Chang (“Little or Nothing”) are playing very close to a well at their house that their mother has warned them to avoid. Chang falls in the well and his older brother runs to their mother and tells her Chang has fallen down the well. Their mother tells him to get the Old Man with the Ladder. He goes and tells the Old Man. Chang is rescued and then recovers quickly. Some time later, the boys are again playing near the well. This time, the older brother falls in. Chang runs to their mother and tries to tell her that “Tikki Tikki Tembo-no Sa Rembo-chari Bari Ruchi-pip Peri Pembo has fallen into the well. ” At first she cannot hear him so he says it again. However, because Chang is out of breath from running he sputters and then mispronounces the name. His mother insists that he repeat the name—but with respect. He tries repeatedly until finally his mother tells Chang to get the Old Man with the Ladder. Chang goes to the Old Man with the Ladder. Initially, the old man does not respond because he is asleep. Further, when Chang tries to wake him up, the Old Man with the Ladder—annoyed—tries to fall back asleep. After Chang breathlessly repeats his brother’s predicament the Old Man goes with Chang to save his brother from the well. They get Tikki Tikki Tembo-no Sa Rembo-chari Bari Ruchi-pip Peri Pembo from the well, but because of the long time he was in the well, it takes longer for him to recover. The end of the story says that this is why the Chinese have short names.