There has been some confusion between the sheep and goat, which the Chinese people could chose from to ring in the Chinese new year that starts from 19 February.

A Google search suggests that in English, "year of the sheep" is the most common phrasing associated with the animal of the year. However, in French the goat or 'chevre' wins.

The Chinese lunar calendar assigns an animal symbol to each year in every 12-year cycle. This time around the Chinese character for the eighth zodiac animal is "yang".

It can refer to either of the two ruminants when used without attributes.

When paired with another Chinese character it turns a goat into a "mountain yang", a sheep becomes a "soft yang" and a Mongolian gazelle is a "yellow yang".

Folklorists say the animal symbol "yang" can be either be a sheep or a goat, but point to a goat given the animal's popularity as a farm animal among Han Chinese.

Since the first Chinese zodiac appeared after the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC) when goats and sheep were used in sacrificial offerings, tracing the origin of the "yang" will be difficult says Huang Yang, a prominent researcher.

Though sheep were domesticated by Chinese earlier than goats, the goats were common livestock for the Han Chinese and yang could be more associated with the goat.

Bearded goats feature on many Chinese stamps and artwork.

Another folklorist, Fang Binggui, from Fuzhou City, says the image of the zodiac Yang is open to regional interpretation. "People depict the zodiac animal based on the most common Yang in their region. So it's often sheep in the north while goats in the south."

Another twist given is the interpretation of the word "yang".

It is a component of the written Chinese character "xiang", which in turn stands for auspiciousness. It is also a part of the character "shan", which means kindness and benevolence.

"Therefore 'yang' is a symbol of... blessing and fortune and represents good things," said Yin Hubin, an ethnology researcher with the China Academy of Social Sciences, a government think-tank.

Some Chinese expectant mothers are even scheduling caesarean section operations to give birth before the current year of the horse ends, due to a superstition that nine out of 10 sheep will be unhappy in life.

But experts say the animal plays a positive role in Chinese folklore.

Not many modern day Chinese are really bothered about the sheep-goat confusion and prefer to go by individual likes.

"I've seen more goats in zodiac images, but I prefer to buy a sheep mascot, as sheep are more fluffy and lovely," Xinhua news quoted an office clerk Chen Xufeng as saying in Beijing.

"In the year of the yang, I want to be a strong-willed and energetic goat, not a weak sheep," another Sina Weibo user writes.

In fact, the western world seems more caught up in the confusion.