Many explanations, of great variety, have been given for the origin of the word Ti. We shall not try to go into all of them here. But there is one of these theories which, whether it be correct or not, is at least the most plausible one that offers. It was first propounded by Mr. James M. Menzies, a Canadian scholar who is one of the very few foreigners who have made real contributions to the study of the oracle bones.
According to this theory Ti was originally the name of a sacrifice. This statement is based on the fact that in Shang dynasty Chinese the word Ti is almost (sometimes quite) identical with another word, pronounced liao. This word liao is a pictograph of a bundle of wood, burning, ready to have an animal placed on it as a burnt offering; it means ‘to present a burnt offering.’ Since these words are so nearly alike in form, we have on the oracle bones such sentences as ‘liao (present as a burnt offering) five bulls to Ti,’ with liao and Ti written identically. It is thought, then, that Ti was at first merely the name of a way of sacrificing to the ancestors or other deities, but that gradually men confused the sacrifice itself with the deity sacrificed to, and came to think of it as a separate deity.
Creel, Herrlee Glessner. The Birth of China: A Survey of the Formative Period of Chinese Civilization. London: Jonathan Cape, Ltd., 1936, p. 182.