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In my senior year at college, I signed up for a Japanese class because it was trendy. The instructor was a short Japanese man with a very strong temper. He was so irritated by the large number of students in his class that he wanted to get rid of many of us. Very soon he gave us a difficult test and of course many of us failed. His parting words for me were that I was not cut out for Japanese learning. Years later, if he had happened to bump into me in Tokyo he would have been shocked to see me conducting business in Japanese. Here's the post.

July 22, 2016 (Fri)

Translation: the picture of an elegant Chinese lady


After I wrote the June 28 post on how I translate a western name to Chinese, Simon Cousins of Allegravita sent me some of the similar works they have done. After looking at them, I must say I'm impressed. Here, I would like to share with you a few things I've learned from them.

As I have explained before, you need a Chinese name to do business in China. However, unlike many western names, Chinese names have meanings. Therefore, you must also make sure your Chinese name has good meaning. Also, while I have not found any standard in translating names to Chinese, my approach -- also echoed by Allegravita -- is to take part of the family name to form a Chinese family name, and part of the given name to form a Chinese given name.

Let's look at one of the translations I received from Simon: Chelsea Hurley, an executive at a major domain company. Hurley's translation is presented in the form of a PDF file. The file starts with Hurley's Chinese name 何巧希written in a large, solid black Chinese font. This font gives you a sense of stability and trustworthiness. Next is the following description.

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Pinyin: hé qiǎo xī
Read it like: Heh cheeyow she

The first character "何" (pinyin: hé; one of the surname listed in the Chinese book of family names) is used as the surname for this Chinese name, which sounds similar to the "Hur" in "Hurley."

The second and third characters "巧希" (qiǎoxī) which sound similar to the English name "Chelsea" are used as the given name. "巧" (qiǎo) means ingenious and the "希" (xī) means hopeful, representing a positive character and great intellect.
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While Pinyin is the official pronunciation, most westerners probably don't know how to use it. So "Read it like" is an excellent idea which will help you quickly remember how to say your name properly moments before you meet your Chinese customers.

The detailed description tells you how the Chinese name is constructed. Most Chinese names consist of only three characters: one for the family name and then two for the given name. In this case, "Hur" is taken from "Hurley" to form the family name 何 (He). Since Chelsea sounds like two Chinese characters, it is perfect for her given name 巧希 (Qiao Xi).

In constructing a Chinese family name, your gender does not matter. However, when constructing a given name, the gender is very important. In this example, I can see the Allegravita folks paid close attention and chose a given name which is feminine. 巧希 gives me the picture of a lively, elegant, skillful lady full of hope and dreams. The name draws a beautiful picture in our minds.

So, what have we learned from this exercise? Here are some of the points you can take if you decide to translate your name to Chinese.
  • Family name -> Chinese family name
  • Given name -> Chinese given name
  • Name is authentic in Chinese.
  • Name is gender specific.
  • Name has good meaning.
  • Avoid controversial or ambiguous names. (See June 28 post for examples.)
  • Include "Read it like" to help remember pronunciation.
  • Print with good font.


再见 (Zai Jian)