New York (state and city) is called 紐約 (Niǔ​yuē).

Of course that sounds very much like the English "New York", but how come it's written with 紐 and 約?

When I look up the characters I get:

紐 knot; button; handle, knob; tie

約 treaty, agreement, covenant

Does the meaning of the characters have anything to do with them being used in this word, or is it simply that they sound similar to the English -- if so, why where these particular characters chosen to begin with and not some other characters that sound the same?

  • 1
    cf. 纽芬兰岛 Newfoundland, 纽伦堡 Nuremberg,纽马克特 Newmarket,of course "New" in names is also often transliterated as 新 (as in New Delhi, Nova Scotia, New Caledonia),約: 約克 York, 約克郡 Yorkshire,
    – user6065
    Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 14:54
  • 1
    Sometimes a phonetic transcription is just a phonetic transcription. Usually it is. Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 18:42
  • 1
    another example of New phonetically transcripted as : New Zeland = 紐西蘭
    – wilson
    Commented Feb 3, 2017 at 4:08
  • note 约克 for Toronto suburb "York" s.rfa.org/mandarin/yataibaodao/junshiwaijiao/…
    – user6065
    Commented Feb 4, 2017 at 12:46
  • New Zealand: Wiki, baike:新西兰 (baike: 又译纽西兰) 新泽西州 New Jersey, 新南威尔士州 New South Wales, 新地岛 Novaya Zemlya 新墨西哥州 New Mexico, 新西伯利亚Novosibirsk,新奥尔良 New Orleans,新布朗斯维克 New Brunswick USA,(s.c. #1 新德里 New Delhi, 新斯科舍省 Nova Scotia,新喀里多尼亚 New Caledonia) phonetic:下诺夫哥罗德 Nizhny Novgorod,諾伊豪森 Neuhausen,纳沙泰尔Neuchâtel,纽宾士域省 New Brunswick (province,Ca),baike:别 名:新不伦瑞克省,New Brunswick University 纽宾士域大学, 纳吾肉孜节 也译诺鲁兹节或耨儒孜节 Nowruz (New Year) festival (Persian,literally "New Day")
    – user6065
    Commented Feb 4, 2017 at 16:52

5 Answers 5


紐約 in Cantonese is nau2 joek3 (j- in jyutping is pronounced like y-). That's the closest Cantonese immigrants could come to New York, I suppose...

There aren't many syllabes in Cantonese that could match York:

  • jaak [ja:k]
  • jik
  • joek [jøk]
  • juk [jok] --> that last one could have been a better match.
  • So did this word originate from Cantonese and later imported into Mandarin/Putonghua?
    – Blaszard
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 13:02

Sometimes, the pronunciation was based on Cantonese instead of modern Mandarin. (E.g. "Taxi" is translated as "的士" in Cantonese but it's also acceptable in Mandarin that sounds very differently) Ref:Taxi in Wikipeidia. I'm thinking it might also apply to 紐約 original sound

  • 3
    纽约: jyutping nau2 joek3
    – user6065
    Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 22:18

There are three universal rules for name translation in Mandarin:

信 :precision

达 : meaningful

雅 : elegant

For places historical naming is used. But if there is no precedent name, phonetic name is used, which then has to be chosen so it is made up of elegant characters.

The closest phonetic sound for New is York sound . Both does not follow the elegant rules. Then the next selection will be 牛, 纽, 纽.

Because New York is a commercial hub, the term 枢纽 come into mind. And using is quite obvious, as in 条约

Thus,纽约 are meaningful and elegant.

  • Hi, 1) would be nice with a ref to more about the "three rules". 2) In which way is 妞 and 哟 not elegant? You mean that the characters are comparatively cluttered? Commented Jan 29, 2017 at 14:44
  • 3
    Doesn't seem to be well supported, given the facts in the other answers. If it were being transcribed into Mandarin today, it probably would account for the final "k" sound. The evidence seems to suggest it does account for the final "k" sound, but only in Cantonese. No need to explain further than that. Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 19:40

Perhaps this is in reference to the purchase of Manhattan from the Native Americans by the Dutch for $24 worth of beads.


The fact that 紐 is used for "New" in so many place name and the fact that it is the Chinese equivalent of the Greek letter Nu suggests that there is a de facto system; of course we can't rule out the involvement of a committee at some point.

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