I am looking for a resource that explains the translation of English names to Chinese. In this case i am trying to understand why Broadway is translated to 百老汇。 Anyone knows? Thanks in advance.

  • for more examples of meaning translation see chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/26190/… & links given there, looking at US news users will encounter more, e.g. Long Island 长岛, Queens 皇后区, Phoenix, Arizona: 凤凰城 (see answer, coexists with 菲尼克斯)
    – user6065
    Jun 12, 2019 at 14:09
  • also Sunset Strip: 洛杉矶的日落大街, Great Lakes 五大湖, English Channel 英吉利海峡, Cape of Good Hope 好望角,
    – user6065
    Jun 12, 2019 at 19:15

2 Answers 2


Most foreign names are transliterated, not translated into Chinese.

百老汇 /Bǎi lǎo huì/ is a transliteration of Broadway

Only a few English names of place are common enough to be translated by their actual meaning in Chinese


  • Buffalo city - 水牛城

  • Phoenix city - 鳳凰城

For people's name, even the simplest English names like "Stone" and "White" are transliterated as "史東" (Shǐ Dōng) and "韋特" (Wéi Tè) instead of translated as "石" (stone) and "白" (white)

  • “bailaohui" doesnt sound anything like Broadway. especially the "hui" part when there already exists a "way" sound in Chinese. Are there any scientific resources that document this claim?
    – Anonymous
    Jun 12, 2019 at 14:01
  • Chinese doesn't sound like English at all. That's why the definition of transliterate states: write or print (a letter or word) using the closest corresponding letters of a different alphabet or language. And 'huì' is the closest Chinese pinyin for transliterating 'way' in the opinion of the original translator. transliterating names is not an exact science, different translator might transliterate the same name differently. For example, Hollywood in Mandarin is transliterated as 好萊塢, but Cantonese transliterated Hollywood as 荷里活
    – Tang Ho
    Jun 12, 2019 at 14:19
  • Out of many different transliterations of an English name, eventually everyone would consent to a single official transliteration, base on popularity, authority's endorsement or the owner of the name's decision, like Google is transliterated as 谷歌 because Google itself decided 谷歌 is what it wanted to be called in Chinese
    – Tang Ho
    Jun 12, 2019 at 14:26

Transliterating Western names can be tricky for the person whose name is being transliterated. The transliterator can play a trick on him/her by choosing characters that sound like the Western name but mean something horrible, so one should get a second or even third opinion, preferably from different dialect speakers, as the same characters will/can sound different.

John DeFrancis covered this in one of his books. I'm paraphrasing as I can't remember the exact details now.

Rendering Western names into Chinese went through a number of phases over the years:

(i) Account for all the sounds in the Western name and do it in the same (Western) order, e.g., Michael Wilkinson would be done as Mai-ke-er Wei-er-jin-sen (I'm not doing the characters because it depends on what the transliterator chooses);

(ii) Since it's to be a "Chinese" name, then do it in the Chinese order (surname first, then personal name), so Wei-er-jin-sen Mai-ke-er;

(iii) Since it's a "Chinese" name, then follow the Chinese convention (most commonly 1-plus-2: 1 character for surname, 2 for personal name), so Wei Mai-ke.

It was at this third phase that an Italian (called Bozzetto or something like that) was given a Chinese name which sounds rather like Bozzetto. Every time someone asked him in Chinese what his name was and he'd proudly say the 3 syllables, they laughed. He later discovered that the transliterator had given him the Chinese name of 不知道.

Someone with the surname Moyse was given 莫伊斯 Mò Yīsī, which sounds like Moyse and adopts characters used in classical Chinese. However, it also sounds like 没(有)意思, especially if said in a regional accent. She then went for the sounds of her first name Sarah; it came out sounding just like "salad". So, she's now gone for a Chinese name that doesn't contain any of those sounds.

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