This isn't a question on how to choose a Chinese name equivalent, but how the one that most media and people use, gets used.

For example, if some unknown person out there who never had a Chinese name, say Rufus Gainey (some random name), solves the Middle East crisis or something to gain worldwide attention, how do the Chinese press/people establish a name?

Is it as simple as the first source who comes up with something and then others follow?

Basically, I'm just curious as to how the Chinese version of an English name becomes the standard and how people know.

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    See related and Wikipedia article on transcription
    – 杨以轩
    Jul 24, 2013 at 14:31
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    Which reminds me, since there are different standards in different Chinese speaking regions, there are one story behind each, so the ideal answer could be a history paper 10 pages long:)
    – NS.X.
    Jul 24, 2013 at 19:45
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    In mainland, others would follow Xinhua News Agency's standard (if the news is not made to be blocked, Xinhua News Agency is often the first source, though). But in Cantonese areas and Taiwan, translations are often quite different, I don't know how the standard forms in these places for a new name that has never appeared in a famous person before.
    – Stan
    Jul 25, 2013 at 7:43
  • @Stan For the mainland China case, people use Xinhua News Agency publications as the evidence/reference for standard transliteration, but the standard is not necessarily made by them. In many cases, old translation is still being used because they're too popular to override in spite of their effort to push for the new standard.
    – NS.X.
    Jul 25, 2013 at 9:23

1 Answer 1


First of all, I'm a native speaker. I know this well but my English is not as good as you. so I hope it would not bother you, thank you. Basically, what Chinese people would do is just to translate the name by its pronunciation and use some similar sounded Chinese characters to write it down.

For example, "Rufus Gainey" will be translated to "鲁福斯 · 甘利"(Lu Fu Si | Gan li).

However, because there are a lot of Chinese characters which have the same pronunciation( 鲁福斯 · 甘利, 鲁服斯 · 干立, 鲁服思 · 肝力... they sound the same), it is important to choose the "nice" characters.

  1. "鲁服思 · 肝力" is not good because "肝力" means "liver power", weird!
  2. “干立” is also bad because it means "standing there and do nothing".
  3. "甘利" is quiet good because "甘" means "sweet" and "利" means "good".

And also there are some "conventional translations" here like Tom -> 汤姆, Jim -> 吉姆... Because they are quite common in English so there are common Chinese version of them.

There are also some interesting translation here.

Example 1: first name

Girls and boys tend to have different first names, right? We all know that Tom is a boy name and Ann is a girl name. However, "Tracy" can be used both by a girl or boy. So:

Tracy McGrady: He is my favorite NBA star. We often translate his name as "特雷西"

However, if Tracy is a girl, I think "翠茜" is a good translation because this two characters are quite female-style.

Example 2: family name

Family names have no gender, right?

Marilyn Monroe -> 玛丽莲·梦露

Jim Monroe -> 吉姆·门罗

You can find here the same "Monroe" are translated to different characters. This is because 梦露 is quite girl-like name and it is quite good to represent the beauty and sexy of Marilyn Monroe. However I don't think a boy Jim will like this translation for him. So what I'm trying to say here is that some Chinese characters or word have strong genders so we can use them to translate the family name differently for boys and girls.

Example 3:

Irvin and Owen will both be translated to "欧文". The reason is that if you let my grandpa(he know nothing about English) tell the difference between these two names. He would say there is no difference. Because there is no pronunciation like "Irvin" in Chinese. So we treat it as "欧文".

BTW, Steve is 史蒂夫 in Chinese.

  • +1. But why not translate Gainey to 盖尼? There're 5,770 Google results for 甘利 but 658,000 results for 盖尼.
    – Stan
    Jul 24, 2013 at 17:25
  • @Stan yeah, that sounds more similar! Good translation! That is what I mean, there is not only one Chinese translation to a English name. Jul 24, 2013 at 17:32
  • @Stan But to me 甘利 sounds better. For example "Sydney" are often translated to "悉尼" in mainland China. But to me, I like "雪梨"(Used by Hong kong) better. It's quite objectively you know. Jul 24, 2013 at 17:40
  • I might be mistaken, but I think the question is about how the convention is established rather than how the names are formed in general?
    – Olle Linge
    Jul 25, 2013 at 6:58
  • @zyc, this is great info and I'd really like to mark this the answer, but it answers another question, but I've been meaning to ask how the naming process works and your answer gives the kind of in-depth examples I'm looking for. Thanks.
    – Steve
    Jul 25, 2013 at 12:07

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