I've previously only known Cambridge to be translated as: 剑桥.

Flipping through some things today I came across an old poem entitled:《再别康桥

The Wikipedia page has the following note on the poem:


Aside from this piece of work 康桥 doesn't seem to get a lot of results online. 康 does seem closer to Cambridge than 剑 as well.

When and why did Cambridge go from being 康桥 and become 剑桥?

  • Maybe because 康橋 also refers to a Chinese location? – dROOOze Aug 15 '20 at 12:51
  • Actually, China also has "柏林", but it reads as "bǎi lín":-) zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%9F%8F%E6%9E%97%E9%95%87 – T-Pioneer Aug 18 '20 at 0:57
  • On the when part, I saw in a Xinhua dictionary a standard list of foreign proper noun translation where a set of typical name-like characters are used. (Don't have access anymore. Don't know the year.) Standard recommendation published by 商务图书管 also exists. book.douban.com/subject/1236120 So the shift probably happened when the foreign ministry or some academic worked on compiling and recommending standard translations. Why does the recommendation go to 剑 even though 康 is closer? That might've been to conform to what appeared most common for the compiler/editor. – Argyll Aug 19 '20 at 21:03
  • @Argyll It seem that the translator wanted the name more Western-style. If "牛津" is a Chinese city, its name sounds very weird, but because it is weird(or Western-style), so more people remember it. "康桥" sounds like "张庄" "李村" "刘集", is similar to the name of a Chinese village. Also, not "商务图书管", but "商务印书馆":-> – T-Pioneer Aug 20 '20 at 10:45
  • Not all the foreign proper nouns use the same Chinese Characters. If people are used to using a translated name, government usually won't change it. "剑桥" is so famous, 《再别康桥》is so famous too, most of readers know that "康桥" is "剑桥", so needn't to change. If it change, people have to say "康桥大学" instead "剑桥大学". It will make messy. – T-Pioneer Aug 20 '20 at 10:51

英国的康桥,如今大部份人都称之为剑桥,这个译法很特别,但是居然 还是被人们接受了。一般来讲,中国人翻译外国的地名大多采用音译, 如“翡冷翠”、“枫丹白露”,都是其中的上乘之作;也有不多的一些 外国地名是采用字面的义译,如“牛津”、“地中海”,可算别具一格, 但鲜有音译和义译混合的。“剑桥”是少见的一例,剑桥的“剑”乃是 “Cam”的音译,“桥”是“Bridge”的义译。由此可以推断, 当初作如此翻译的人士,出身大概总归是在闽粤两地,那里的方言仍然 保留着古汉语的入声,因此才会想到把“Cam”译作“剑”。


Weiyi, the author of this essay thinks, the translator who had translated "Cambridge" as "剑桥" comes from Fujian or Guangdong because the people in these two areas say "cam" as "剑", it's their accent. Obviously, the people who speak Mandarin Chinese won't think "cam" is similar to "剑", maybe a bit like "卡姆", but "卡姆桥" sounds "ugly" and too ordinary.

In Chinese-Western languages translation, this situation is very very common, because many reasons. For example, Florence went from being "翡冷翠" and became "佛罗伦萨" because "翡冷翠" is from "Firenze", "Florence" in Italian, and "佛罗伦萨" is from English. Germany(Deutschland) went from being "独国" and became "德国" because "独" isn't a common "译名用字": Chinese think some special Chinese Characters are commonly use in foreign proper nouns, such as "尔", "斯", "格", "德", etc. If you can use these to translate names of people or places or other words from Western countries, choose them.

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