One of the first things i learnt when studying chinese was the names of different places around the world. Most of the names from places are simply transliterations of their current forms. This means that some chinese characters used to name a place might be replaced with a different one but similar in sound and tone. This is all well acceptable and reasonable.

In the Asia, however, especially in areas where influences and interactions with the chinese are part of a shared and overlapping history, how do “official names” in chinese suddenly change?

I am particularly referring to “Seoul”, from South Korea. I remember particularly well from airport arrivals/destination boards it was once called 漢城, City of Hans. Since when did it change to 首爾? I believe the latter is a transliteration to the name.

Is there an official committee that decides on these things? (Like how do you name british names like “stratford upon Avon”?)

1 Answer 1


漢城 became 首爾 was the decision of the Korean government.

北京 was transliterated as 'Peking', but the government decided it should be 'Beijing'

Basically, the place itself or the government that rules the place has the final say on how its name will be translated or transliterated.

Currently, Chinese transliterated Singapore as 新加坡, but it was transliterated as 星加坡 in Cantonese, eventually, the Cantonese transliteration followed the Mandarin one. Since Mandarin is one of the official languages of Singapore, its government demanded 星加坡 be changed to 新加坡. However, a Cantonese dish named after Singapore is still called 星洲炒米 (Singapore stir-fried rice noodle) instead of 新洲炒米

Take Stratford for example, The Mandarin and Cantonese transliterations are different, only if Stratford itself clarified how it should be transliterated, the different areas would transliterate it differently

Unless Trump declares how his name should be transliterated 川普 and 特朗普 would be used in different areas

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