I have asked a similar question about the standardisation of Chinese places names. A previous question talked about how governments are able to give the official place names (for example: 星加坡 vs 新加坡 and 漢城 vs 首爾).

My question now is that some places have Chinese names that are different depending on the regions where they are being used. For example, 悉尼 is being used in Hong Kong and in vast areas of the chinese world, except in Taiwan, where the form 雪利 is being used to refer to Sydney.

Furthermore, 琉球 is being used to refer to Okinawa instead of 沖繩, which is equivalent to its Japanese name. 琉球 Is the historical name of Okinawa, referring to the Ryukyu kingdom.

宿務 Vs 宿霧 for Cebu, Philippines.

My question is, why do these confusions exist? Didnt the governments of these cities advice the “correct name” to be used in the same manner Seoul and Singapore did?

Are there any more place names like this?

  • Seoul used to be called 漢城 in Chinese. In 2005, the Korean government asked the Chinese name of Seoul to be changed to 首爾. So, in a really short period of time, the conversion was done. One no longer saw 漢城 in newspapers.
    – joehua
    Oct 16, 2021 at 1:28

3 Answers 3


Taiwan, ROC (Republic of China), and China, PROC (People's Republic of China) have been separated by two political systems since 1949, each side has its own choice of words and names of foreign cities. Both sides couldn't even settle on the name of China's Capital City - Taiwan refers to the city as 北平, while China calls it 北京.

Prior to 1997, Hongkong was governed and influenced by the British. Also, the majority of the Hongkongese came from a few Southern Provinces of China that each has a very distinct cultural heritage and spoken language, so not surprisingly the different choice of words.

  • 北平 is an old name, actually very old. It was the capital of Ming dynasty which changed the name from 北平 to 北京 to reflect its actual status. The capital of the ROC is 南京. So, 北京 was reverted to 北平. All these changes of name is rooted to the word 京, which means capital. In Ming dynasty, 北平 became the capital. So, its name was changed from 北平 to 北京. When ROC selected Nanking as its capital, 北京 was changed back to 北平.
    – joehua
    Oct 16, 2021 at 1:16
  • Interesting argument. We do call Tokyo "東京", but in no time we call 洛陽 as "洛陽京" or長安 as "長安京", Taipei as "台北京", though they have been the capital city of different dynasties. I don't think 南京 was named after ROC made it its capital city, what was the original name then?
    – r13
    Oct 18, 2021 at 3:28
  • Some facts about 南京: "The city first became a Chinese national capital as early as the Jin dynasty. The name Nanjing, which means "Southern Capital", was officially designated for the city during the Ming dynasty, about six hundred years later.[c] Nanjing is sometimes known as Jinling or Ginling (金陵, "Gold Hill") of the eponymous Ginling College; the old name has been used since the Warring States period in the Zhou dynasty."
    – r13
    Oct 18, 2021 at 3:38
  • I said if the name ends with 京, then, it's the capital. I didn't say if it's the capital, then its name must end with or contain 京. Can you tell the difference between the two? I said "When ROC selected Nanking as its capital" but I never said this was the first time Nanking became the capital, did I? These are very simple logic. they shouldn't have caused any confusion.
    – joehua
    Oct 19, 2021 at 11:09
  • 明's capital wasn't 北京 - 明建都 京师應天府(后改为留都"南京"). The logic does not always work, which "京" is PRC's capital now? :)
    – r13
    Oct 19, 2021 at 13:50
  • Different regions governed by different governments. Translations in Taiwan usually doesn't follow Chinese Mainland

  • Different regions have different dialects. A transliteration in Mandarin might sound completely different in Cantonese

We still don't have a complete Standardization of place names in the Chinese language.

If a foreign country declares its official Chinese transliteration, it will be the standard, If a foreign country doesn't declare its official Chinese transliteration, then it is up to the Chinese regional governments to decide


For Singapore, one of the official languages there is Chinese, it makes sense that they would have a standard name in Chinese.

For Korea, they used to use hanja (Chinese characters) as their writing system long ago, and it's still found in many historic texts and places, so most of the place names in Korea would have old hanja versions as well. However, these characters are pronounced differently in Korean than in Chinese. Seoul was officially renamed from the traditional Chinese character version to the hangul version (keeping pronunciation the same) and later the Chinese version was officially renamed to conform to the pronunciation, rather than using the old name.

As Japan still uses kanji officially, the common practice is to use the same characters in Chinese, though with different pronunciations. Hence, there isn't a need to have official Chinese names that are different.

For the case of 沖繩 vs 琉球, they actually refer to two slightly different things and both of them are used in Japanese as well. Okinawa refers to either the Okinawa island, or the Okinawa prefecture, which governs over the island chain which includes Okinawa, whereas Rykyu refers to either the old Rykyu Kingdom or the Ryukyu island chain, a geographical name.

As for place names that are transliterated to Chinese from languages that don't used Chinese script or have any historical connection to China, the standard names are chosen by government organisations in China and in Taiwan separately. It might be easiest to view it as two different language standards, 普通话 vs 國語. Some of these names were chosen a long time ago, when Mandarin wasn't as widely spoken, so they may have been renamed recently to reflect the pronunciation in Mandarin, rather than Cantonese or something else.

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