I tried using this chart to "romanize" my non-Chinese name into (Wu) Chinese characters. But when I texted it to my friend in Shanghai, they did said it did not sound the same as my name spelled in Latin (English) characters. What did I do wrong? Am I misunderstanding the purpose of this chart?

  • "Romanization" means converting some other writing system to Roman characters. So yes, I'd say you're misunderstanding the chart; it lists a few different systems for transcribing Wu in Roman characters, not for converting something else into Wu.
    – Draconis
    Mar 5, 2022 at 0:14
  • Ok, but why wouldn't it work in reverse?
    – BlueWhale
    Mar 5, 2022 at 0:21
  • 1
    Because this table is specifically using Roman characters to represent the sounds of Wu. It's not concerned with how an unrelated language, like English, might use those letters.
    – Draconis
    Mar 5, 2022 at 0:40
  • English uses Roman characters though, and their sounds are pretty standard across languages, all things considered, especially the consonants. I wouldn't it expect it to come out completely different. And anyway, I double-checked the IPA column when I selected the characters, so it's not really an issue of "Roman characters" at all.
    – BlueWhale
    Mar 5, 2022 at 0:53
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    Ahh. I think I see where the confusion is coming from. No, because those characters are, to my understanding, just examples of syllables that contain that sound. For example, 好 (the first character listed for /h/) is pronounced hau2 — a good example of /h/, but not a good transcription of /h/ on its own.
    – Draconis
    Mar 5, 2022 at 1:39

1 Answer 1


Am I misunderstanding the purpose of this chart?

Yes, the purpose of this chart is to help people familiar with Wu transcribe it into Roman characters. The characters given are examples of each phoneme, not equivalents to them—the writing system isn't an alphabet. So, for instance, 好黑 isn't pronounced h: it's pronounced hau2 heq4 ("good black"), giving two examples of common words containing the /h/ phoneme.

  • So there's no way to accomplish what I'm trying to do?
    – BlueWhale
    Mar 5, 2022 at 1:58
  • There is, but you need to know quite a lot of characters and their pronunciations.
    – Draconis
    Mar 5, 2022 at 2:00
  • So could a "reverse Romanization" chart be developed?
    – BlueWhale
    Mar 5, 2022 at 2:03
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    @BlueWhale Chinese characters represent syllables, not phonemes – and many of them can represent more than one syllable depending on context (e.g., in Mandarin, 率 can represent or shuài, 着 can represent zhe, zhuó, zhāo or zháo, etc.). And Chinese phonotactics are very restrictive: the number of initials, glides, peaks (vowels) and codas is quite limited, and only a subset of their combinations is possible (e.g., initial f exists, vowel o exists, coda ng exists, but *fong does not exist). So to transliterate a name, you’ll need a list of all possible syllables -> Mar 5, 2022 at 9:41
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    -> in transcription (and with their IPA), and then choose the combination of existing syllables that most closely matches what your name sounds like in English. I don’t speak Wu, but in Mandarin, Blue Whale would probably be best transliterated as Bulu Weile or Bulu Wei’er. There’s some additional overhead in that each variant of Chinese has particular characters (and thus syllables) that are particularly common in transliterated names, such as er (尔) in the example above, which is usually used for all syllable-final l’s and r’s. Mar 5, 2022 at 9:44

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