Bob is translated as 鲍勃, Biden 拜登, Trump 特鲁姆普, John 约翰, Tim 蒂姆, Roy 罗伊, Paul 保罗, Bean 憨豆, Bingley 彬格莱, etc.

All of these Chinese words or characters, as you can see, are of too many strokes making the writing time consuming and difficult, which could have been replaced with 卜, 白邓, 川卜, 江, 田, 罗, 坡, 边, 兵利 respectively.

Why do they make so much trouble using the difficult characters?

  • difference regions transliterate words differently, what's so strange?
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Apr 13 at 4:15
  • @TangHo Please note that the difference here is not as huge as 贝克汉姆 in Mandarin and 碧咸 in Cantonese for the same Beckham in English, and that all the replacements I offered above are presented in the same language, i.e., Mandarin or Putonghua. Commented Apr 13 at 7:15
  • 1
    Bean is a special case, as it's not a transliteration. Clearly this is from the well-known character played by Rowan Atkinson. Commented Apr 15 at 0:08
  • The usual transliteration I hear for Trump is either 川普 or 特朗普. I have never seen 特鲁姆普. Anyway, some of the transliterations of names originated from the RCC, such as 约翰 and 保罗, names that have to do with Christianity. Commented Apr 15 at 1:47
  • 卜是多音字。多音字一般都不用在人名中。
    – PdotWang
    Commented Apr 15 at 17:23

6 Answers 6

  • To make it look like a transliteration by reusing commonly used characters: 伊丽莎白 vs 一力杀白
  • To avoid confusion: 汤姆猫 vs 汤母猫 (in Tom and Jerry)
  • To reflect the original pronunciation: 约翰 vs 江, 希腊 vs 格里斯
  • To distinguish from a certain person: 特朗普 vs 特鲁姆普 (president vs snooker player)
  • To keep using the first translation (even if it doesn’t really make sense): 福尔摩斯 vs 霍姆斯

So maybe the number of strokes is just not important enough.

  • 2
    for sure the first one is what I have heard the most. Aside for some "common" names used in English language primers - which should be simple for kids - it's better to use unusual characters which make it easy to see it's a transliteration.
    – Mike M
    Commented Apr 14 at 12:28

I feel the question shows a certain dissatisfaction and annoyance that Chinese people choose certain characters that are well-known and conventional for transliteration, when others are available that have fewer strokes.

There might be an underlying assumption that transliterating foreign names is for the benefit of learners of Chinese as a second language, but I don't think that is the case most of the time. Usually the purpose will be for communicating with other Chinese people, as in a news report. In this situation, they will be assuming a basic level of Chinese literacy, so the number of strokes will not be a consideration, in the same way that English speakers don't necessarily use the shortest words with the simplest spelling when discussing matters relating to China. Beyond a certain point, more letters in a word don't increase the difficulty for English speakers, and I think it is probably the same for Chinese people for characters with higher stroke counts.

My impression is that certain characters have become established as conventional for transliterating, because they are relatively rare or unusual so it stands out to the reader that this is a foreign word or name, whereas if they used more commonly used characters then the meaning of the sentence might be ambiguous or confusing, hence needing more effort to read.

  • 我同意你。名字使用什么字,和笔画没有什么关系。大部分汉字都有固定的意思。中国人自己的名字会使用有意思的字。但是翻译外国人的名字,一般找一些没有意思或者中性意思的字。
    – PdotWang
    Commented Apr 15 at 19:42
  • @PdotWang Would you comment on these names: 世界卫生组织总干事埃塞俄比亚的谭德塞,印度外交部长苏杰生,支持中国抗日的加拿大医生白求恩,印度医生柯棣华,现代奥运之父法国人顾拜旦,法国艺术家罗丹,美国教育家杜威,美国前驻华大使洪博培,前任北约秘书长荷兰的夏侯雅伯? Compared with 古力娜扎,尼格买提,吉克隽逸,Which ones do you think are more Chinese-like? Commented Apr 22 at 2:09

Another reason is, humanely, don’t you want to have a name that’s beautiful and meaningful, even after being translated into another language? In Chinese, each character has a meaning, so we want to respect the person whose name is being translated, hence the number of strokes is simply not a matter to consider at most of the time, except when you are helping someone to translate his own name and the number of strokes matters to him because he’d rather keep it more simple.

  • 1
    Sometimes to make a beautiful meaning, but occasionally also to insult by a deliberately "bad" meaning.
    – James K
    Commented Apr 14 at 19:47
  • Oh, yes, it’s possible. Commented Apr 15 at 23:06

Your question: Why do Chinese people complicate the matter in choosing words for translation? . For example, Trump is usually translated as 特朗普 (or 特鲁姆普).

Reason 1: In the Chinese language (or its sound system), there are no "dual-consonant" sounds (called consonant blends), such as in English "truck" and "driver". Therefore, when translating "tr", they have to alter it into two consonants: "t" and "r".

Reason 2: In the Chinese language, each syllable must have a "vowel" sound (or 韵母). Therefore, when translating "t", they have to insert a vowel "e" to make it a syllable "te" (特). Similarly, they translate "m" as "mu" (姆), and "p" as "pu" (普).

Reason 3: Chinese like the "l" sound better than the "r" sound. At least this is the case in "Standard Chinese Pronunciation". Therefore, they translate "ru" as "lu" (鲁) but not "ru" (如).

Reason 4: In the Chinese language, there are only two "codas" (consonants) after the "nucleus" (vowels), "n" and "ng". They often translate English "n" as "n" and "m" as "ng". Therefore, "rum" is translated into "lang" (朗) but not "lan" (兰).

I do not see the official rules, but those are the common practices.

  • 3
    I think the OP is not asking about challenges with transliteration but rather why certain characters are used compared to others with the same pronunciation
    – Mike M
    Commented Apr 14 at 12:22
  • 1
    I don’t see how this answers the question at all. All these points are basic facts of Mandarin phonotactics, which are clearly known to the asker, since they employed them to generate the alternative suggestions provided. Commented Apr 15 at 13:16
  • I think I have made a mistake to answer this question. I will delete my answer in two days. In case any readers are interested in Chinese translation, please cut and paste the text to your own notebooks. Thanks.
    – PdotWang
    Commented Apr 15 at 17:13
  • 1
    I'd suggest leaving it, at least for a day or two: Your answer gives more context to people coming via Hot Network Questions. Commented Apr 15 at 22:00

Why does english ever write the word freezing when they could write the word cold? why does english ever write the word gargantuan when they could just say big? why does anyone ever have the name christiansen when they could just have the last name smith?

I totally understand the logic of your question, and if you are just looking at ease to write then its a totally valid thing to ask. However languages are not necessarily based on being as easy to write as possible, so its just slightly logically flawed to use that reasoning in the first place ((as reiterated by my random english examples above)). Its obviously not a helpful explanation to just say that by itself, so lets examine clearly why it actually is not important to be simpler strokes on transliteration//borrowed terms below:

The average chinese character is 9 or 10 strokes. Even if you only look at the bare basic characters most common characters, like those included in the hsk tests, you still see some chinese characters with 15-20 strokes.

So, the answer is that when the chinese words before have average stroke count, and the terms after it have average stroke count, there is no reason to need to specially lower the stroke count in the middle just because-- its already no different from what a native chinese term might be.

Instead, transliteration//borrowed terms have a very strongly established list of common characters for their sound-based purpose. The ability to recognize at a glance that something is probably a foreign term is far more useful for those knowing chinese than eliminating.... 40 strokes in a paragraph of 500 strokes? Just like emphasizing something is really big with gargantuan is more important than the 9 letters saved by typing big. Or how if you see words randomly capitalized you can know its probably a proper noun. Everything has a use in a language, in some way at least.

All that said, there actually is a huge reason to prefer a simpler name transliteration-- its not for the people knowing chinese though, its for the people who don't. If you want to enter the chinese market with your company, or are just starting to learn the language, a simple to remember and write term would be very useful to you. On the flip side, many people and companies forgo sound based choices entirely for a meaning based term-- thats would be in an entire different category linguistically and make this whole discussion not apply. So at the end of the day its not impossible to choose a simpler to write term, its just not the main consideration in a language

... usually. (^ν^)


很简单。外国人的名字我们必须一眼能看出来是外国人的名字,而不是中国人的。比如说,有个人叫里奥(leo),如果中国人的话就应该是姓刘的,但是他姓里,所以它就是外国人的名字。 顺便说一句,Trump我们叫特朗普。

  • Do you happen to know who are 罗斯福, 张伯伦,邱吉尔,史迪威,司徒雷登, 郝思嘉, 白瑞德? Commented Apr 20 at 14:00
  • 张伯伦可能是中国人,但是他也有可能不是。其他的我一眼能看出来,他们都是外国人
    – vpn vpn
    Commented May 1 at 7:52

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