Chinese to English translation and transliteration of Chinese names
|One of the biggest pitfalls of
Chinese to English translation is the rendering of a Chinese
person's name into English. Due to the sensitivities of the
person whose name is being translated, this is one of the
easiest places for a translator to commit a faux-pas and find
his or her organization criticized for the quality of the
translation. For this reason, special care and extra time in
research is necessary when dealing with the translation of
Chinese names into English.
It goes without saying that the first step, if possible, is to ask the client or the person whose name is being translated directly. Failing that, regardless of what region of the world they come from, checkonline to see if there is an accepted way that the name is being translated.
Here are a set of general guidelines for translating or transliterating a Chinese person’s name into English:
Transliteration of Chinese names in China
Chinese to English translation of the names of persons from Mainland China are the easiest as they follow a very standard set of rules. They rarely use an English first name in printed form, even if they adopt one for informal use. The transliteration follows the pinyin system which can be looked up in any good Chinese-English dictionary from mainland China. The names never use tone marks. When the person has more than one first name, the twofirst names never have a space between them and the family name (which always comes first) is never capitalized, for example:
邓小平 Deng Xiaoping
温家宝 Wen Jiabao
江泽民 Jiang Zemin
陳水扁 Chen Shui-bian
馬英九 Ma Ying-jeou
However, there are Taiwanese individuals who use English first names, and when this is done, it is necessary to use their English first name in translation, rather than a transliteration of the Chinese. In such a case, the first name comes first, as in English.
謝長廷 Frank Hsieh
When translating a very formal, government or academic document, and one encounters the name of an individual with an English first name, then it is more usual to include both the English and Chinese first names, with the English name coming before the surname and the Chinese first name following the surname:
謝長廷 Frank Hsieh Chang-ting
For any well-known individual, a search online will answer the question. For lesser known people, if you don’t have access to their business card, you would do best to call their office and ask in order to avoid a mistake. When no other avenue is available, as a last resort you can use the Wades-Giles transliteration of the name, without use of the apostrophes or diacritical marks.
Never use the mainland China pinyin transliteration for a Taiwanese person’s name. This would be considered a major translation error.
Transliteration of Chinese names in Hong Kong
Most, but not all, Hong Kong individuals have an English first name, and, with the exception of government documents, the English name is the one to use in translation. Similar to the rules for Taiwan above, try to determine the English name via an online search, by asking the translation client or by calling the person’s office. If the person does not go by an English first name, or no determination can be made, translation follows the English rules for transliteration of Cantonese in Hong Kong. Exceptions abound, so, attempt to determine the person’s accepted method for transliteration before following the standard. When using the Cantonese transliteration of the Chinese name, last name comes first, following by the first name. The two first names are separated by a space, are usually not hyphenated, with the second half of the first name capitalized. To see the level of variation, note the accepted transliteration of these famous Hongkongers who chose not to have an English first name:
All three names capitalized – no hyphens:
歐偉倫 Au Wai Lun (born 1971)
Here is an example of an exception. The transliteration of Hong Kong industrialist, tycoon, billionaire and philanthropist, Chen Din Hwa (陳廷驊) is a hybrid of mainland China Mandarin pronunciation and Hong Kong Cantonese transliteration as he was born in Ningbo. 陳 is Chan in Cantonese. Other exceptions to the rule are:
錢似鶯 Chin Chi Yung
Transliteration of Chinese names in Macau
In Macau, Chinese names are usually transliterated based on Portuguese orthography.
Chinese names in Southeast Asia
Chinese inSoutheast Asia and other older diaspora communities are likely to romanize in their own dialect, such as "吳" becoming Ng in Cantonese, while the same character would be Wu in Mandarin. Romanization based on the Cantonese, Min Nan (a.k.a. Hokkien) and Hakka dialects is the most prevalent. Although not a Chinese dialect, ethnic Chinese in Vietnam romanize their names according to Vietnamese pronunciation using quoc ngu, making them almost indistinguishable from Vietnamese names. In Singapore, individuals, or their parents, are free to choose to romanize their Chinese names in Mandarin, in any Chinese dialect, or in any other form as deemed fit. In general, however, the romanized name in dialect and in Mandarin (in pinyin) are both depicted on the person's national registration identity card (NRIC), unless the bearer chooses to drop either of them.
Chinese from diaspora communities in Malaysia and Singapore can also be identified by the inclusion of spaces in their first names such as Tan Cheng Lock, however, as in Hong Kong, exceptions abound, for example, in Malaysia 楊永強 Yeoh Eng-kiong.
An example of a Chinese surname with many English variants
The number of the possible variations in the transliteration of a surname can be evidenced in this list of famous people for the pinyin-spelled Ouyang surname:
chief scientist of China's lunar
exploration program and an academician at the Chinese
Academy of Sciences