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Chinese characters – how do you translate them?

Budgettranslations Language Services

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If you’ve ever been to Asia, you’ve probably seen signs in English that were improperly, maybe even comically, translated. On the other hand, you may have met someone who has a tattoo in one or more Chinese characters only to find out that the Chinese translation is wrong. How embarrassing! You can’t rely on the Internet to give you accurate Chinese characters.

This only shows that translating into or from Chinese, or Japanese or Korean or Thai for that matter, can be a complicated job.

Chinese names, for example, mainly consist of (with a few exceptions) two or three characters. Unlike our names, their names always start with the family name (surname). Then, the given name (first name) consists of one or two characters. Often, words like “power” are used for boys and flowers for girls. Mythical animals such as tigers and dragons are also sometimes used. At times, the first character of the first name is shared with brothers and sisters (generation name).

If you translate a western name into Chinese, the name is translated phonetically (like it sounds). “Marian,” for example, translates into MaLiAn, and the characters that are associated with the pronunciation are used to write the name. But less attention is given to the meaning of those characters. For example, MA (with different characters) can mean mother, but it can also mean horse. There are many other examples along these lines. This means that a translated name doesn’t meet the rules of a real Chinese name, so the meaning of the characters can be completely unexpected … and not in a good way.

Are we advising you against getting a Chinese tattoo? No, we’re not. However, you should think about what is important to you beforehand. Will your Chinese name only be seen by Western people, and do you love Chinese writing? Or will you visit Asia one day and want to be sure that your Chinese tattoo is correct? Perhaps it would be a good idea to come up with a real Chinese name that says something about you. After all, Jackie Chan is not a literal translation of his name!

Contact us if you want an accurate Chinese (or Korean, Japanese, Thai or other) translation of your name. We will give you a no-obligation quote.

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