One Word for One World
One Word for One World

Chinese tattoo : Chinese characters – how do you translate them?

Fasttranslator Language Services

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If you are in Asia or if you see countries from the Far East on television, you might see all sorts of incorrectly translated or illogical slogans of companies and product names. Mistakes are made in translation and in spelling. You are probably wondering – why do we use these translations? They are meant for people who have little or no knowledge of English and are used because English in those countries is cool, you are in Asia or you see television programs about the Far East, you may see many illogical and incorrectly translated slogans of companies or product names. Translation and spelling mistakes occur. So you wonder, why do they use these translations? They are meant for people who have little or no knowledge of English and are used because English in those countries is cool, tough, and foreign.

You often see people with tattoos such as names that have been translated into Japanese or Chinese. They look cool and are great conversation starters. A curious person will ask what the Chinese characters mean, which will give you an opportunity to tell the whole story behind the tattoo. But, are these translations correct? We hardly come across people who have done their research ahead of time and we are surprised at the text that some people have had tattooed on their bodies.

Chinese Translating names mainly consist of (with a few exceptions) two or three characters. Unlike our names, their name always starts with the family name (surname). Then the given name (our first name) that consists of one or two characters. These names can consist of all characters and meanings. 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 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 in a bad way.

Are we advising you against having 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, Jacky Chan is not a literal translation of his name.

Leo Kok
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