Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Presidential nonsense-clature

Last time we learned how Sen. Barack Obama is a mysterious sticky horse. If you thought that was weird, just wait until you hear the other candidates' names in Chinese.
As I mentioned last post, Chinese transliterations of Western public figures' names are often reduced to three characters. This is to maintain some sense of normalcy for the average Chinese reader. Usually the transliteration is of the Western person's last name only. BUT, in Chinese, a person's surname (last name) is the first character in the name. So, like last time's example: Mao Zedong. Mao is the surname.
Here is where it gets convoluted. In the transliteration of a Western last name (like Romney), sometimes the first character of the transliteration is an actual Chinese surname. Clever, no? So the transliteration is 罗姆尼 (luo2 mu3 ni2), not only sounds like Romney, but his name has a real Chinese surname! Bonus! We'll get to the meaning of his name later. He would think it was weird.
OK, on with the names of the other candidates!

1) John McCain
Everybody knows McCain was a POW in Vietnam, and he is into campaign finance reform, right? Most Americans don't know, though, that his Chinese name, 麦凯恩 (mai4 kai3 en1) (which also sports an authentic Chinese surname) means Wheat Triumphant Kindness. Technically, the first character, 麦, can be viewed as merely as surname. But it is also used in transliterations in place of the prefix "Mac" or "Mc," as in McDonald's: 麦当劳 (mai4 dang1 lao2), which means roughly "wheat becomes labor."
So McCain's Chinese name is actually pretty good. It could also be translated as "McTriumphant Kindness."
The character breakdown:
麦: Mai, which means wheat, barley, oats or just a surname. Also represents the "Mc" in his name.
凯: Kai, translated as "triumphant," but a more poetic meaning is "victory song," such as an army would sing upon gaining a victory and returning home.
恩: En, which is basically "kindness," or favor, or benevolence.
Not bad!

2) Hillary Clinton
Sen. Clinton's Chinese name is interesting because it is a transliteration of her first name, Hillary, instead of the usual last name transliteration. This is most likely because the "Clinton" Chinese version was already taken by President Bill Clinton's name in Chinese:
克林顿 (ke1 lin2 dun4). Which means, incidentally, Overcome Forest Pause. So, since that was taken, they use 希拉里 (xi1 la1 li3), Hope Pull Inside.
希: Xi, means hope, also means "infrequent."
拉: La, to pull.
里: Li means "inside" somewhere. It is also a measure of distance, approx. 1/2 mile, and also is another word for village.

3) Also running

Mike Huckabee
赫卡比 (He4 ka2 bi3): Burning red Obstruct Compare

Mitt Romney
罗姆尼 (Luo2 Mu3 Ni2): Bird net Governess Buddhist nun
Romney's name is also very close to the Chinese word for "rum," 罗姆酒 (luo2 mu3 jiu3). Being a Mormon he probably wouldn't like that much more than having "Buddhist nun" as part of his name!

How's that for astute political commentary?


irinaslutsky said...

so if i ran, what would my name mean

Mark C said...

Only B money could come up with a post like this... :)