Do you know your Country Name in Chinese?

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Do you know your Country Name in Chinese?

Some of us come from Fragrant Blue or Strong Fruit. Maybe you’ve traveled to Meaningful Big Advantage and can’t wait to visit Ink West Brother. Not sure where you’re from? Let’s go on a country name fly-by!

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Translating proper names involves selecting sound-alike Chinese characters to phonetically approximate the country’s official name, a process leading to some entertaining literal meanings. Moreover, Chinese country names have evolved over the years, so what they’re called now may be significantly different from centuries ago. For example, France’s full name is Fǎ lán xī gòng hé guó 法兰西共和国 (the French Republic) though it’s often shortened to Fǎ guó 法国 the Law Kingdom. In the past you could have said you’re from Fó lán xī 佛兰西 which sounds like Buddha Blue West.

Most people know the name China means Middle Kingdom (zhōng 中 =middle, guó 国 = kingdom) since the early Chinese perceived their civilization as the center of the universe. Across the Pacific sits its young friend Měi guó美国 the Beautiful Kingdom (USA), which used to be a part of Yīng guó 英国 the Hero Kingdom (England). It’s not that the Chinese think Americans are exceptionally good looking; the full transliterated name is Měi lì jiān hé zhòng guó 美利坚合众国 literally “beautiful advantage perseverant united people country” hence it becomes Měi guó 美国. About the same as shortening the “United States of America” into just the US.

While traveling around Asia, you might not want to miss Rì běn 日本 Sun Root (Japan), Mǎ lái xī yà 马来西亚Horse Come West Asia (Malaysia) and Xīn jiā pō 新加坡 Newly Added Slope (Singapore)… comma, he said with a straight face.

Europe is home to Meaningful Big Advantage Yì dà lì 意大利 (Italy), the Discipline Kingdom Dé guó 德国 (Germany) and Compare Advantage Time Bǐ lì shí 比利时 (Belgium). Let’s not forget their colorful neighbors, Fragrant Blue Fēn lán 芬兰 (Finland) and Love Blue Ài ěr lán 爱尔兰 (Ireland). Hold on, why not “love green” for Ireland? Well, honestly the lán 兰 just sounds like the character for blue, its real meaning is “orchid.”

Let’s take things up a notch. Angola Ān gē lā 安哥拉 sounds like Safe Brother Pull and Congo Gāng guǒ 刚果 yields Strong Fruit. The country of Mexico Mò xī gē 墨西哥 is our Ink West Brother while Guatemala Wēi dì mǎ lā 危地马拉 is a Dangerous Land Horse Pull. Last but not least, Canada Jiā ná dà 加拿大 is the land of Add Grab Big.

So if you could start with a clean slate, what would you call your country in Chinese?

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Stewart Lee Beck (李渡) is an author and the creator of China Simplified. Connect with him at cn.linkedin.com/in/stewartbeck, or visit his website at www.chinasimplified.com.

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Note: The views, services and/or experiences expressed in this Featured Post are solely those of the contributor. This featured post was first released via www.chinasimplified.com on March 21, 2014.

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