名字里的奥妙 / What’s in a Name?


名字里的奥妙

20世纪70年代末和80年代初,西方人开始越来越频繁地到访中国,对专业翻译服务的需求很大。当时,这一服务在中国还不够普及。

我有一位外国朋友搬到了香港。一开始,他没想在公司名片的背面印上自己和公司的中文名字。当时觉得这不太重要,因为香港普遍用英语。

等到有机会去中国做生意的时候,他决定制作含有中英双语的新名片。他对翻译公司说,做这些名片,是为了在中国大陆使用。

翻译公司按照传统方式给他取了一个中国姓名:选一个与他英文姓氏第一个音节的发音最相近的标准中国姓氏,再加上两个普通话发音和意义都合适的汉字做名字。

他得到的中文名字是“施大同”,在普通话里很好听。“大同”的意思是“太和”。

他在广交会上用了这些名片,一切正常。

我的朋友那时还是单身,回到香港后,他开始和一个说粤语的香港女孩约会。

一天,她看到了他的双语名片,哈哈大笑。

“谁给你起的名字?”她问。

我可怜的朋友,他的名字“施大同”的粤语发音听上去就像是“屎大桶”。

他扔掉了名片,对他来说,女朋友的话比专业翻译的建议更值得信任


What’s in a Name?

When westerners started visiting China more frequently in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was great demand for professional translation services, which were then not widely available in China.

I had a foreign friend who moved to Hong Kong. At first he did not bother having his individual and company name printed in Chinese on the reverse side of his business card. It wasn’t considered too important then due to the widespread use of English in Hong Kong.

When the chance came for him to visit China on business, he decided to have new cards made up with both Chinese and English languages. He told the translation company he was getting the cards for use in China.

They gave him a Chinese name in the traditional manner, picking one of the standard Chinese surnames which sounded closest to the first syllable of his English surname, followed by a two-character given name which had an appropriate sound and meaning in Putonghua.

The name he was given was Shi Datong, which sounds nice in Putonghua. “Da tong” means “great harmony.”

He used the cards on his visit to the Canton Trade Fair, and all was well.

After returning to Hong Kong my friend, who was single at the time, began dating a Hong Kong Cantonese girl.

One day she saw his bi-lingual name cards and howled with laughter.

“Who gave you that name?!” she asked him.

Unfortunately for my friend, the Cantonese pronunciation of “Shi Da Tong” sounds just like “Big Bucket of Shit.”

He dumped the cards, giving greater credence to the voice of his girlfriend than to the advice of a professional translator.

next post: English as a Second Language: Two Words Easily Confused


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