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.
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