09 January 2010

Brilliantly translated names

I first noticed it last May in a Hong Kong newspaper article on their top judges. Reading the (Chinese) text gave me the impression that all of the judges were local, so I was surprised to see non-Chinese faces in the photos on the facing page. Delving into the captions, I realized that it was because the foreign judges have all been given very authentic Chinese names. Superb translators they have in Hong Kong, I thought to myself.

Today. I was poring over a judgment of Lord Hoffmann when I clicked on »a wiki link of him and chanced upon his wonderfully translated Chinese name: 贺辅明. (Lord Hoffmann is one of the non-permanent judges in the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal.) It prompted me to look up the Chinese names of the other non-Chinese judges in Hong Kong.

These are some of my other favourites (I'll let the Lords appear first out of deference):
  • Sir Anthony MASON - 梅师贤爵士
  • Lord MILLETT - 苗礼治勋爵
  • Lord SCOTT - 施广智勋爵
  • Justice MACKINTOSH - 麦健涛法官  (Very nice, especially in Cantonese.)
  • Justice ROGERS - 罗杰志法官
  • Justice STONE - 石仲廉法官   
  • Justice STOCK - 司徒敬法官 (Probably my top pick.  Absolutely brilliant incorporation of a double-word surname.  The Cantonese also sounds exactly like 'Stock'.)
  • Mr Justice BOKHARY - 包致金法官 (This is not particularly eye-catching, but wait.)
  • Mrs Justice BOKHARY - 包钟倩薇法官 (They incorporated her husband's Chinese surname in front of her maiden name - the way we do!)
  • Mr CASEWELL - 祁士伟先生 
  • Mr DUFTON David John - 杜大卫先生  (Note to self: Make use of both the first and the last names.)
I have often been asked to translate names of my non-Chinese friends on the spot and I have always been reluctant to do it for good reasons.  This reinforces my belief: a Chinese name should sound Chinese and have a proper meaning.

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