The Name Nazi in Chinese Translation

Reader Kevin informs me that one of my classic blog entries, The Name Nazi Defied, has been translated into Chinese and widely circulated. Totally uncredited, of course.

It’s actually very good to see interest in what I had to say about the choosing of English names, and if you look at the comments on the postings, they’re mostly in agreement. It would be nice to be credited, though.

Here are a few of the translation postings:


Oh, and in case you’re curious, they translated “Name Nazi” as “姓名纳粹.” (“姓名” seems like an odd choice for “name,” considering it was pretty much all and no involved in the nazi-ing, but oh well…)


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. I solved this problem without stifling the children’s creativity. (Their creativity was driving me nuts, for all the correct reasons in your original post.)

    I had them each choose a ‘normal’ name, and then I taught them the handy introductory phrase: “Hi, I’m _________ (insert new and normal name here), but my friends call me Tomato, so please just call me Tomato.”

    This not only satisfies everyday English speakers, but it engages the new friend, bringing them into that person’s inner circle (or so they would think.) Win – Win

  2. I love how they translated Snoopy as 爱管闲事 instead of the dog, which is 史努比.

  3. I’m with some of the Chinese comments… why can’t students just use their Chinese names? I suppose one argument is that Chinese learners need Chinese names, but the English language is more forgiving in allowing foreign names. As long as you don’t insist that everybody gets the tones right, most Chinese names wouldn’t cause too many problems…

  4. I agree, Chinese people don’t need English names, even if they move to an English speaking country or do a lot of business in English. However, in an English class, I think having and using an English name is part of the learning process, for many of the reasons John listed in his original name nazi post. After all, when I studied French, I had a French name. I don’t use it now, but using it in class taught me something about the French language and culture.

  5. changye Says: July 28, 2008 at 8:46 am

    Japanese people basically have no need to bother about selecting Chinese names, since almost most of them already have their names in Chinese characters. Conversely speaking, there is no room for improvement even if their names sound funny in Chinese.

    For example, I have a friend named “我妻” (waga-tsuma), and he came to China on business several years ago. Good or bad, his name was very memorable for Chinese people. 我妻 (wo3 qi1) literally means “my wife” in Chinese.

    I believe that 三好 (san1 hao3)-san and 久保 (jiu3 bao3 = 九宝)- san would definitely be welcomed in China. How about 酒井 (jiu3 jing3)-san? It’s a perfect name for guys who love drinking.

  6. P/S There are some Japanese people named 大山 (oo-yama, da4 shan1). I don’t recommend them to come to China unless they can speak excellent Chinese. You can well imagine what Chinese pelple will say when they hear 大山-san speak Chinese.

  7. “I’m with some of the Chinese comments… why can’t students just use their Chinese names? I suppose one argument is that Chinese learners need Chinese names, but the English language is more forgiving in allowing foreign names. As long as you don’t insist that everybody gets the tones right, most Chinese names wouldn’t cause too many problems…”
    Except for the fact that no English speaker can pronounce them, even if you take away the tones.

  8. I agree with Lorean. My fiancee’s given name is “Xue.” First of all, most Americans have no idea how to say pronounce the “X” sound in pinyin (as well as the “UE” sound). Even if they’ve been told the correct pronunciation, almost no one can get it right, even disregarding the tones–“X” always becomes “SH” to a native English speaker. Every time my friends or family tries to pronounce her name they do so with apprehension and then completely mangle it. It’s pretty tiring. She (and I) would rather just use an English name.

    For this same reason, I decided to give myself a unique Chinese name. “Kaiwen” as a transliteration of “Kevin” really bothers me. It’s weird to be called something quite similar to your real name but yet still not quite right–I’d rather just be called something entirely different.

  9. Someone please explains to me why the English world is so unforgiven and limited when it comes to names. The Chinese (due the large population, maybe) try hard to give kids unique and fitting, even blessing names. They look up dictionaries, poems, some go so far as to a fortune teller to get a name. It is suppose to be a label that separates one from others. Why in the world, in a culture that emphases Individualism, the label of the individual can only come from a LIST? I haven’t heard a Chinese laughing a foreigner’s Chinese name (some of the names are pretty out there too), but I get prank calls in US, because of my Chinese name. So really, everyone, anyone, John maybe? please enlighten me.

  10. Weedrose Says: August 1, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    I’ve got a pretty unique first name so I wouldn’t say that it’s much of a big deal but people in America typically do it out of a sense of tradition and many pick names that have some connection to their ancestral home. But I know alot of people with pretty distinct names.

  11. David West Says: August 5, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    People’s names are a part a culture. The Chinese culture follows different rules for name giving and doesn’t translate into English.

    Learning the basic dos and don’ts of names in the English world is less about learning the language and more about culture awareness. Name giving offers one of he few chances for Chinese students to learn western culture.

    I agree with the poster who questioned why Chinese even need English names. Their Chinese names are just fine. But it is my experience that Chinese English speakers who take on strange English names are either naive about the culture or couldn’t care less.

  12. I’m with you on names John. I let most of them go, but yeah, some must be frowned on. You can see the smirk on a guy’s face when he says his name is Hitler. How much more disrespectful can a person get?

    There’s a big difference between letting a person show their individual qualities and letting them choose a joke name. They look the words up, they know what they mean (except for slang meanings). But for those who argue Chinese people should keep their own names I partially support it, but when faced with 20 students, 18 of which have names that are unfamiliar, the average English teacher won’t be able to remember them. It’s a difficult task to remember students’ names in your own language, let alone in a foreign one. (In 5 years in China, not a single Chinese person has ever caught my surname when I’ve introduced myself. My father’s family came from Eastern Europe, so it’s understandable – they’re not familiar with it.) So it’s far more convenient to use English names in class.

    While most Chinese people studying English will never go abroad or even do business with foreigners, a great many do. They should be forewarned. While the Chinese seem quite rigid for foreigners choosing names (a good thing in some ways), they are less so for themselves. How many little kids are getting the name “Olympics” this year. Sigh…

  13. By the way, too bad you weren’t credited.

  14. Just letting you know — it looks like neither of these three links exists anymore!

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