I watched a fair amount of the Tennis Masters Cup this week. It was held in Shanghai, and the final was this afternoon (Novak Djokovic won, if you’re interested). I was really interested to see the Chinese transliterations of the players’ names, as well as enjoying the actual tennis. Foreign names are often translated into a phonetic Chinese version, so that Chinese people can pronounce them easily without having to read the original English (or other language) versions. Sometimes this works out quite well, and sometimes it can be a little confusing. Ask a Chinese person if they like Federer, and often they won’t know who you’re talking about. Ask about Fe-der-ler, though, and you’ll probably get quite an enthusiastic response.
Funnily enough, it was names like Davydenko that were quite accurate (although I’m not sure how similar our pronunciation is to the original Russian), and the French Simon (See-mon) is arguably pronounced better in Chinese than it is in English. It took me right until the end of the final match to realise that Djokovic was pronounced Dee-yoh-ko-vee-chee. Radek Stepanek (rhyming names are great) is pronounced Sih-tih-pa-neh-kuh, and Andy Murray’s surname becomes Moo-ray.
So even though they may not be perfect, at least a phonetic spelling means everyone’s on the same page. A lot of names get pronounced horribly wrong (I met a guy the other day who thought the Irish name ‘Sinead’ (pronounced Shih-nayd) was pronounced Sin-ee-ad), so at least the Chinese can pronounce a standardised approximation.