Chinese exonyms

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When a foreign placename, or toponym, occurs in Chinese text, the problem arises of spelling it in Chinese characters, given the limited phonetics and restrictive phonology of Mandarin Chinese, and the possible meaning of those characters when treated as Chinese words. For example:

  • "London Heathrow Airport" is usually rendered in Chinese text as 倫敦希斯路機場 (Lúndūn Xīsīlù Jīchǎng), with the English pronunciation of 'London' being fairly accurate, and of 'Heathrow' being less accurate: in Chinese literally this means "kinship, honest" (for London), "hope/rare, given/this, road" (for Heathrow), "aircraft, field", with the last syllable of "Heathrow" rendered as "lu" although the more accurate "lo" and "lou" are known Chinese words. However, the Cantonese pronunciation of 希斯路 (Hei1si1lou6) is much closer to "Heathrow".

Names of foreign nations are sometimes shortened to their first character when used in compounds.

For toponyms in Korea, Japan, or Vietnam, the Chinese exonym is often the Chinese pronunciation of the Korean hanja, Japanese kanji, or ancient Vietnamese Chữ Nôm writing of the toponym. In some cases, especially in Japan, the Chinese pronunciation may be completely unlike the native-language pronunciation.

Cities[1][edit]

English name Chinese name Pinyin Phonetic transcription? Orthographic transcription? Meaning Country Notes
Bangkok 曼谷 Màngǔ Yes No N/A Thailand Phonetic transcription from Thai to Teochew dialect of Hokkien Chinese, where 曼谷 is pronounced as "bhuêng2 gog4"
Chiang Mai 清迈 Qīngmài Yes No N/A Thailand Phonetic transcription from Thai to Teochew dialect of Hokkien Chinese, where 清迈 is pronounced as "cêng1 mai6"
Edinburgh 爱丁堡 Aìdīngbǎo Yes No N/A United Kingdom
Fort-de-France 法兰西堡 Fǎlánxībǎo Yes No N/A France Names of cities beginning with the title "fort", or the equivalent of it in other Indo-European languages, tend to end with its Chinese equivalent 堡 (bǎo) (meaning "fort") in the Chinese exonym.
Fort Collins 柯林斯堡 Kēlínsībǎo Yes No N/A United States
Frankfurt 法兰克福 Fǎlánkèfú Yes No N/A Germany
Hanoi 河内 Hénèi Yes Yes Within the River Vietnam
Hiroshima (広島) 廣島 Guǎngdǎo No Yes Broad Island Japan Orthographic transcription from Japanese kyūjitai characters
Ho Chi Minh City 胡志明市 Hú Zhìmíng Shì Yes Yes Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam Orthographic transcription from ancient Vietnamese Chữ Nôm characters, which was 城庯胡志明 (Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh)
Jerusalem 耶路撒冷 Yēlùsālěng Yes No N/A Israel
Kyoto 京都 Jīngdū No Yes Capital Japan Orthographic transcription from Japanese kanji characters
Lisbon 里斯本 Lǐsīběn Yes No N/A Portugal See notes below.
Lisbon 葡京 Pújīng No No N/A Portugal The Chinese term is a hybrid of transcription and transliteration, with the first character 葡 (pú) being the first character of the Chinese name of Portugal 葡萄牙 (Pútáoyá), and the second character 京 (jīng) being the capital of the nation. 里斯本 (Lǐsīběn), the complete transcription of the word, is more common, though some place names use the former Chinese name, like the Grand Lisboa 新葡京 (Xīn Pújīng), a casino in Macau.
Liverpool 利物浦 Lìwùpǔ Yes No N/A United Kingdom
Los Angeles 洛杉矶 Luòshānjī Yes No N/A United States
Mecca 麦加 Màijīa Yes No N/A Saudi Arabia
Moscow 莫斯科 Mòsīkē Yes No N/A Russia
Nagasaki 長崎 Chángqí No Yes Long, Small Peninsula Japan Orthographic transcription from Japanese kanji characters
Narita 成田 Chéngtián No Yes Developed Field Japan Orthographic transcription from Japanese kanji characters
Okinawa (沖縄) 沖縄 Chóngshéng No Yes Cord of the Open Sea Japan Orthographic transcription from Japanese kanji characters
Osaka (大阪) 大坂 Dàbǎn No Yes Big Hillside Japan Orthographic transcription from Japanese kanji characters
Oxford 牛津 Niújīn No No Where the Oxen Ford United Kingdom
Phoenix 鳳凰城 Fènghuángchéng No No Fenghuang City United States the fenghuang is analogous to the Greek phoenix, but only superficially
Saint-Lô 聖洛 Shèngluò Yes No N/A United States
St. Louis 聖路易斯 Shènglùyìsī Yes No N/A United States City names that begin with the title "saint", or the equivalent of it in Italic languages, tend to have the Chinese equivalent 聖/圣 (shèng), which ironically has both a similar pronunciation and identical meaning to the title.
San Diego 聖地亞哥 Shèngdìyàgē Yes No N/A United States
San Francisco 旧金山 Jiùjīnshān No No Old Gold Mountain United States renamed by Chinese immigrants during the California Gold Rush
Santa Fe 聖塔菲 Shèngtǎfēi Yes No N/A United States
São Paulo 聖保羅 Shèngbǎoluó Yes No N/A Brazil
Sapporo 札幌 Zháhuăng No Yes Placard Canopy Japan Orthographic transcription from Japanese kanji characters
Seoul 首爾 Shǒu'ěr Yes No N/A Korea Seoul (Korean 서울) had no official hanja until 2005, until which 漢城 (Chinese Hànchéng, Korean Hanseong) was widely used. Hanseong was its name during the Joseon era until 1907, although Seoul has been in use since c.1882. 漢城 is still used, both in Chinese, as a transcription for Seoul, and Korean, as an unofficial transcription and as a separate toponym.
Seoul 漢城 Hànchéng No Yes Han River City/Large City Korea See above
Tokyo 東京 Dōngjīng No Yes East(ern) Capital Japan formerly known as Edo (江戸), or Jiānghù (江户) in Chinese, until Japan's capital moved from Kyoto to Tokyo in the Meiji era.
Toronto 多伦多 Duōlúnduō Yes No N/A Canada
Vancouver 温哥华 Wēngēhuá Yes No N/A Canada
Washington, D.C. 华盛顿(特区) Huáshèngdùn(tèqū) Yes (first 3 characters) No Washington (Special District) United States refers specifically to Washington, D.C., as opposed to the State of Washington

Nations and regions[edit]

English name (supra- or sub-national units in italics) Endonym in country's official language (Romanization) Chinese Pinyin Transcription? Meaning Notes
Australia 澳大利亚 Àodàlìyà Yes N/A 澳 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Australia"/"Australian".
California 加州 Jiāzhōu Yes N/A contraction from 加利福尼亞州,

Cantonese: Gaa3lei6fuk1nei4aa3,

Mandarin Chinese Pinyin: Jiālìfúníyǎ zhōu

Canada 加拿大 Jiānádà Yes N/A 加 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Canada"/"Canadian".
England 英伦/

英格兰/

英吉利

Yīnglún/

Yīnggélán/

Yīngjílì

Yes N/A See "United Kingdom" below
France France 法国 Fǎguó Yes N/A 法 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "France"/"French".
Germany Deutschland 德国 Déguó Yes N/A 德 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Germany"/"German".
Iceland Ísland 冰島 Bīngdǎo No Ice island
Indonesia Indonesia 印度尼西亚 Yìndùníxīyà Yes N/A
Italy Italia 意大利 Yìdàlì Yes N/A 意 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Italy"/"Italian".
Japan (日本) Nippon or Nihon 日本 Rìběn Yes (orthographically) sun origin Copied the Japanese kanji characters 日本 (Nippon) into Chinese, but 日本 is pronounced "rì běn" in standard Mandarin Chinese.
Korea, North Chosŏn 朝鮮 Cháoxiǎn Yes morning calm
Korea, South Hanguk 韓國 Hánguó Yes Han nation/ Han kingdom
India Bhārat Gaṇarājya 印度 Yìndù Yes N/A 印 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "India"/"Indian" or Native American as in "American Indian".
Ireland 爱尔兰 Ài'ěrlán Yes N/A 爱 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Ireland"/"Irish".
Nepal Nepāl 尼泊尔 Níbó'ěr Yes N/A 尼 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Nepal(ese)".
Northern Ireland 北爱尔兰/北爱 Běi'ài'ěrlán/

Běi'ài

Yes N/A See "Ireland" above
Malaysia Malaysia 马来西亚 Mǎláixīyà Yes N/A
Mongolia Mongol Uls 蒙古 Ménggǔ Yes N/A 蒙 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean “Inner Mongolia”, an autonomous region in China, the sovereign nation of "(Outer) Mongolia", or "Mongolian".
Philippines Pilipinas 菲律宾 Fěilǜbīn Yes N/A 菲 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Philippines"/"Philippine"/"Filipino".
Russia Rossija 俄罗斯 Éluósī Yes N/A 俄 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Russia"/"Russian".
Scotland 苏格兰 Sūgélán Yes N/A
Singapore 新加坡 Xīnjiāpō Yes N/A
Southeast Asia 南洋 Nányáng No Southern ocean
Spain España 西班牙 Xībānyá Yes N/A 西 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Spain"/"Spanish".
Sweden Sverige 瑞典 Ruìdiǎn Yes N/A
Thailand Prathet Thai 泰国 Táiguó Yes N/A 泰 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Thai"/"Thailand".
United Kingdom 英国 Yīngguó Yes N/A 英 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Britain"/"British"/"England"/"English".
United States 美国 Měiguó Yes N/A 美 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "America(n)".
Vietnam Việt Nam 越南 Yuènán Yes (orthographically) Yue, south Copied the ancient Vietnamese Chữ Nôm characters 越南 (Việt Nam) into Chinese, but 越南 is pronounced "yuè nán" in standard Mandarin Chinese.
Wales 威尔士 Wèiěrshí Yes N/A

Historical exoynms[edit]

Native name Chinese Pinyin Notes
Aden Utan
Alexandria Alisan
Aorsi/Alans 奄蔡/阿蘭聊 Yǎncài/Ālánliáo
Bactria 大夏 Dàxià
Byzantine Empire 佛菻 Fúlǐn Friedrich Hirth surmised that Fulin may have been based on the accusative form of Constantinopolis in Greek, -polin in Constantinopolin, the Eastern Roman' Empire's capital city Constantinople.[2] Using historical phonetic pronunciations of Cantonese and Japanese, Hirth also speculated that Fulin in Middle Chinese was pronounced Butlim or Butlam and came from the Syriac pronunciation for Bethlehem.[3] While some scholars of the 20th century believed that Fulin was a transliteration of Ephrem, an ancient word for Israel, Samuel N. C. Lieu highlights how more recent scholarship has deduced that Fulin is most likely derived from the Persianate word for the Roman Empire shared by several contemporaneous Iranian languages (Middle Persian: hrwm; Parthian: frwm; Sogdian: ßr'wm-; Bactrian: фромо).[4]
Damascus Hsientu
Dead Sea Joshui
Egypt 海西 Haixi "West of the Sea"
Emesa 汜復 Sifu According to Hirth and Arkenberg
Europe 泰西 Tàixī literally "Far West"
Ferghana 大宛 Dàyuān Reconstructed from Middle Chinese pronunciation
Hira Holat
India 天竺 Tiānzhú Originally pronounced as Hin-duk 天竺 in Old Chinese , it comes from the Chinese transliteration of the Persian Hindu, which is itself derived from the Sanskrit Sindhu, the native name of the Indus River. Persians travelling in northwest India named the region after the river around the 6th century BC.[5]Tianzhu is just one of several Chinese transliterations of Sindhu. Shēndú (身毒 OC n̥i[ŋ][d]ˤuk) appears in Sima Qian's Shiji and Tiandu (天篤) is used in the Hou Hanshu (Book of the Later Han).[6] Yintejia (印特伽) comes from the Kuchean Indaka, another transliteration of Hindu.[5]
Japan Pronounced Wa in Japanese; possibly a graphic pejorative
Al Karak Yuluo
Khotan 于闐/于窴/於闐 Yútián
Kushan 貴霜 Guìshuāng
Nikephorium Lufen
Palmyra Ch'ieh-lan
Parthia 安息 Ānxī
Petra 汜復 Sifu According to John E. Hill, "an arm of a river which rejoins the main stream" or more aptly "rejoined water courses."[7] He believes this is directly related to the reservoir and cistern flood-control system harnessing the many streams running through the settlement and nearby canyons, or wadis, such as the Wadi Musa ("Valley of Moses").[7]
Roman Empire 大秦 Dàqín literally "Great Qin"
Seleucid Empire 條支 Tiáozhī
Syria Likan
Siam 暹罗 Xiānluó
Sogdia 康居 Kāngjū
Warka Ar-ku

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Error - blumine.net". blumine.net. Retrieved 2017-01-10. 
  2. ^ Lieu, Samuel N.C. (2013). "The 'Romanitas' of the Xi'an Inscription," p. 227, in Li Tang and Deitmer W. Winkler (eds), From the Oxus to the Chinese Shores: Studies on East Syriac Christianity in China and Central Asia. Zürich & Berlin: Lit Verlag. ISBN 978-3-643-90329-7.
  3. ^ Hirth, Friedrich (1939) [1885]. China and the Roman Orient: Researches Into Their Ancient and Mediaeval Relations as Represented in Old Chinese Records (reprint ed.). Leipzig, Munich, Shanghai, & Hong Kong: Georg Hirth; Kelly & Walsh. pp. 286–290. 
  4. ^ Lieu (2013), pp 127-128.
  5. ^ a b Cheung, Martha Pui Yiu (2014) [2006]. "Zan Ning (919–1001 CE), To Translate Means to Exchange". An Anthology of Chinese Discourse on Translation: From Earliest Times to the Buddhist Project. Routledge. p. 181. ISBN 978-1-317-63928-2. 
  6. ^ Yu, Taishan (November 2013). "China and the Ancient Mediterranean World: A Survey of Ancient Chinese Sources". Sino-Platonic Papers (242): 73. 
  7. ^ a b Yu, Huan (September 2004). John E. Hill, ed. "The Peoples of the West from the Weilue 魏略 by Yu Huan 魚豢: A Third Century Chinese Account Composed between 239 and 265, Quoted in zhuan 30 of the Sanguozhi, Published in 429 CE [Section 11 – Da Qin (Roman territory/Rome)]". Depts.washington.edu. Translated by John E. Hill. Retrieved 2016-09-17.