pageok
pageok
pageok
Transliteration of foreign names:

My theory is that the way Russian names got transliterated basically had to do with whether an obvious English equivalent exists, and whether they were well known among the broad public at a time when the relevant people — that is, those who popularized the person in the English-speaking world — didn't care (as they seem to do now) about keeping the name in the original language.

This explains Nicholas II and Leo Tolstoy, as well as Joseph Stalin if the "ancient" period of not caring is extended to the 1950s. The exception seemed to be Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky — whose last name, which we would now spell Chaykovsky or Chaikovsky or Chaikovskii, comes to us from the French, back when Russian musicians were popularized that way. (The French were also into the double-ff instead of v at the same of "-ov" and "-ev" names. See, for instance, the scientist Ilya Mechnikov, also known as Elie Metchnikoff.) So I did a bit of digging in the Library of Congress catalog, where I found items calling Tchaikovsky Peter — a 1880 picture, a 1905 biography, a 1906 English translation of the biography by his son Modeste, and a 1953 "Story of Peter Tchaikowsky." All the stuff from the 1970s and afterward that I've seen with his first name has Pyotr or Piotr. The old versions also have inconsistent last name conventions, from Tchaikowsky to Tchaikovski, which is usual for Russian names back then.

So here's my theory: A Russian first name would naturally have been converted into the English first name if:

  1. there's an obvious English equivalent (so no on Fyodor, Ivan, etc.);

  2. the person was well known among the masses, not just among people who studied that subject; and

  3. the person became known in the 1950s or before.

But the basic idea isn't so much that the English name would stick, but rather that people didn't really care about accuracy. So you might easily have alternate spellings as well as the Russian name. So Peter could have been Piotr or Pyotr then; Stalin could have been Iosef or Josef. (Josef is probably because that's how it often is in Central European languages; and just like with Tchaikowsky, everyone used their own transliteration style, which often consisted of taking a transliteration they had picked up from a different language.)

This leaves one more question: What about names that changed back in the last generation, when people started to care? Why did we go to Pyotr Tchaikovsky but stick with Joseph Stalin? So in the more modern period, I would predict that you'd see the Russian name used almost uniquely, except for people who first became known during the earlier period and are well known enough that their Anglicized name stuck. This threshold may be different than the previous threshold. So Tchaikovsky could have become Peter at the turn of the century and gotten converted to Pyotr; but Stalin and Tolstoy got Anglicized names and were too well entrenched to have gotten converted.

So the two thresholds give us three categories of people: (1) old people who were never converted like Dostoyevsky + new people like Gorbachev, (2) old people who were converted and then converted back, like Tchaikovsky, and (3) old people who were converted and were too far gone to convert back, like Stalin and Tolstoy.

In response to some of the commenters from Eugene's post:

  • The "tsar"/"czar" business is again from when people didn't care. "Tsar'" is short for "Tsesar'," that is, "Caesar." (These guys took the title "tsar'" precisely to avoid being kings and instead to proclaim their imperial pretensions.) Even into the 20th century, the Tsar's son was called not just "Tsarevich" but also "Tsesarevich." Anyway, in olden times when people didn't care, "Caesar" to "Csar" to "Czar" is an easy set of hops. As for the German "Kaiser," that's the German form of "Caesar" too, and that's even easier — we're inclined to keep the spelling of something originally written in the Latin alphabet.

  • Christopher Columbus and Gustavus Adolphus are from cultures with traditions of Latin forms. Columbus is Latinized just because he's old and folks who wrote about him at that time did so in Latin, same reason we talk about Mercator, Lassus, and Erasmus, as well as city names like Vienna; similarly with Charlemagne, since only Germans would talk about Karl der Grosse, and similarly with Frederick Barbarossa. Swedes seem to have retained this Latinizing tradition into more modern times, which is how we get Linnaeus and Gustavus Adolphus.

  • The French have always been more into Gallicizing foreign names — Barberousse, Christophe Colomb, pronouncing "Mozart" without the German "z" sound and with a silent "t", etc. Actually, they used to put the "-us" and similar endings on classical names (just read Montaigne), but sometime between then and now they dropped that. (Same goes with Russians, who used to say "Kolumbus" for Christopher Columbus but now say "Kolumb.") Though note that Leonardo da Vinci is Leonard de Vinci for an additional reason — he also worked in France during his life, and that's how he would actually have been known in France.

  • The same theory as for Russians also goes for other nationalities, like why Juan Carlos is Juan Carlos now but Felipe II is still Philip II. If there had been a widely known Spanish king called Juan Carlos in the 17th century, when no one cared about this sort of thing, I would bet he would have been called John Charles.

UPDATE: More on tsar and czar in the comments.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Transliteration of foreign names:
  2. Foreign Name -- Translate or Transliterate (or Copy)?
Dave N (mail):
Sasha,

Your theory makes a great deal of sense. Since somebody suggested a Wikipedia article on the subject, I nominate you to write it.
6.11.2007 9:29pm
Steve Lubet (mail):
Interesting observations, but I'm not so sure that Caesar influenced the transliteration of Tsar Your overall theory is that people mostly didn't care, but then you posit that they cared enough to appreciate the etymology of Tsar, and then cared even more to influence the anglicized spelling. Seems like much more than a small hop. I've often wondered whether Czar is derived from Polish, where the CZ dipthong common. Western Europeans (French mostly, but also English) in the Russian court wouldn't have been able to read Cyrillic, so they might have picked up the spelling from Poles in the court who used the latin alphabet. Just a hunch, however.

Yes, of course, Kaiser is dervied from Caesar, but that still doesn't explain why the English have never translated it as King. Maybe it's because Wilhelm was Queen Victoria's nephew?
6.11.2007 9:35pm
Tom R (mail):
Isaac Asimov's name derives from the Russian zima, "winter". He noted in his autobiography, around page 2,300 or so (ie, his early childhood), that it really should have been anglicised as "Azimov", as other branches of the family did, but his parents got to the USA via Germany and so they got a German intervocalar S, pronounced like English Z. Germans would have pronounced "Azimov" to rhyme with "nasty cough".

Other branches of his family got to the USA via Poland, he said, and became "Asimow" or "Azimow", which of course English-speakers pronounce to rhyme with "cow".
6.11.2007 9:45pm
Maniakes (mail):
I've seen Kaiser translated as Emperor fairly often. Translating Kaiser as King would be incorrect, as it is explicitly an imperial, not royal, title. The Kaisers also had "King of Prussia" (presumably as "Koenig von Prussia" or something similar) as a lesser title. The reason British monarchs also styled themselves Emperor/Empress of India for a while was so they'd have an equal title with the Kaisers and the Czars/Tsars.
6.11.2007 9:48pm
don jackson:
Um, perhaps there's a political matter here: recall that the late Peter Jennings mouthed Paris or Munich or Rome with no compunction.

However, with respect to third word cities, he doggedly and assiduosly deigned to wrap his tongue around the native pronunciations.

Oh well, he, after having banked millions of dollars as a network news reader, applied for American citizenship only after 9/11.

His excuse: his Canadian mom was dead, so everything was OK.

Go figure!
6.11.2007 9:55pm
jimbino (mail):
If you're attuned to language subtleties, why would you use a construction like, "everyone used their own transliteration style"?
6.11.2007 9:56pm
raj (mail):
It's phonetic. I read both American-language media and German-language media. I have discovered that I have to go between, for example "die Tchecische Republik" and "the Czech Republic," and, as another example "Tchechnya" and "Chechnya" even over the last few years. I've never seen Michael Gorbachev, but the Germans do spell "Gorbachev" differently.

The phonetic differences are even more evident when one is dealing with the squiggles of the near and middle eastern languages.
6.11.2007 10:00pm
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):
I note that it's not unusual to see Catherine the Great referred to as an Empress. We also tend to refer to Chinese and Japanese monarchs as emperors, not kings or whatever the local terms would be.
6.11.2007 10:04pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Jimbino: I use "everyone... their" whenever possible.

Steve Lubet: According to my theory, it's "czar" which is more natural and "tsar" which is less natural. The most natural thing would be to take this new-fangled Russian word and, rather than trying to import it, take the word it was obviously, publicly, based on. It's not that they cared about the etymology -- the "Caesar" meaning was primary. It's only to our modern minds that "tsar" is primary and we have to learn that it derives from "Caesar."

And the actual English usage bears me out on this: "czar" is the older form. The OED has "czar" in usages from 1555, 1591, 1662, 1667, and 1756-57. (Milton, in Paradise Lost, actually wrote "The Russian Ksar in Mosco"!). In the "t" forms quoted by the OED, around 1670, we get "Tzar" and "Tsar" (in the same sentence!), "Tzar" again in 1802-03, and mostly "Tsar" otherwise.

Why "czar" with the precise "cz" spelling? Not because of Polish, where "cz" represents the "ch" sound. Rather, according to the OED: "The spelling with cz- is against the usage of all Slavonic languages; the word was so spelt by Herberstein, Rerum Moscovit. Commentarii 1549, the chief early source of knowledge as to Russia in Western Europe, whence it passed into the Western Languages generally; in some of these it is now old-fashioned; the usual Ger. form is now zar; French adopted tsar during the 19th c. This also became frequent in English towards the end of that century, having been adopted by the Times newspaper as the most suitable English spelling."

So the precise "cz" form is just one guy's idiosyncrasy.
6.11.2007 10:11pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Gorbachev is spelled Gorbatschow in German, but that's because "sh" is "sch", "ch" is "tsch", and "v" is "w" in German, so that's normal. Similar, Dostoyevsky in German is "Dostojewski", with a Jew in the middle!

The "tch" for "ch" form, which is quite rare in English (as I checked by doing a Google search -- only about 200 pages in English for "Tchechnya," similarly few for "Tchetchnya" or "Tchetchenya," but 1.2 million in English for "Chechnya"), is for when the spelling passed through French, as with Tchaikovsky and Metchnikoff; compare Chaliapine, the operatic bass, who in English would be transliterated Shaliapin.

On the other hand, the "cz" for "Czech" may well come from the Polish -- which it doesn't for "czar."
6.11.2007 10:17pm
Dave N (mail):
don jackson's post did bring up one transliteration I have never understood and perhaps someone here can help with. We call the German city "Munich" when the Germans pronounce it "Munchen" or "Muenchen" (I have no idea how to put a dipthong on a letter using my English language keyboard). Any explanations as to how an entire syllable was turned around like that?
6.11.2007 10:24pm
Syd (mail):
I'm still trying to figure out how Livorno became Leghorn.
6.11.2007 10:28pm
jimbino (mail):
Well Sasha,

You may be disappointed to find out that your bad PC English is often untranslatable, especially if done by machine translation.
6.11.2007 10:29pm
Stephen C. Carlson (www):
We probably got "Munich" from the French, like we did for the names of many cities in Europe (e.g. "Rome," not "Roma").
6.11.2007 10:31pm
Dave N (mail):
Stephen C. Carlson--

Makes sense to me (where we got the word from not that we still mangle it).

While we are on the subject, why don't we try to use the local version for place names? We seem to have successfully gone from Peking to Beijing without too much heartburn--why not Roma, Moskva, and Muenchen as well?
6.11.2007 10:39pm
jimbino (mail):
I don't mind, Sasha, but, if you'd just put "everyone... their" on your T-shirt, it would save us language mavens a lot of time trying to figure out whom not to ask to dance.
6.11.2007 11:03pm
Mark Field (mail):
All this discussion leads inquiring minds to ask when the Volokh clan will drop the h.... and maybe add a c.
6.11.2007 11:10pm
Bleepless (mail):
Fyodor=Theodore. Ivan=John.
Another problem is where the "e" in "ev" actually stands for "yo" (also transliterated "io"), as in Khrushchev.
Just as a sidebar, "khrushch" is a type of beetle, usually described in Soviet encyclopedias as a destroyer of agriculture. The word quietly was dropped from dictionaries when Nikita ruled.
6.11.2007 11:23pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
Sasha: I think you've hit the major point in the way non-Romance language names passed through the mills of Latin and French. One was the universal language until the other took over the role. Now English is the universal language and modifications are being made.

The general trend, however, is muddied by certain strains of political correctness in which attempts are made to use more-or-less native names and transcriptions.

It is, as someone above noted, even worse for non-Indo-European languages. The Library of Congress has 64 different spellings of the name of that guy in Libya, Mu'ammar Qadhafi. His name has three sounds that just aren't part of English. Yet.
6.11.2007 11:42pm
don jackson:
Syd wrote:

I'm still trying to figure out how Livorno became Leghorn.

Easy, after the Warner Bros. cartoon character Foghorn Leghorn.

And what those animation greats would make out of our modern day Southren politicians would be a joy to behold: Jimmy, Bill, Fred, and so forth.
6.11.2007 11:49pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Munich and München come from the same root -- the (quasi-) Latin for "by the monks," or "apud munichen." As for Livorno, one of its archaic names is Legorno -- it's on the Ligurian Sea.
6.12.2007 12:31am
Cathy (mail) (www):
Josef is probably because that's how it often is in Central European languages; and just like with Tchaikowsky, everyone used their own transliteration style, which often consisted of taking a transliteration they had picked up from a different language.

It might be worth taking a closer look at this before finalizing your theory. As I understand it, there are some standard ways of converting Cyrillic spellings into the Latin alphabet, but those Latin letters often have different pronunciations for words of Slavic languages than they do for those of Romantic or Germanic languages generally, or English specifically (e.g., "s," which often is supposed to be said like "sh"). An English speaker therefore might (mis)read those Latin-written Slavic names as pre-transliterated, but actually be mistaken on how they are really supposed to be pronounced.

Also, as Mark Field kind of asked, how *do* you like your name to be pronounced? With a "ck" sound at the end, or with a hard "h" sound? And what about the "o's" - should they be long or short or somewhere in between?
6.12.2007 12:44am
James Grimmelmann (mail) (www):
Mathematicians have almost as many ways to transliterate Чебышёв as they have synonyms for "eigenvalue."
6.12.2007 12:45am
ys:

Bleepless:
Another problem is where the "e" in "ev" actually stands for "yo" (also transliterated "io"), as in Khrushchev.
Just as a sidebar, "khrushch" is a type of beetle, usually described in Soviet encyclopedias as a destroyer of agriculture. The word quietly was dropped from dictionaries when Nikita ruled.

That reminds me of an author who occasionally forces me to look up a completely unknown word in a dictionary. One such word was "cockchafer" (yes, another Russian prodigy - Vlad Nabokov). This word is lovely in both languages, is it not?
6.12.2007 1:13am
Randy R. (mail):
Regarding emperor vs. king. My definition, and this has no sourcing whatsoever except my own head, is that a king rules his own lands, whereas an emperor rules over his own lands and someone else's. So, the King of England rules over the English. If he gains that lands of someone else, either through inheritance, conquest, or some other means, then he becomes stays King of England, but also is an Emperor, which in an elevated title. Since historically Germany didn't exist, but was comprised of all sorts of small principalities, once united, he became an Emperor.

So China and Japan ruled over vast lands that contained peoples that were not strickly Chinese or Japanese. This is loosey, goosey, I know, but it seems the one constant.

The other constand is that a king wears an open crown, whereas an emperor wears a covered crown to signify he rules over 'the whole world.'
6.12.2007 1:48am
ys:

All the stuff from the 1970s and afterward that I've seen with his first name has Pyotr or Piotr.

Sasha: so Tchaikovsky can be Pyotr nowadays, but Peter Ilyich still goes step in step with Pyotr (just google it). Boston Symphony, which had as much to do as anybody with making him a top pop composer (think 1812 Ouverture), always lists him as Peter Ilyich.
6.12.2007 1:52am
Randy R. (mail):
Question: If the US was a monarchy, I would assume we would have a king. Dukes would be the states (The Duke of New York, for instance). Counties would have a Count -obviously. Where would barons fit in? Perhaps Archdukes would be reserved for the original 13 states, being as they are the oldest. Would Montana be entitled to a full Dukedom? Texas would surely angle to be a Principality, which is higher than a mere dukedom.

By taking over Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, our king would then be an emperor, right?
6.12.2007 1:54am
Buck Turgidson (mail):
Despite some positive feedback from some observers on this thread, I'll state plainly that SV is wrong on just about every count of his theory. Let me suggest where he goes wrong.

1) SV ignores the fact that many names passed into English--particularly American English--through a variety of languages. In particular, a number of names arrived through German, French, Swedish and Dutch sources. German sources, in particular, were notorious in transliterating the "ch" in Russian (a single letter) into "tsh" or "tsch". Frankicized names, on the other hand, often included the "-off" ending instead of "-ov". Some earlier names were Latinized before appearing in various Western sources.

2) An important source for transliterating various academic names were the academics themselves. It was quite common for Russian scholars in the late XVIII and XIX centuries to submit papers to German and French journals. While doing so, they often transcribed their own names in the way that they thought the names should appear. Once a name was adopted in academic circles, it often remained unchanged even if better transliteration might have been available in another language (such as English).

3) Artists and literary authors often went the French route--that is, French was considered by the Russian gentry and, later, intelligentsia to be THE language of artistic expression. Few authors wrote in German or English. On the other hand, some Russians were educated in the West, where they adopted the forms of names that might have been incongruous. So the result might have been somewhat odd, with the French version being lumped on top of a German one, resulting in interesting combinations.

4) The Library of Congress official transliteration did not appear until well after WWII. Even then, it was not formally adopted by anyone but librarians until well into the 1980s. Even today, AP guidelines do not match LC transliterations--but if you want to find a book by a Russian author whose name also appears in the news, you better follow the LC rules. Still, most such names will have dual references in the catalogues, with the main entry following the LC rules. One example is the the "-sky/-skii" ending (the LC version is the latter, with some diacritics on the final "i"). LC rules are pure transliteration--actual pronunciation does not enter at all.

5) On the "czar"/"tzar" matter--consider that the Russian "tsaritsa" somehow becomes "czarina" in English. This suggest Polish, rather than German or other Western influence. True enough, "cz" spelling in Polish suggests a different sound. However, historically, you have to look at Polish pronunciation/spelling from the XVIth century, not the modern one.

6) In Tchaikovsky's case (LC: Chaikovskii), the choice of "Peter" was likely that of an American impresario, as PIT was more popular in New York than Moscow or St. Petersburg. Not surprisingly, it stuck, especially since the form Piotr (LC) or Pyotr is quite awkward in any language other than Polish.
6.12.2007 2:08am
ys:

Why "czar" with the precise "cz" spelling? Not because of Polish, where "cz" represents the "ch" sound. Rather, according to the OED: "The spelling with cz- is against the usage of all Slavonic languages; the word was so spelt by Herberstein, Rerum Moscovit. Commentarii 1549, the chief early source of knowledge as to Russia in Western Europe, whence it passed into the Western Languages generally; in some of these it is now old-fashioned; the usual Ger. form is now zar; French adopted tsar during the 19th c. This also became frequent in English towards the end of that century, having been adopted by the Times newspaper as the most suitable English spelling."

So the precise "cz" form is just one guy's idiosyncrasy.

Herberstein explains his phonetics in the introduction "To the Reader". His explanation is not very precise (he just says "cz" should be pronounced more sonorously than the previously described "ch"). But his examples contain a clear Polish interpretation (Czernigo - Chernigov) as well as some that require "ts", e.g., Czilma - Tsilma. This in the original Latin version, while in the German version it's Cilma (as was frequently used in German instead of "z" in the past). I can only suspect that he did not see much distinction between these two sounds and the default for him was Polish spelling after all (granted that he was half-Slovene and fluent in that language, hence had an advantage in grasping Russian).
6.12.2007 2:09am
ys:

Buck Turgidson :
An important source for transliterating various academic names were the academics themselves. It was quite common for Russian scholars in the late XVIII and XIX centuries to submit papers to German and French journals. While doing so, they often transcribed their own names in the way that they thought the names should appear.

Very true, and not only for academics of centuries past. Consider Slava Rostropovich and Misha Baryshnikov. Oh, yes, and Sasha Cohen (not to mention Volokh).
6.12.2007 2:16am
Hoosier:
Could someone explain why the tsars and tsarinas have been known to us by their anglicized names--Catherine, Peter, Nicholas--except for the Ivans, who are never 'John", to my knowledge?

Also, when did we decide that Kieff, Khrushcheff, etc., were to be spelled with a "v" instead of the double-f? Phonetically, the "f" is correct. The 'v'--that is в -- is necessary for Russians, since the voiced-voiceless pairs revert depending upon what follows the consonant. But since /we/ don't inflect, why not the "ff"? It gets us closer to the actual pronunciation.

And another thing (Don't stop him--He's on a roll)--How come the newsreaders all decided for us that the capital of Russia is MOS-coe? We /all/ have always said MOS-cow, right? Why the change? If they didn't want the 'cow' sound, why not just say 'Moskva' and be done with it?
6.12.2007 2:25am
Hoosier:
Sorry, Sasha. I missed your "(so no on Fyodor, Ivan, etc.)" But it still leaves me with the question: Why not Theodore and Ivan? Is that more of a stretch than 'Basil' from 'Vasili'?

And why don't Americans use the name 'Sviatopolk' for their children?

'Sviatopolk Okaiannyi Hoosier.' I'll have to talk to my wife about that. . .
6.12.2007 2:29am
Public_Defender (mail):
For living people, the journalistic convention is to let the person choose the spelling. For a long time, journalists were writing "Kaddafi," "Gaddafi" or "Qaddafi" (or possibly other variations). But the Libyan weirdo used "Gadaffi" in something he wrote in English, so that became the standard.
6.12.2007 5:47am
markm (mail):

Could someone explain why the tsars and tsarinas have been known to us by their anglicized names--Catherine, Peter, Nicholas--except for the Ivans, who are never 'John", to my knowledge?

"Ivan" is easy for English-speakers to pronounce (although probably not quite correctly), while one must think about how to decode "Pyotr". I don't know the Russian version of Catherine or Nicholas, but I suspect they are just as hard.

Also, "John" is too much of a plain English name, and unique to English, so "Tsar John" would be rather jarring to the ear. While Catherine, Peter, and Nicholas are English names, they are so often replaced with a shorter nickname (e.g., Kate, Pete, and Nick) that the full names sound just fine on foreigners.
6.12.2007 9:27am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Hoosier: My distinction is that Iosef is obviously Joseph and Nikolai is obviously Nicholas, but Fyodor is not obviously Theodore and Ivan is not obviously John. So that explains why, in "olden times," Nikolai II becomes Nicholas but Fyodor Dostoyevsky doesn't become Theodore.

Cathy: I pronounce "Volokh" to rhyme with "frolic." Eugene actually _sometimes_ pronounces the "kh" as a hard "h" sound but otherwise sounds like "frolic" (so, really, "frolikh"). But I, and our parents, always pronounce the "kh" as "k" in English.

Buck Turgidsen: Most of your points are fully consistent with what I'm saying, and indeed, I refer to several of them. Far from assuming that everything passed into English directly from Russian, I discuss how certain names passed into English through French, which explains the "tch" and final "-off" in names like "Tchaikovsky" and "Metchnikoff." This is right in the text, so I don't think it's right to say I ignore it. I also mention Latinizing in the context of non-Russians (Columbus, Linnaeus, etc.), though I don't think it's an important consideration for Russian names.

On the Library of Congress system, of course it's new. That's precisely why my theory distinguishes the pre-standardization period from the post-standardization period.

On Peter Tchaikovsky being the choice of an American impresario, that's also fully consistent with my theory: I limit myself to people who were popular among the masses, precisely because such people's names were subject to popularization -- whether by newsmen or political writers (as with Joseph Stalin), impresarios (as with Tchaikovsky), or whoever.

Your points (2) and (3), I consider to be elaborations of (1); there's nothing I disagree with there, nor do I think it's inconsistent with anything I've written.

As for your point (5), commenter ys has convinced me that Herberstein, the 16th-century guy I referred to who introduced the "czar" spelling, was thinking Polish, though apparently not distinguishing pronunciations much. Buck, you yourself have a good point that you have to consider 16th-century Polish pronunciations (whatever they are). As from this point, in all those other places where you say I'm wrong, I don't see how what you and I are saying is in any way inconsistent.
6.12.2007 9:45am
liberty (mail) (www):
I was eagerly anticipating a good Sasha pun-ch line at the end :(
6.12.2007 11:11am
Seamus (mail):

While we are on the subject, why don't we try to use the local version for place names? We seem to have successfully gone from Peking to Beijing without too much heartburn--why not Roma, Moskva, and Muenchen as well?



And while we're at it, we should switch from "Germany" to "Deutschland" and from "Italy" to "Italia"? No, the fact that we let ourselves be bullied by foreigners into changing the English translation of a name is no reason we should continue down that road. When I speak Chinese, I'll be glad to say "Beijing" (with the proper tones for each syllable), but when I speak English, I continue to say "Peking." (Fortunately, I don't work for the government or academia, so I can get away with it.)

Moving back to the question of personal names, I notice that Arabic names are *never* translated. Yahya is never translated as John; Issa is never Jesus; Yusuf is never Joseph. (Which reminds me of the observation about the former Secretary General of the UN, Boutros Boutros-Ghali: given that his first name, Boutros, means Peter, we must only guess that Ghali must be Arabic for pumpkin-eater.)
6.12.2007 12:22pm
jn (mail):
The tendency to use Pinyin names in English for Chinese cities is especially ridiculous because it impedes communication. Beijing is relatively easy to approximate (barring the tones), but when Westerners say Guangzhou or Xiamen or Zhejiang, the versions they produce are so different and orthogonal to each other, that it's often hard to figure out which cities they actually mean. [Just ask someone named Zhang how many versions of his name he hears.] This is an order of magnitude worse than turning Roma into Rome or Pah-ree into Pa-ris.

I support keeping the names Peking and Canton.
6.12.2007 12:47pm
Hoosier:
jn--

My understanding of "Beijing" was that American reluctance to call it that was political, not linguistic. That "Beijing" suggests "Northern Capital," and we for twenty years didn't admit that it /was/ the capital of anything. Now we accept Beijing. Fair enough. Some other place names fit into this category, so again, it's fair to ask us to say 'Instanbul,' and not 'Constantinople.' (Since every gal in Constantinople lives in Istanbul, not Constantinople.) And one hopes that no German official will speak of "Danzig" or Stettin."


But why not stick with Canton and so forth? I'm with jn on this.

This tendency to de-Aglicize is so selective. The Turks want us to say 'Tu:rkiye,' so that their country isn't known by the same word as an edible bird known for its stupidity. (They should have thought of that before colonizing the Constantinian Empire.) So "Istanbul", fine. But "Tu:rkiye"? Don't hold your breath.
6.12.2007 1:03pm
ys:

My understanding of "Beijing" was that American reluctance to call it that was political, not linguistic. That "Beijing" suggests "Northern Capital," and we for twenty years didn't admit that it /was/ the capital of anything. Now we accept Beijing. Fair enough.

My understanding is that Beijing is just a slightly different pronunciation of Peking. Compare a similar transformation of Nanking to Nanjing (Southern Capital). It was more a shift to the official Mandarin pronuncitaion from some other version that spread to the west historically (wikipedia confirms that Peking was the pronunciation 400 years ago when it was borrowed, while the official Mandarin changed since then). Note, that French, German and other languages continue to use Pekin, Peking, etc. Same story, I believe, with the top Indian cities (except maybe for Chennai, whose previous name is presumably of Portuguese origin).
6.12.2007 1:38pm
Seamus (mail):
And one hopes that no German official will speak of "Danzig" or Stettin."

But they do. Just as, before 1945, Polish officials spoke of Gdansk and Sczcecin.

I have worse news for you. The Germans still refer to that city on the Rhine as "Straßburg." And the French refer to Trèves and Mayence, rather than Trier and Mainz.

My understanding of "Beijing" was that American reluctance to call it that was political, not linguistic.

Our government called it Peiping (which is a perfectly good pinyin transliteration) rather than either Beijing or Peking, because the Nationalist Government, whose capital was Nanking (Nanjing in pinyin), called it that in order to deny that Peking (meaning "northern capital") was really the capital of China. Once the Nationalists got driven to Taiwan and set up their "provisional" capital at Taipei (Taibei in pinyin), the insistence that Nanking rather than Peking was the real capital of China got rather silly.
6.12.2007 1:51pm
Seamus (mail):
Peiping (which is a perfectly good pinyin transliteration)

Oops. Not true. Peiping was the Wade-Giles transliteration of the city's name, which was Beiping in pinyin.
6.12.2007 1:53pm
Chinese food fan:
I have yet to see a single Chinese restaurant menu with "Beijing Duck" on it.
6.12.2007 5:23pm
Tom R (mail):
> "I'm still trying to figure out how Livorno became Leghorn."

The sound of hard "g" (especially when originally it was palatised "gh", like Irish "lough") can slide surprisingly easily into "f" or "v". See English "rough", "enough", or Russian "-ogo" (possessive ending for masculine and neuter adjectives), which is pronounced "-ovo" (hence Kosovo). I'm guessing "Ligurn-" got palatised to "Lighourn-" and then "Livourn-", over the centuries.

> "Germans would have pronounced 'Azimov' to rhyme with 'nasty cough'.”

I must correct myself: actually they would pronounce it to rhyme with "artsy cough". (Trying to avoid another word that rhymes with "artsy" when talking of Germans).

> By taking over Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, our king would then be an emperor, right?

Have you ever read Robert Heinlein's "Job: A Comedy of Justice"?

Australia is a monarchy, but with a Governor-General instead of a king or emperor. Drawing from the precedents of Australia and Malaysia, my guess is that in an alternate-universe United Kingdom of North America, the 13 "senior" States would have their own Dukes, these would rotate the federal Kingship among themselves every five or seven years, and the federal King would then appoint "Governors" for the other 37 "Territories" or "Provinces".

Of course, if America had a King, he might send his army to occupy a foreign country, remove its ruler, and appoint his own man [sic] as prefect plenipotentiary.

Oh. Wait...
6.12.2007 10:51pm
Syd (mail):
Randy R. (mail):
Question: If the US was a monarchy, I would assume we would have a king. Dukes would be the states (The Duke of New York, for instance). Counties would have a Count -obviously. Where would barons fit in? ..


In New England, anyway, Barons could rule over townships.
6.12.2007 11:29pm
Public_Defender (mail):
I have yet to see a single Chinese restaurant menu with "Beijing Duck" on it.

The Chinese government is standardizing the English names for 1000 Chinese dishes in prepration for the 2008 Olympics.

http://english.gov.cn/2006-12/21/content_474560.htm
6.13.2007 7:46am
Hoosier:
Seamus--

I hadn't noticed that German officials did so. I wonder how this goes over to the east. But I must admit that I've heard "Ko:nigsberg" rather frequently. So I'm assuming that you are correct. Thanks.
6.13.2007 3:13pm
markm (mail):
There's a reason for using the German name for Konigsberg (or should it be -burg?); for several centuries it was definitely a German city, populated mainly by ethnic Germans, named to signify the promotion of the Elector of Brandenburg to King in Prussia, and capital of what even the victorious Allies after WWI recognized as a German province, even though East Prussia was physically separated from Germany.
6.13.2007 6:02pm
Tom R (mail):
Most of the South (not just Hazzard County) seems to be run by people with "Duke" before their surname.

Visiting Maryland DC, and was amazed at how many tributes to British monarchs of three centuries ago (Prince George's County, etc) have survived.
6.13.2007 9:30pm