Thursday, May 25, 2006

Kekou Kele?

One day, I drank soda with lunch in Taipei.

The other side of the bottle is more familiar.

The chinese label reads 可口可樂: in pinyin that's ke kou ke le. The 'ou' is pronounced 'o' (for example, the common name Zhou is pronounced like "Joe") and a final 'e' sounds similar enough to the 'a' in "cola," so the Chinese name sounds sort of "caco cala." Why isn't the Chinese name 口可口樂? Apparently, the other name sounds better.

When looking for the Chinese name of a foreign brand, it is common to privilege the "niceness" of the name over the phonetic faithfulness. Google's Chinese name is 谷歌, which is gu ge in pinyin and it means something like "song of the valley." Perhaps what they did was to privilege phonetics, instead. (There is, by the way, an online petition to ask Google to change its Chinese name.)

This also came up when, in Beijing, it was decided that I should get a Chinese name. I suggested something that would sound like lǔ kà or lú kà. Apparently, however, either there are no such characters, or they would not sound nice. So far, the best we have come up with is 路卡, which is pronounced lù kǎ and is pretty good phonetically. The two characters mean "road" and "block," respectively, so together they could mean "road-block," which is a good name for a professor, except that they are never used together with that meaning. To me, 路课,lù kè, would also sound good: here 课 means "class" (as in "lecture in a course") and 路 means "road." But, I am told, you can't have two 4-th tones in a name. "How are you going to call out a name with two 4-th tones?" Oh well, I hand't thought of that.

See, this Chinese name business is not easy. I know that there are a few Chinese speakers who read this. Any suggestion that is better than 路卡?


  1. Anonymous Anonymous
    5/25/2006 10:03:00 PM

    Hi Luca,

    Regarding the Chinese translation of “Coca Cola”,
    “可口可樂” is better than “口可口樂” in that 可口 means “tasty” and 可樂 means “enjoyable” in Chinese while 口可口樂 is not a meaningful expression.

    路卡 is a real Chinese phrase and means “road-block” or
    “a check point on the road”.
    However, used for that meaning,卡 here is pronounced as “chai” or qia , in pinyin.
    In that sense, it won’t suit to be your Chinese name.

    Some other options,

    卢卡 lú kǎ 卢 is a surname , 卡 may mean “card”. So, 卢卡 will sound like a full name in Chinese in stead of first name. Simple yet phonetically faithful.
    鲁卡 lǔ kǎ 鲁 may serve as a surname but can mean “reckless” otherwise, then 鲁卡 is not too good as a “first name” for a professor.
    麓卡 lù kǎ 麓 means "the foot of a hill". But the strokes it contains could be too complicated for a complexity theorist :~)


  2. Blogger Luca
    5/25/2006 10:15:00 PM

    Hi AN,

    鲁卡 as "reckless card" is pretty good!

  3. Anonymous Anonymous
    5/26/2006 02:45:00 AM

    There is a website that allows you to "choose" your own chinese name, I've experimented with it a couple of times but my Chinese is not good enough to comment on it's quality.

  4. Blogger Luca
    5/26/2006 05:19:00 PM

    Thanks, Helger. A nice thing about the website is that it gives different names if you keep trying.

    It has come up with 覽科, lǎn kè, where 覽 is "look at" and 科 is "science."


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