• Sijin Xian

For the Love of Christmas, Do Vixen Some Justice in the Chinese Translation of Her/His Name

Updated: Feb 3, 2020

As you easily recall Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer this Christmas--he is the most famous after all--please spare some thought for Vixen, whose name is horrendously misrendered in Chinese.

I worked on a delightful, Christmas-themed translation project this winter. To my shock and dismay, Vixen is translated into 悍妇 (which means a shrew!) in every Chinese-language reindeer name list I consulted. Sure, if you check out "vixen" in the dictionary, the extended meaning of an ill-tempered, aggressive woman is indeed valid. But when it comes to translation, dictionaries only get you so far.

A translator doesn't just look up words; she tastes words. Much like a food critic, she considers the appearance, warmth, texture, and flavor of each morsel and how they all tie together. While the jury is still out on the gender of Vixen the reindeer--or that of all Santa's reindeer for that matter--we can at least agree that the "shrew" connotation does not apply here at all.

How can we make things better? Well, if the context allows us to assume Vixen is a girl (say, the text is accompanied by a gender-specific drawing), we can explore the "foxiness" undertone and translate her name into something along the line of 媚狐 (attractive fox) or 美娇娘 (a pretty, dainty girl). If it's safer for us to steer clear of the gender debate, we can employ our trusty friend of phonetic transliteration: a simple 维克森 would suffice.

On a less cheerful note, I found out that my rendition of Vixen for that particular project was changed to the "go-to" shrew translation by the editor in the finalized document. It can be tricky to fight battles like this, going against an established, albeit mistaken, rendition. But hey, at least I can always blog about them.



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