• Sijin Xian

What's in a Name

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

In the English-speaking world, it's common for a company to assume the name of its founder. Many of these companies, when translated into Chinese, remain consistent with the naming tradition, such as Ford (福特) by Henry Ford (亨利·福特), Chrysler (克莱斯勒) by Walter Chrysler (沃特·克莱斯勒), and Dell 戴尔 by Michael Dell(迈克尔·戴尔). However, this is not always as straightforward and requires due diligence on the translator's part to ensure accurate renditions.

For example, the businessman and philanthropist Michael Bloomberg is known as 迈克尔·布隆伯格 in Chinese, but Bloomberg L.P., the company he created, is actually translated into 彭博 to differentiate the founder from the enterprise.

Another interesting case has to do with two colleges at Cornell: Johnson Graduate School of Management and SC Johnson College of Business. The former is named after Samuel Curtis Johnson (塞缪尔·柯蒂斯·约翰逊), the founder of the company SC Johnson (庄臣), and is therefore translated as 约翰逊管理研究生院. The latter, however, gets its name from the company as its donor and thus bears the name 庄臣商学院.

These two examples highlight the nuances in translation and the importance of research and awareness of established conventions. Translating is never a simple matter of column A to column B conversion, not even when it comes to something seemingly as innocuous as names.

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