Translating Chinese names from Japanese
Poll time again!
So in this chapter of Acid Town, we see Wang’s full name for the first time:
What I’d really like to get your guys’ help with is how to transliterate this name.
So this requires a bit of explanation. In Japanese, foreign words are usually written in a script/alphabet called katakana (the symbols on the right side of the image). These symbols represent phonetic sounds. When speaking foreign words, Japanese speakers will break the sounds down into ones that are more palatable. For instance, “Apple” in katakana becomes “Appuru”. Obviously this doesn’t represent the spelling or even the entirely accurate sound in English, but it’s close enough and easier for a Japanese person to say.
Unfortunately this creates an additional layer of difficulty when a language is being run through a sort of Japanese “filter” and then needs to be translated again into something for an English-speaking audience. If you’re like me and you’re not familiar with the original language that’s being represented in Japanese it can be extra tricky.
Chinese has its own system of romanization called pinyin. It’s how Chinese sounds are represented with ‘English’ letters. It’s an approximation of how the word might sound in Chinese. Pinyin uses a lot of special symbols to represent particular vowel sounds that I’ve been stripping out for simplicity’s sake, similar to how “Pokémon” is meant to have the “é” to represent the “ay” sound, but this often gets stripped down to just “Pokemon” when being discussed.
A good example of this that’s on topic is Wang’s surname, 王. In Japanese, this symbol means “king” and is pronounced “ou” (long O sound). In katakana, the Chinese pronunciation for it is transliterated in katakana as “wan”, as there is no “ng” syllable in Japanese, and “wan” is an approximation of the sound. In Chinese, the pinyin for 王 is “wáng”. Thus his name becomes Wang.
I’ve tried to keep something similar going with other Chinese names that are mentioned in the manga. I know the other scanlation group for instance was referring to the Chinese mafia group as the “Heiron”, as this was the katakana given for the group’s name. However, I’ve been referring to this group as the “Heilong” to more closely match the pinyin (second half of the name 龍 in pinyin is “lóng” and not “ron”) .
In some cases there’s a bit of a compromise made between the Japanese transliteration and the Chinese pinyin. Chang’s name, 張, is written as “chan” in katakana. The pinyin however is “zhāng”. Now, “zhāng”, for an English speaker, is hard to pronounce… there’s a temptation to say “zang”. So I’ve been writing his name as “Chang”, which is fairly close to both the Japanese transliteration as well as close to how “zhāng” is pronounced.
Okay, all that setup is leading to Wang’s given name, 虞 淵. The two characters together might mean something like “the depths of fear”, which definitely seems appropriate for Wang. The katakana reading given for this name is “Guen”. This is the point where I’ve gone down the rabbit hole on this name.
The two characters read individually in pinyin come out as “yú yuān”, which is pronounced with just a very long “yu” sound at the beginning, so it comes out something like “Yuan”. If you throw the two characters into Google Translate as Chinese and spit it out as Japanese, the phonetic reading comes out as “Yoen”. I’m not so sure where “guen” comes from particularly.
So the question after all this blahblahblah is, which should I go with? Guen? Or something like Yuan? Something in between like Yuen?