F1 Driver’s Chinese Name Meanings

Ever wondered how names work when they get translated into languages with totally different writing systems and sounds? When writing Western names in Chinese, there are a few different options. The first is simply to pick a new, typical name in the other language. (If you’ve ever been to China, you might find many Chinese people introduce themselves with suspiciously non-Chinese names like Kevin or Mary). The second way is to literally translate the meaning of the name. Lots of Western companies in China do this. For example, Burger King is 汉堡王, which literally just means “Burger King”. The final approach is the most common one for names: try to approximate the sounds of the original name in the new language. McDonald’s took this approach, ending up with 麦当劳, or mai-dang-lao. This is also the approach that people use for F1 drivers in China. Unfortunately it has the disadvantage that the meaning regularly comes out as gibberish.

I thought I’d unpick these Chinese names and work out roughly what they mean when translated back into English.

Here we go:

Name: Hamilton 汉密尔顿

Meaning: Man is secretly stopping

This almost felt like this one might have been prophetic with Hamilton’s seemingly endless contract negotiation last season. As it stands, Hamilton shows no sign of slowing, let alone stopping.

Name: Vettel 维特尔

Meaning: Preserve the uniqueness

Seb is certainly unique, and we’re all happy that Aston Martin preserved his place on the grid.

Name: Schumacher 舒马赫

Meaning: Awe inspiring strecthy horse

Just silly.

Name: Verstappen 弗斯塔彭

Meaning: Not a Slovakian pagoda called Peng

I mean, it’s not wrong…

Name: Alonso 阿隆索

Meaning: Greatly demanding

This one almost feels a bit too on the nose.

Name: Sainz 塞恩兹

Meaning: Stuffed full of kindness

In Chinese Sainz sounds more like a teddy bear than a racing driver.

Name: Räikkönen 莱科宁

Meaning: Studying weeds peacefully

Can anyone picture a retired Räikkönen calmly studying plants?

Name: LeClerc 勒克莱尔

Meaning: Leader able to overcome the weeds

Is it too rude to call the 2020 Ferrari a weed?

Name: Russell 拉塞尔

Meaning: Pull and squeeze in

I’ll leave this one you guys to interpret as you see fit.

Name: Pérez 佩雷斯

Meaning: Respect the terrifying Slovak

Not sure if terrifying is a compliment or an insult.

Name: Norris 诺里斯

Meaning: A promise: 500m to Slovakia

Slovakia makes another appearance thanks to the “si” sound.

Name: Ricciardo 里卡多

Meaning: 500m stops many

It almost sounds like Ricciardo’ name is trolling his teammate’s here.

I hope no-one took offence at this lighthearted poke at the difficulty of translating names into other languages. To demonstrate how silly the concept is, it’s a bit like saying that the Finnish name of Bottas means a robots bum in English (Bot-ass). In reality it will just be accepted as a name, without having to worry about the meaning of the sounds.

3 thoughts on “F1 Driver’s Chinese Name Meanings

  1. formula1stat

    Finally, a shout-out to Lego, for their great Chinese name 乐高 (le gao). Not only does it sound almost identical to the Western name (unlike McDonalds and mai-dang-lao), but the 2 characters mean “happy” and “tall”. Wonderfully appropriate for a toy based on building things up.

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