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
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.