Chinese Speakers Have an Official Name for 'Trump' in Mandarin - And You Can Bet POTUS Likes It


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I spent the first half of 2010 studying abroad in Shanghai, China, taking classes while spending the weekends exploring both the city and other parts of the country. Between my intensive Mandarin course (8 hours a day, 4 days a week) and China itself, the Chinese language was literally impossible to escape - and I was fascinated with it.

Unlike English, which is based on a simple 26-letter alphabet, Mandarin is composed of thousands of characters, each with its own sound and meaning. There are tens of thousands of characters, although you only need to memorize about 3,000 to be decently literate. Needless to say, for an English speaker, it was challenging - and translating between the two vastly different languages was not always easy.

One of the most fascinating differences is how the Chinese translate famous English names into Mandarin. China's state-run media service Xinhua regularly announces what the government-endorsed phonetic translations of Western names are.

But because the characters used in those names also have their own unique meanings, they can sometimes create awkward or hilarious literal translations for native Chinese speakers that don't make much sense.

For example, for 'Obama', they decided on 奥巴马 (ao-ba-ma), which sounds similar phonetically but literally translates into something like “mystery horse.” For 'Clinton,' they settled on 克 林 顿 (ke-lin-dun), which could be translated into “subdue the forest.”

So what name did they came up with for Donald Trump? 

According to Xinhua, the official phonetic translation for Trump is 特朗普 (te-lang-pu), which can be literally translated to mean “special, bright, and popular.” Trump, I'm sure, doesn't mind it. The president also had a small but vocal group of supporters in China during the presidential campaign.

Te-lang-pu is only the official translation used by government media, though. As the Huffington Post pointed out last year, other translations of Trump are less positive. 川普 (chuan-pu), which is a derogatory term for people from Sichuan province, is common, as is 床破 (chuang-po), which loosely translates into “a broken bed.” These unflattering names originated at the beginning of Trump's presidential campaign, when much of the U.S. (and Chinese) media treated his campaign as a joke.

One thing is certain: the Chinese are very fond of the nicknames they give to U.S. celebrities, whether they sound phonetically similar or not. Jennifer Lopez's nickname is 'Lord of Butt.' Adam Levine is 'Flirty Adam.' (Here's a list of a few others.) They also take these names seriously - a Chinese company with a name that loosely translates into “Trump's big win” saw its stock skyrocket on election night.

If you're a Chinese speaker, you can choose a pronunciation of President Trump based on your opinion of his presidency. It's a confusing (and funny) illustration of just how complex the Chinese language can be.

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