Discussion Naming characters

Discussion in 'Novel General' started by Otwentyfirst, Feb 21, 2021.

?

Which one?

  1. Feng, Tian-Jiao Feng, Tian-Xing Feng, Tian-Hang

    6 vote(s)
    66.7%
  2. Jiao, Xing, Hang

    3 vote(s)
    33.3%
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  1. Otwentyfirst

    Otwentyfirst skillfully clueless // lazy book reader ;)

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    Question for those unfamiliar with reading Chinese nomenclature.
    Names:
    Feng, Tian-Jiao
    Feng, Tian-Xing
    Feng, Tian-Hang

    The beginning Tian shows they are all from the same generation and the endings are their individual distinctions. Is it too hard to keep the characters straight when their names are written as:

    Tian-Jiao, Tian-Xing, Tian-Hang. Or is it easier to use the second part of their name only. Jiao, Xing, Hang. I understand it’s weird to speak in Chinese using just the end syllables, but as a non-native Chinese reader, is the ease of character distinction worth the loss in family hierarchy information?

    Me personally, I hate reading stories with a lot of names that string together like that because my eyes go to the first part of the name. So in the above example it feels like everyone is named Tian and it takes a bit for me to get to the second syllable- > Jiao, Xing, and Hang. Characters are easier to read, but in pinyin it's uncomfortable.
     
  2. Xxsafirex

    Xxsafirex Well-Known Member

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    depends on the number of characters, if there are more than 4 introduced at the same moment keep them short (you can always put notes at the end of the chapter with full name)
     
  3. Hamski

    Hamski Well-Known Member

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    It's probably easier just to get their ages once and infer from behavior than it is to read/write out the Tian every time. On another note, I have a hard time reading Korean names in novels because my brain is hardwired for 2 words in a name, so I'd personally prefer dropping anything dashed before a name such as the Tian. Not sure how others who are unfamiliar with other languages would feel though.
     
  4. ToastedRossi

    ToastedRossi Well-Known Member

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    Normally I'm all for translators making changes to the original writer's in order to make their books more readable to their audience but this is one of the few exceptions. There are a couple of things going on: the first is that I don't find this name shortening any more readable. In fact, if there are generational names, I'd say that keeping the whole name will make it a lot easier to keep track of who's who. It also doesn't help that childrens' names are often planned out so that they sound alike, so you'll see sets like Ling, Ping, Ming, and Xing. Also keeping the surnames in the translation is often a very good idea. Unless it's a character who's in the story all the time, that surname is going to make it a lot easier to keep track of them.

    The other reason is that I have a strong aversion towards changing character names, and that's what this thread is proposing. In addition to changing the tone that the writer is going for, it's something that I find disrespectful. I do understand where the desire to make the names more easy to process comes from though. I tend to have trouble with Chinese names when I see them in pinyin; it's funny that they seem a lot distinctive when written in Chinese.
     
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  5. Darius Drake

    Darius Drake A poster of verbose posts

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    This is a tricky one, as it's dealing with a translation. While Caucasian Dominated Countries tend to utilise names that have no meaning, Asian Countries tend to have names that have meaning. I have just checked, and the word "Tian" translates into "Sky" or "Heaven", while Jiao means "To Call", Xing means "Star", and I can't find a translation for "Hang". So, basically, directly translating the name to English, they would be "Heaven's Caller of the Feng's", "Heaven's Star of the Feng's", and "Heaven's __?__ of the Feng's". It also suggests that these people were named with high expectations placed upon them by their parents, expecting them to reach the heavens.

    This is why the names don't confuse Chinese People, the words have meaning to them. Your request might as well be asking if you should be changing the names to Feng, Tian-Caller, Feng, Tian-Star, and Feng, Tian-"Whatever Hang Translates Into". Which I suspect that ToastedRossi would find preferable, as, while it changes the name, it simply translates part of it so that it's more easily interpreted by English Speakers, instead of removing the intended meaning behind the names.
     
  6. ToastedRossi

    ToastedRossi Well-Known Member

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    This is about the worst of all possible worlds. Not only does this kind of name look incredibly ugly it also smacks of Orientalism and it tosses away any natural feeling the names are supposed to have. I understand the thinking behind this, but it's a terrible solution that doesn't do anybody any favors.

    What makes it even worse is that Eurpoean names also have meanings. There's a reason why there are tons of websites out there about baby names and what they mean. Nobody tries to translate these because that'd be dumb.
     
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  7. Vermouth

    Vermouth Older but none the wiser.

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    I actually prefer to keep the generational names in the character name. It helps me know that certain characters are siblings, or from the same generation. Though I can understand why it’s confusing for most people...
     
  8. Darius Drake

    Darius Drake A poster of verbose posts

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    The vast majority of European Names don't have meanings in the language they are utilised in. They may be words that have meanings in other languages, usually Latin, but they don't have meanings in the language the user develops as their primary language (and many of the exceptions are names for specific things, like Rose). Asian Names, on the other hand, regularly have direct meanings in the language for which the name's user develops as their primary language. Basically, European Names are chosen because of how the parents think of the sounds made, and Asian Names are regularly chosen due to what the parent wants to impart onto the child.

    I remember one manga, I don't remember which, specifically, had a MC who's older sister's given name meant something I'm fairly sure was "Sun", while his name directly translated into "Sun's Shadow", which made him miserable because it made him think that his parents were suggesting that he would be in his (genius) sister's shadow his entire life. Another character interpreted his name to mean "Sunshine" as the light produced by the Sun is the closest thing that the Sun has as a shadow.

    That type of thinking is far less common in English Speaking Countries. If someone's questioning their name, it's more likely due to them having issues from being named after someone else, or a name that's regularly given to the opposite gender, or that they perceive themselves as being the wrong gender, or something like that. It's almost never about the meaning behind the words that make up the name because people don't care about that or pay any attention to that.

    The issue the OP has here is that the character's can't be differentiated by people who don't speak Chinese for the story he's translating/planning on translating. In other words, if it's translated into English, the characters are a confusing mess that many potential English readers would drop due to not being able to tell groups of 10+ characters at a time apart, per "clan". Chinese Readers don't have this issue PURELY because they understand the meaning of the words making up the name. I made a suggestion where the English Readers could differentiate between the characters due to having the differentiating word be translated so that we can understand it.

    I fully understand, if you know Chinese, why you would hate this solution, particularly if you are good at it. However, those who are good at Chinese are the ones unlikely to be reading translations to English, while the ones reading the translations are likely to be English Speakers who know little to no Chinese. For these people, like myself, this solution may be inelegant, but it would be HIGHLY effective in allowing us to more easily follow the plot without removing too much from the naming conventions or story, and still be able to allow us enough of the name that, should a manga translation occur, the translator could translate that completely with the original name and we reader's could still link who is who from the novel translation to the manga translation.
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2021
  9. Otwentyfirst

    Otwentyfirst skillfully clueless // lazy book reader ;)

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    No I'm not proposing to change their names. I'm still using their names, just not in full because we don't often refer to someone by their full name in English. Exceptions include, but not limited to, famous people, first introductions, to differentiate when more than one person shares the same first name. It can also be used to show anger, like when your mom is scolding you. "Michelle Landor, put that down immediately!" as opposed to "Michelle, put that down immediately!" The first one is much more serious that the second one. You know you're in trouble when your mom calls you by your full name.

    So how someone is addressed shows feeling. People are addressed in dialogue. So if someone is neutral they would normally use the first name, unless specifically requested otherwise. I wouldn't refer to my co-worker as Elisa McDean-Cutberg every time I spoke or referred to her, because that would be weird. In a formal business report I would, but not in daily activities.

    For example my friend is Chinese. Let's call him Lu Ting Chun. His family sometimes refer to him as Ting sometimes as Lu Ting, while he refers to himself as Lu to everyone else. So using the first or middle name is fine. Rarely does anyone call him by his full name. No one in his family uses their full name in everyday speech. This is Chinese-American, which I feel is closer to what I'm shooting for, which is American English.

    I feel a translation is an interpretation, so as long as it conveys the intent to the designated audience there is no disrespect.
    When I translate I ask, what's the story's mood in it's native language? Then I ask, how can I convey the same feeling in English?
    But names are difficult because it's becoming the norm in fan translations to ignore accepted English structure even though it's being translated into English. For example in English the format is either First name Last name or Last name, First Name with punctuation. The comma is an important distinguishing marker, but it's never used, which I can understand because then you would have:
    Feng, Tian Xing, Feng, Tian Jiao, Feng Tian Hang (how many people are listed?)
    as opposed to :
    Tian Xing Feng, Tian Jiao Feng, Tian Hang Feng. (clearly three people listed)

    My question was, as a non-native Chinese reader is it worth it to not use the entire name? Does it make it easier to read and remember for native English readers? Or is not that difficult to parse through?

    Thank you to everyone for your replies thus far.
     
  10. ToastedRossi

    ToastedRossi Well-Known Member

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    Sure, but this is in English so if you follow these rules to their extent, then all your characters are just going to end up sounding like Americans. If that's your goal then great, but you should understand that you're altering the texture and the meaning of the original text in the process.

    In Chinese, it's common for the narration to use a character's full name, but this is generally uncommon in the spoken language. Family members will use part of the name, some sort of diminutive, or a nickname the vast majority of the time. I don't think it's necessary for translations to keep everything from the original text, but this contains a lot of flavor at the expense of very few obstacles to readability.

    To be fair, while I disapprove of your proposal, I still find it vast superior to just translating the names.

    In general news reporting, this is actually the other way around. Chinese politicians used to be always referred to in the [Surname] [Given names] order, but Chinese people with just a single given name would often be referred to in the [Given name] [Surname] order. It was very confusing, but you don't see it any more so the names are a lot easier to parse nowadays.

    But why would you put a comma between the two? Even standard pinyin rules would render the names as Feng Tianxing, etc. And it super clear which is the surname and which are the given names. If your system is more confusing than this, then why not just use pinyin?

    I don't want to get too deep into this as it's veering off topic, but Europeans are absolutely chosen for their meaning, it may not be the primary reason, but it's definitely one of the most important ones. It's the same with Chinese: there are lots of reasons for the names, but while the meaning is important it's not the only important factor.
     
  11. SerialBeggar

    SerialBeggar Hate your family? Got no friends? Gimme your stuff

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    My impression, as a Chinese person, is that you don't call someone by their individual's name unless you're close family or intimate friends. You can use generational+individual name amongst friends and associates. Full family+generational+individual between acquaintances and introductions.

    I personally feel calling someone by just their generational name is wrong unless they are an only child or they specify that this is the name they're using (typically to accomodate English speakers too lazy to pronounce their full first name properly).
     
  12. Otwentyfirst

    Otwentyfirst skillfully clueless // lazy book reader ;)

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    Because in English whenever a name is written it's understood that it's always the order of --> first name last name. If you wanted to change the order you would to clarify that with the comma... The comma is how you denote the last name is being written first.

    [first name] Rod
    [last name] Steward
    Writing Rod Steward means his family name is Steward.
    Writing Steward Rod means his family name is Rod.
    But writing Steward, Rod means his family name is Steward.

    So that's why I asked about the comma.

    -----------------------------------------------
    Actually does anyone have a good recommendation for a well written Chinese story that is translated into English from an actual publisher house for instance, Random House, Penguin, etc? I think seeing something from a professional would be good insight.
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2021
  13. ToastedRossi

    ToastedRossi Well-Known Member

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    It's unnecessary because people who have any interest in the world should already be used to Chinese (and Korean) names being written with the surname at the beginning. It's a standard, and it's unlikely to confuse anyone. If you really feel the need, you can always preface your translation stating what standards you're following.

    The comma thing is only really used when you're citing people for academic papers and the like. Just check your newspaper or just about any current magazine to see how they're doing this.
     
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  14. emiliers

    emiliers Well-Known Member

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    ToastedRossi is right. Just keep the names as per regular pinyin standards. Although in the past, publishers would switch to [first name] [surname], it seems now that most have accepted [surname] [first name] standards, though of course it depends on the publisher.

    The first thing that comes to mind is Liu Cixin's Three Body Problem, translated by Ken Liu. If you'll notice [surname] [first name] is kept for the Chinese characters, while [first name] [surname] is kept for the westerners. It also won a Hugo (in translation), so I don't think anyone was the least bit confused by the "foreignness" of the names.

    And, if you want a quicker example, you can check out Hao Jingfang's Folding Beijing, also translated by Ken Liu (and which also won a Hugo). Also keeps the normal [surname] [first name] for all characters in the story. Heck, Ken Liu even kept 老刀 completely in pinyin. (I probably would've translated 老 as "old", since it's more a nickname than an actual name, but who am I to argue with an award-winning author-translator?)
     
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  15. a greedy seed

    a greedy seed New Member

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    I normally lurk and don't engage in forums but since you are translating a story I'm reading I'll comment.

    What others have said above is more akin to MTL. It keeps the Chinese flavors and idiosyncrasies because it's just copying Chinese and pasting it as English. It's a translation, but a weak one.

    When you translate you should respect the originating language and the target language.

    What you said about commas is about respecting English grammar. Chinese, before American/English influence, only had one format for names, so there was no need to make a grammatical distinction. English uses two, so it uses a comma. Use a comma if the surname comes before the given name. This will prevent confusion.

    If translating into Chinese, stick with Chinese grammar. If translating into English, stick with English grammar. Just don't Frankenstein the two together.

    For me, I would prefer you take that into account when you translate names.

    If Tian Jiao Feng included the diacritics, it would be the correct way to write the name using pinyin, but you are missing them. The diacritics are part of the name. It tells how the name is pronounced. This is important because Chinese is tonal. Without diacritics you are not representing the name faithfully.
    娇 jiāo 角jiǎo: Are two different meanings. So just using Jiao makes it unclear. I assure you, the character's name is most definitely not Jiao.
    I rarely ever see translations that respect this. It's as though the marks are treated as an accessory when in reality they are an integral part of pinyin.

    My preference is not listed in your survey. I'm pretty sure most often you will see people referred to by the last character(s) - Tian-Jiao // Tian-Xing // Tian-Hang. I like the "-" because it lets me know the name includes both words and they are not a first middle name combination.

    If you are asking for native English speakers though, you're probably in the wrong place. My impression of novel updates is that most readers here are not native English speakers, so their perspective will be different.

    At the end of the day, you are the translator, a free one at that I'm assuming. As such you should do what you feel is best for you. The most important thing is to be consistent after you make your decision.

    Regarding Ken: I've read that guy. If you are a sci-fi fan you probably won't like it. If you like fantasy you may be able to stomach it more.

    He follows the Chinese naming schema but in practice he sticks to English norms often switching between using just the surname and the full name, depending on the situation. That is too say he treats the last name like it's a first name for English norms.

    Example: "...Ye Zhetai like your green flames." throughout most of the book he is referred to by his surname and only occasionally by his complete name. "Ye remained silent." To add to the confusion he will also refer to the daughters as "Ye." When two family members are in the same paragraph he'll use their first name, Wenjie and whatever that other girl's name is. So in practice what he's doing is using the last name as a single identifier to avoid using the full name.

    It works for him because there aren't too many family members so it's not too difficult. I think that is why it is easier to digest his translation as an English reader.

    Yours is hard because it looks like the author enjoys names that are similar. So it would be confusing if you defaulted to calling all your characters by their last name. I think Ken uses the complete name when in dialogue and sticks with using the last name in narration. Maybe you can try something like that?

    However if you are to translate back to Chinese please refrain from referring to people only by their surname. It's rude. Use the first name or complete name, but don't truncate a part of the first name. English Example: Mary Lou James
    Don't use Ma for her first name. It's not her name... Same concept in Chinese.

    Thank you for translating.
     
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