Why You Can’t Translate Your Initials Into Chinese For Your Tattoo 2


I participated in this very interesting discussion over at the British Tattoo Forum of the vendor where I purchase my tattoo supplies. A mate were looking for appropriate Chinese Characters to tattoo the initials M.B. on a client.

I explained why this isn’t working after anther participant shared his experience with this.

Chinese symbols are phonetic and not alphabetical. The second mate had his first name Anthony translated. The result were 3 Chinese characters. According to his Chinese neighbor the symbols were saying An-tho-ny, what translated back into English meant: peace eastern strong person.

If you ever go to China with your Chinese character tattoo you don’t want your tattoo to be frowned at.

My 2 cents to this were this little advice:

As Chinese characters are phonetic and western characters are alphabetical we compare two totally different things here. It’s the same difference as between characters and numbers. You could take the numbers of the position of your initial letters in the alphabet and tattoo them. This would make the same sense as the example above.

Here is how to do it accurate as possible:

Every name has its meaning. Try to find out the meaning of your name (there are books out there about that topic) and then have a go to translate that meaning accurate in Chinese.

In the case of my first name this would result in the following:

Mario = Man from the ocean (as far as I investigated, and I investigate a lot)

So if I would like to have my name tattooed I would search for a translation of ‘Man from the ocean’ rather than a literal translation of  ‘Mario’. This would at least assure me that I don’t have have a tattoo that says something completely different than I think it says.

I can’t emphasize enough that it’s recommended to invest in Yingying’s service here, as I explained in my post How To Avoid A Total Failure If You Consider A Chinese Tattoo.

Have a nice day ahead!


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2 thoughts on “Why You Can’t Translate Your Initials Into Chinese For Your Tattoo

  • joe

    Don’t forget about idioms, even in the same language. Australia, the UK, and US all use the same language, English. So there’s no problem? Shortly after the BBC first made films available in the US, films began to be Americanized films after the following. In evening prime time, kids were hearing Brits say “call me in the morning” Wow, friendly country. It became even better (funnier) the first time a man said it. The next day every class was disrupted, until 1 hour later when a special public announcement was made. Because the teachers were hearing students asking to be impregnated or making an offer to impregnate, and were included by the students in being offered or asked to”call someone in the morning.” The Brits forgot to change the phrase “knock someone up” to “call.”

    • Mario Post author

      This is a very important point as well, Joe.

      And it’s exactly the reason why I had my forearm tattoo translated by a native. The original text would say ‘I’d rather die standing than to live on my knees’. The Chinese version says ‘I rather get killed than humiliated’.

      Thank you for your input!
      Mario