The worst translated name in Chinese

And the award goes to…

Drum roll please…

Bradley Cooper! (hey dude sorry you didn’t get an oscar, and your name is horrible in Chinese too!)

His name is 畢列·谷巴 in traditional Chinese.

“What the hell?” was my response when I saw his Chinese name on the Silver Linings Playbook poster. I’d actually prefer the much longer simplified Chinese translation – 布莱德利·库柏.

Sorry folks, if you don’t understand any Chinese. You can ignore this post… OR not. If you’re familiar with Chinese directors and actors (esp those from HK), you would know that Hong Kong names are usually with three characters, e.g. Wong Kar Wai, Chow Yun Fat, and some of them have English names, e.g. Jackie Chan, Jet Li, that makes it a lot easier. What about Ang Lee? He’s Taiwanese, and his name has two characters only, which is common in China as well, e.g. Gong Li.

So, what’s my point here?

Politicians in HK, during the English colonial rule, often had nice Chinese names with three characters. Of course, the main reason was to domesticate their names, so HK people wouldn’t find them as foreign. To be honest, that sort of worked for me. E.g. Chris Patten is “Pang Ting Hong”, David Wilson is “Wai Yik Shun”. Yes… I know, it might sound off to English speakers, but those translated names were transliteration of their last names, so it was just “Patten” and “Wilson” that were translated. Makes sense?

Now, back to Hollywood. Brad Pitt is probably the best translated Chinese name, because it has three characters ﹣ 畢彼特, lucky for him, he has a short name. Cooper, on the other hand, is less lucky, not only is his name not domesticated, it sounds awkward as well. (Leonardo DiCaprio is extremely unfortunate, as you can imagine.) When I was doing my course in translation we learnt about translating names, so that girls’ names sound like girls, and guys’ names sound like guys, AND the best names are those with two or three characters, that’s domestication. Sort of like Chinese people having English names, like Peter Chan, Alice Tong, doesn’t that sound more natural for English speakers?

So why can’t they just translate the last names, like politicians? I suppose it might be because some last names can be really common, it could get confusing, fair enough. But even if you translate the full name, you can choose your words carefully so that it doesn’t sound strange, but I won’t go into phonetics because the phonetics of Chinese is much harder to explain unless you know the language.

While I was searching for poor Cooper’s name in Chinese I also found this funny clip of him speaking in Mandarin. Thanks to the subtitles, otherwise I wouldn’t have understood a word. I thought I did when he said 骯髒豬 (dirty pig), but he was actually saying 骯髒手 (dirty hand). Hey seriously, do Americans think Chinese people DO NOT watch English films? Kinda tired of fake Macau (Skyfall) and characters pretending to know Chinese well. If Bradley’s not a language genius, Japanese might be a little easier. Or maybe they should’ve changed the film title to “Unlimitless”.


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