Mikeski wrote:Eh, I guess I just find it goofy when proper names are mispronounced. [...] Like a Japanese co-worker of mine with a -suke given name, that far too many people pronounce to rhyme with "cookie".
That drives me nuts too. I had a housemate many years ago named Zhang Xiaohua, or as we'd write it in the west, Xiaohua Zhang, who everyone called Jon because Zhang = Jon to the American ear I guess? He was introduced to me as "Jon" and I called him that until I first saw mail addressed to his proper name arrive and I asked (since he was the only Chinese person in the house) if he was Xiaohua… and he was kind of shocked that I could actually pronounce his name. Guess he just gave up and rolled with "Jon"?
(The Zhang => Jon thing always reminded me of the Chon Wang => John Wayne gag from Shanghai Noon, though).
All the younger Chinese and Taiwanese people I know have an "English name", which I think they chose fairly early at school. It doesn't in general have any similarity to their "Chinese name", it's just a name they liked the sound of or had an association with an American movie or TV programme they liked. I have a friend called Zhenfen, whose English name is completely unrelated; another friend suggested she could call herself "Jen", which works in English and isn't too far from "Zhen" in pronunciation. But she'd chosen her English name because she liked it, and strongly identifies with it - it is in fact her name, and to start using a different English name now would be to change her name. And I have a colleague who I started introducing by his Chinese name, feeling all internationalist, upon which he made it clear that he'd rather
be called "Sean". (There's also an interesting area for social/psychological research: I get the impression that for some people the two names relate to slightly different identities: the westerner and the Chinese/Taiwanese person).
My feeling is that foreign names ought to be rendered as the closest approximation to the native pronunciation that is allowed by the phonology of the host language. But this will inevitably lead to imperfections; those of us who have a smattering of other languages may feel a scornful superiority when somebody gets a name wrong that belongs to a language we are familiar with, but we'll all screw up in ways we aren't even aware of when we have to attempt a name from Azerbaijani, Quechua or Zulu. Distinctions of phonology that aren't really important in the host language are liable to be overlooked, so we'll use single-syllable diphthongs and multiple vowel syllables interchangeably, replace unaspirated with aspirated and retroflex with normal consonants in South Asian languages, and of course tone in far eastern languages will go out of the window (seriously, even if you can do them, suddenly going tonal in the middle of an English sentence is going to sound ridiculous and potentially offensive). This may be an argument for using essentially different words (like Munich) or even completely unrelated proper names as in the Chinese people's "English names".