What is "Pringle" in Chinese?
24 August 2008
The surname Pringle is a Scottish name from the Scottish Border Region. Scotland is about as far as you could get from China, but here I want to see how this old Scottish name is rendered in Chinese.
Transliterating English names into Chinese is not a standardised affair like it is in Japanese. Despite the fact that most names are now to a large extent standardised on the Mainland, there is still variation in Taiwan and Hong Kong, not to mention variations that occur due to translator whimsy and the translation of brand names.
'Pringle' in Chinese
In a fully-standardised form, 'Pringle' should ideally be 普林格尔 Pǔlíngé'ěr in Chinese (or, in traditional characters, 普林格爾). The characters used are routinely used in transliterations.
- 普 pǔ 'common, universal' is normal for 'p'.
- 林 lín 'forest' is normal for 'lin'
- 格 gé, which has a range of meanings, from grammatical case to status, etc., is common for hard 'g'.
- 尔 / 爾 ěr, which is virtually meaningless in modern Chinese, is commonly used for 'r'.
Notice how the English has only two syllables ('pring' and 'gle') while the Chinese transliteration has four: pǔ + lín + gé + ěr. That is because:
- There is no way of representing 'pr' in a single syllable in Chinese; the 'p' must be spun out into a separate syllable as pǔ.
- There is also no way of writing 'gle' as a single syllable. If the 'l' is to be reproduced, it needs to be a separate syllable (gé + ěr).
Curiously, the 'r' and the 'l' in the English are completely reversed in the Chinese. That is, it is as if the Chinese were transliterating 'Plingre'. That's also unavoidable:
- The standard inventory of Chinese syllables simply doesn't have the syllable 'rin'. It does have 'ren' (e.g. 人 rén), but fidelity to the vowel takes precedence. So lín it is.
- If you wanted to get an 'l' in the final syllable, you could use 乐 lè (traditional 樂), but that adds a very audible extra syllable to the word. The beauty of 尔 / 爾 ěr is that it blends into the preceding syllable. The auditory impression is that of a liquid-sounding 'r' added to gé, yielding gér. If you used 乐 lè, you would get a very clumsy gélè. So ěr it is.
But 普林格尔 Pǔlíngé'ěr is a rather clumsy name in Chinese. The 'r' syllable is a glaring sign of foreignness and is also somewhat hard for Chinese to get their tongue around. That may be why 普林格尔 Pǔlíngé'ěr is often found truncated to 普林格 Pǔlíngé.
普林格 Pǔlíngé has several advantages. It is shorter -- only three syllables, pǔ + lín + gé -- and is thus closer to the standard Chinese format of three characters per name. It is easier to pronounce and doesn't look so obviously foreign. In actual usage, 普林格 Pǔlíngé tends to be found in less academic contexts, for example, in transliterating the names of contemporary figures or ordinary people, the sort of people less likely to be found in encyclopaedia articles.
Literature is another matter. The translator of literary works has the freedom to follow the conventions, or to ignore them if that seems the better course. For instance, the Pringle name is found in Harry Potter, in the form of Apollyon Pringle, a minor character in the Goblet of Fire.
In the Mainland translation of this book, Apollyon Pringle is transliterated as 阿波里昂·普林格 Ābōlǐ'áng Pǔlíngé. In the Taiwanese version, however, this is truncated completely to 阿破·普哥 Āpò Pǔgē. The transliteration 普哥 Pǔgē is a rather sorry excuse for 'Pringle' whose only virtue is brevity. The literal meaning is 'Pu elder-brother'.
The name Pringle is widely found in several specific contexts.
- Pringle of Scotland is a luxury knitwear brand based in Scotland. It is particularly identified with upmarket sportswear. While frequently found in its original form 'Pringle', this name is often transliterated into Chinese as 普林格 Pǔlíngé. This is the form we noted above as a snappy version of the more pedantic 普林格尔 Pǔlíngé'ěr transliteration.
- Pringle's potato chips. This brand name was apparently chosen from a telephone directory for its pleasing sound. In Chinese, the brand is usually known as 品客 Pǐnkè. For potato chips there is obviously no need to be stuffy or formal -- in fact, the snappier the better! So the people who gave Pringle's chips their Chinese name obviously decided that a simple, easy-to-pronounce two-character name was preferable. The meaning is 品 pǐn 'product', and also in a good sense 'class' or 'character'. 客 kè means guest, and is found in 必胜客 Bìshèngkè, the Chinese name of Pizza Hut.
- The Pringle manoeuvre is a surgical manoeuvre used in some abdominal operations. It is normally rendered in Chinese as Pringle手法 (Pringle shǒufǎ), without transliteration.
Taking a name in Chinese
If you are a Pringle thinking of getting an authentic Chinese name, however, you really don't have to think about all this too much. That's because there is no need whatsoever for a Chinese name to slavishly follow the English one.
Traditionally, a Chinese name consists of a surname first, usually one character -- two-character surnames do exist, but they are quite rare -- followed by a given name of two characters. Names should always have a meaning, with impressive masculine names denoting strength traditionally being used for men, and pretty feminine names for women. More recently the trend is to use one-character given names. An example:
Traditional style (given name is two characters)
李鹏飞 (traditional characters: 李鵬飛)
Lǐ Péngfēi: Surname = Li , Name = Pengfei ('roc flies')
Recent trend (given name is one character)
李鹏 (traditional characters: 李鵬)
Lǐ Péng: Surname = Li , Name = Peng ('roc')
Needless to say, Chinese doesn't have the surname 'Pringle'. However, it does have a few surnames that bear some phonetic resemblance to 'Pringle'. For example, the present author decided to render his surname in Chinese as 彭 Péng. This is an ordinary surname shared with several million Chinese, and I'm greeted as a long-lost family member whenever I run into one of them. The Chinese notion, of course, is that people sharing the same surname all ultimately come from the same family tree.
Naturally the surname is not the full story. A Chinese name is mostly spoken as a totality and needs to be taken as a whole. My full Chinese name is 彭瑞 Péng Ruì (keeping in mind that the surname comes first), where 瑞 Ruì is meant to represent the name 'Greg', while at the same time Péng Ruì as a whole is designed to give a gross impressionistic sense of 'Pringle'.
I am not the first foreigner to use the surname 彭 Péng. For example, the much-maligned former governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, is known in Chinese as 彭定康 Péng Dìngkāng. So 彭 Péng should simply be considered as one possibility if you want a Chinese surname that sounds a bit like 'Pringle'.
Another possibility is the surname 平 Píng, although that would probably be more appropriate for someone from the Ping family! A less satisfactory surname, both because it doesn't sound so pleasant to an English speaker and because it fails to capture the all-important 'ring', is 浦 Pǔ. Similarly for the homophonous surname 普 Pǔ. Or if you want to sacrifice the 'p' altogether, you might prefer 林 Lín, a very common Chinese surname.
Of course, you could dispense with all this and simply give yourself a random Chinese name. There is no requirement that your Chinese name should be even remotely related to your English name. If your English name is Stephen Pringle, why not just adopt a completely random Chinese name like 王小峰 Wáng Xiǎofēng, for instance? There are people who adopt names on the principle that a Chinese name is a Chinese name and has nothing to do with the English name at all.
That finishes our discussion of the transliteration of the surname Pringle into Chinese. The ultimate point, of course, is that everything depends on your purpose.
- If you're writing an encyclopaedic article about a historic figure, use the full transliteration 普林格尔 Pǔlíngé'ěr.
- If you're writing about a more humble or modern personage, use the simpler 普林格 Pǔlíngé.
- If you're translating a work of literature, use whatever feels best.
- If you're talking about a specific brand, use whatever the company uses -- for instance, Pringle's chips are always 品客 Pǐnkè, never 普林格 Pǔlíngé. Pringle of Scotland doesn't appear to have an official Chinese name, so use the original English ("Pringle") or the informally adopted 普林格 Pǔlíngé.
- The Pringle manoeuvre is never transliterated. If it were, 普林格 Pǔlíngé would be the normal choice.
- If you're wanting to adopt a Chinese name for yourself, you have absolute freedom. If, on the other hand, you are writing about a person who has already adopted a Chinese name, respect their wishes. The current author was mortified when his employer tried to change his officially registered Chinese name from 彭 Péng to 普林格尔 Pǔlíngé'ěr, on the grounds that 彭 Péng didn't sound foreign enough!