Country Names in Chinese – Our Complete Guide
Have you ever wondered what your country’s name looks like in Chinese and what its meaning is?
The literal Chinese translations of country names often results in some funny interpretations.
Many of the Hanzi writings of foreign countries are supposed to reflect a nice meaning and also be phonetically similar (trans-literation) to the original.
However, when translated from one language to Chinese and then to English, the meaning may be lost in translation and changed to something completely different.
I tried to choose some of the most interesting literal translations, but as with all translations there is a multitude of meanings and understandings, hence results may vary from translation to translation.
So, to be clear, these are not “literal translation of the Chinese names”, rather they are literally translations of characters used phonetically
Country Names in Chinese – Europe:
France: 法国, faguo. Fa mimics “france”, and has connotations of lawfulness, orderliness.
Germany: 德国, deguo. De mimics “Deutsch” (of Deutschland), and means virtue, righteousness.
Netherlands/Holland: 荷兰, helan. Lotus Orchid, Helan sounds vaguely like Holland.
United Kingdom: 英国, ying guo. Either “Brave land” or “Great country” however “英” is now a character associated with England/UK
Russia: 俄国 e guo. This one is an exception as the first character just means Russian now, and doesn’t correspond to the phonetic in any way.
Belgium: 比利时, bi li shi. “Time to compare profits”. Let the games begin!
Iceland: 冰岛, bing dao. Same as its native etymology – “ice island”
Belarus: 白俄罗斯, bai e luo si. “white Russia” convenient as Belarus means white Russia in Belarus as well.
Montenegro: 黑山, hei shan. Black mountain which is the same as its native etymology
Switzerland: 瑞士, rui shi “Lucky gentleman”. This is one of the names that gets people asking about the etymology of place names. The Chinese name for Switzerland, comes from the ancient Roman province of Raetia (also spelled Rhaetia).
Hungary: 匈牙利, xiong ya li. “Hun teeth profit”. In Cantonese, 匈 is pronounced as “hung” and 牙 is pronounced as “nga”.
Could also be a reference to the myths that the Hungarians are descended from the Huns and the Xiongnu, a perennial northern rival of ancient Chinese dynasties, are the same as the Huns.
Italy: 意大利 , yi da li. “Hoping for/expecting big profits”. Sounds like 一大粒, “one big lump”.
Spain: 西班牙, xi ban ya. “Western class teeth” the sound is supposed to mimic Hispania.
Greece: 希腊, xi la. “Hope for BBQ”. Well, no, but “longing for cured meat” doesn’t sound as snappy. 腊 can also refer to the twelfth month of the Chinese calendar, so “hoping for the 12th month of the year” is another possibility.
Ireland: 爱尔兰, Ài’ěrlán. “Love your Orchid”. This is based on the sound of ‘Ireland’.
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Country Names in Chinese – The Americas:
Canada: 加拿大, jia na da. “Add grab big”
Mexico: 墨西哥, mo xi ge. “Ink west older brother”.
Haiti: 海地, hai di. “Sea land”.
Guatemala: 危地马拉, gua di ma la. “In the land of danger, the horse pulls”. This is the transliteration used in Mainland China. The Taiwanese use “瓜地马拉”: “In the land of melons, the horse pulls”.
Brazil: 巴西, ba xi. “Next to the West”
Chile: 智利, zhi li. “Favourable Wisdom”
Peru: 秘鲁, bi lu. “Unfriendly Secret”
America: 美国, meiguo. Beautiful country, first character means “beauty” on its own, that Chinese think America is a beautiful country, but again, don’t be fooled, its only because of the sound “mer” in “America”.
Country Names in Chinese – Asia + The Pacifics:
China: 中国, Zhong guo. “Middle kingdom” Through out Chinese history China and its people believed that they were the middle kingdom of earth.
Japan: 日本, ri ben. “Land of the Rising Sun” or “The suns origin”
Korea: 高丽, gao li. “Goryeo” This was the dynasty that ruled Korea from 900 AD to 1400
- South Korea: 韩国, han guo. This is the name that Koreans call themselves
- North Korea: 北朝鲜, bei chao xian. “North Joseon” Joseon was the dynasty that ruled Korea from 1400’s-1910
Australia: 澳大利亚, ao da li ya “Big bay, inferior profits”.
India: 印度 , yin du. “The degree of printing”
Singapore: 新加坡, xin jia po. “Newly added slope”
Vietnam: 越南, yue nan. “More south” Due to Vietnamese position to China and their long history.
Yemen: 也门, ye men. “Also door”.
Israel: 以色列, yi se lie. “According to color, list”, or “list according to color”.
Bhutan: 不丹, bu dan “Not red”
Cambodia: 柬埔寨, jian pu zhai. “Letter to the plain of the stronghold”
Malaysia: 马来西亚, ma lai xi ya.”Horse comes to West Asia”. Which is funny, because they are in Southeast Asia.
Thailand: 泰国 tài guó. Literally means “Country of peace”.
New Zealand: 新西兰 xīn xī lán. “New west orchid” or “New west orchid flowers”.
Indonesia: 印度尼西亚 yìn dù ní xī yà. “Print degrees Buddhist nun West Asia”. It’s a bit of a mouthful, so sometimes it’s simply shortened to 印尼 (yìn ní). “Print Buddhist nun”.
Philippines: 菲律賓 Fēi lǜ bīn “Fragrant law guest”
Country Names in Chinese – Africa:
South Africa: 南非, nan fei. Fei is from the name for Africa ‘feizhou’, means literally south Africa.
Chad: 乍得 Zhàdé ” Sudden Morality”.
Egypt: 埃及, ai ji. “Catching up to dust”.
Central African Republic: 中非共和国 Zhōng fēi gònghéguó. This one is a direct translation. 中 means central, 非 means Africa, and 共和国 is Republic.
Cape Verde: 佛得角 Fó dé jiǎo. “Buddha’s Virtuous Horn” or “Buddha’s Virtuous Cape” – Cape here as in promontory or headland rather than the garment.
Namibia: 纳米比亚, na mi bi ya. “Comparing extremely small profits”.
Djibouti: 吉布提 Jíbùtí. ” Carry the lucky cloth”
Gabon: 加蓬 Jiāpéng. “Add Fleabane” or “Add daisies”. Fleabane is a type of plant in the daisy family.
nǐ shì nǎ guó rén? 你是哪国人？ What country are you from? wǒ shì xīn xī lán rén. 我是新西兰人。 I am from New Zealand.
Countries in Chinese – FAQ’s
China in Chinese is 中国, zhong guo. This literally means Middle Kingdom.
United Kingdom in English is 英国, ying guo. This actually translates to great country or brave land!
To delve deeper:
England is 英格兰
Scotland is 苏格兰
Wales is 威尔士
Northern Ireland is 北爱尔兰
America in Chinese is 美国, mei guo which translates to beautiful country.
Germany in Chinese is 德国, de guo.
Russia in Chinese is 俄国 e guo. This has no literal translation and just means Russia!
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