I have some literature written by Chinese authors who I would like to attribute in my bibliography with their names in Chinese characters (汉字). The problem is that, as the literature itself is not in Chinese, their names appear only in their romanized form (Pīnyīn or Wade–Giles).

What resources can I use to find out the correct characters for their names, e. g. library catalogues with both forms given, author lists, etc.?

I am not only looking for Chinese names but Japanese ones as well.


Examples include:

  • Pao, Erh-li / Ying Cheng (1982): Wörterbuch der chinesischen Redensarten. Chinesisch–deutsch; Tetragramme des modernen Chinesisch [= 漢語成語]. Berlin, New York: de Gruyter.
  • Huang, Yankai (1964): A dictionary of Chinese idiomatic phrases. Hong Kong: Eton Press.
  • Hisa, Michitaro (1896): Some Japanized Chinese Proverbs. In: The Journal of American Folklore 9, 33, pp. 132–138.

I don't know much about other languages. I'll answer the question in Chinese case since I am a native Chinese speaker.

The literature you have is not in Chinese. The best way is to contact the authors. They will give you the correct answer.

As far as I know, there is no such reliable resources at the moment. There is no unique and consistent way of translation between English name and Chinese name. As you already know, Pīnyīn and Wade–Giles are two of them. I don't think there is one-to-one correspondence relation. There are other issues, such as traditional Chinese character and simplified character. You won't know the correct answer unless the author tells you.

If you have no way to contact them, try their collegues or others who might know. Don't use the Chniese name unless you are sure. Use whatever the name appears in the literature if you are not sure.

  • 1
    @brian-ammon A complete list would be a huge effort if not impossible. For example, "Wong Ping" can correspond to at least 100 names in Chinese. Not to mention three character names. You can calculate the number of possible combinations.
    – Nobody
    Jun 1 '13 at 11:55
  • 1
    @O.R.Mapper I do know what the OP is asking. I personally know two Chinese scholars. They are in the same field (CS). Different Chinese namess. But same names in English. Because of the name conflict, one of them decided to change his English name. The new name became his official name when he naturalized to be a US citizen. As I said in my answer, the best way is to ask the author.
    – Nobody
    Nov 21 '14 at 2:36
  • 2
    @O.R.Mapper I'll try to explain to you my own personal experience. The second character of my own Chinese name (it's in my profile) is easily mixed up with another character. I always get upset about this. Authorship is so important in Academia (we are here, right?) Sometimes, I wish people would ask me first before they mistakenly used the wrong name. My answer is based on this personal experience. As matter of fact, other answers are gearing toward to the same direction. Japanese is about the same. My opinion is, if it's a personal project, fine. If used by anyone else, better ask first.
    – Nobody
    Nov 21 '14 at 8:10
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    @O.R.Mapper As I said in the answer, the database(catalogue) does not exist, as far as I know. The main reason is the transliteration is not one-to-one correspondence and there are many ways to form an English name from a Chinese name and vise versa. It's a very complicated issue. If you are interested, I would suggest you to visit Chinese Language SE to ask a question there to see what others think.
    – Nobody
    Nov 21 '14 at 8:40
  • 1
    Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – Nobody
    Nov 21 '14 at 8:49

Transliteration between major East Asian languages and Latin alphabet orthography is not a bijection, which means that the exact same spelling of an Asian name in Latin alphabet can correspond to many different spellings in their native language and vice versa. It's somewhat similar to how you can't tell if it's "principal" or "principle" by just hearing the sound /prɪnsəpəl/. In this example, pronunciations and spellings are not a bijection.

This problem is particularly severe for certain names such as typical Chinese names, so some journals allow Asian authors to write their names in their native languages to mitigate the difficulty in identifying a researcher. For instance, see this editorial by American Physical Society: Which Wei Wang?

I was born, raised, and educated all the way up to my Ph.D. in Japan. But I can't tell how my namesakes in Latin alphabet would spell their names in Japanese because they may not be namesakes in our native language. The exact spelling in Latin alphabet may not always mean the same pronunciation in Japanese either.

So, there is no easy resource to resolve names in Latin alphabet back to their original spellings. Sometimes you might be able to make a fairly reliable educated guess if you're as proficient in the Asian languages as native speakers. But you'd run into the Asian version of Steven vs. Stephan and Erica vs. Erika. So, I'd recommend you ask the person(s) directly unless you have definite evidence such as a copy of a recent paper written by them in their native language.

  • Now I learn that Japanese is about the same.
    – Nobody
    Jun 1 '13 at 4:10

I am aware of this

If you're already aware of the transliteration problem but still asking the question, then I assume you have other information about the authors to help identify them, e.g., affiliations. If that's the case, I'm curious why you don't use the most useful searchable database, namely https://www.google.com/ Depending on how much information you have (and possibly how proficient in the target languages), you'll eventually be able to identify them in their native languages unless you're talking about very obscure or older-than-the-internet authors. Since the authors you want to identify wrote something in foreign languages, I think chances are they have personal or official websites that have their names both in Latin alphabet and in their native languages. If they don't, you may find some pages that help you identify them in their native languages.

I don't get why you think a database on literature is particularly useful for that purpose either. You can use any available resource. For instance, if the authors you want to identify are active Japanese researchers, you can search them in one of the researcher databases found here: http://read.jst.go.jp/ (in Japanese) http://read.jst.go.jp/index_e.html (in English). (The English version is the first hit on google for "japanese researcher database" by the way. You'd run into these sites very frequently if you google Japanese researchers, too.)

Anyway, as an example, assume you want to know, say, the Japanese spelling of my former Ph.D. supervisor Masakazu Jimbo at Nagoya University. And you want to avoid navigating the internet in Japanese as much as possible while searching. Then, you go to the English version of Read & Researchmap, click "Researcher Search" to get to the researcher search page, and do the usual search with the information you have (i.e., the name is spelled Masakazu Jimbo and he's at Nagoya University). You'll be directed to his information in English. Then you switch to the original Japanese page by clicking 日本語 to check how to spell his name in Japanese.

Of course, you don't need to use the Read & Researchmap to know his name in Japanese. You can simply google him. If you know publication titles and his name in Latin alphabet, you can surely locate his personal website, where you can see how to spell his name in Japanese.

Exactly what kind of situation are you in? You talk about literature, so I assumed you wanted to cite/quote works by Chinese and/or Japanese authors. And you say those works are not in their native languages, which, I assume, means that you know more about the authors than just their transliterated names (unless you're trying to cite/quote them without reading them). Was the additional information you have not enough to identify them through google? Are libraries' databases and such on books etc. really the only kind you can identify them with what you already know about them? Maybe, they're from 19th centuries or something or way too obscure for the internet to be of use? Or is this question "What resources can I use to find out the correct characters for their names?" asked as a very very broad inquiry for Internet Search 101? If that's the case, it's too broad to answer because you don't tell us what you already know about the authors and why you can't identify them through usual means like google.

  • I have added three examples of my literature so you may comprehend my situation. Jun 1 '13 at 16:46
  • I'm repeating myself, but are you citing/quoting them without reading them? What does the 1982 book say about the authors' affiliations etc., for example? Was it not enough to find the original spellings in some way? The third one seems tough, but a casual googling tells me he's most likely the guy who co-authored "Lyrics of Li-Tʻai-Po," where you can find his brief bio. How about asking Doshisha University (同志社大学) about him? They may have a record of their past faculty and even keep his publication list or something, so you can be sure this Michitaro Hisa is indeed the one you're looking for. Jun 1 '13 at 17:15
  • The methods you describe are the ones I have already been using and have found them to be—in some cases at least—quite tedious. As the paper I am writing is extremely short and as I am not required to give the correct name forms (I just thought it to be a courtesy to my supervisor), the thought of contacting the (former) universities seems a little overblown to me. What I originally had in mind when I was asking this question was more sources like WorldCat with (sometimes) both forms given: worldcat.org/title/chinese-proverbs-with-bilingual-text/oclc/… Jun 1 '13 at 17:31
  • @brian-ammon I don't understand why you would even think it wouldn't require tedious legwork to find the original spelling of the author of a 120 years old paper from Far East... Anyway, if you're saying you're not that serious about it, I don't know how to reliably resolve Asian names back to their originals without much effort. Jun 1 '13 at 17:53
  • Actually, what I expected was tedious legwork (as encountered), yet I had not given up the hope for an easier way—sometimes it is out there and one just does not happen to know about it. But this is exactly what I feared. Thanks for your efforts, nevertheless. Jun 1 '13 at 18:03

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