Non-Chinese politicians in Canada give themselves Chinese language names for campaigning

Niko Bell took a detailed look at the practice of non-Chinese Canadian politicians choosing Chinese names for campaigning:

This election, unlike the provincial election in 2017, showed some clear differences between parties when it came to Chinese names. In the twelve central Lower Mainland ridings I searched, the Liberal party led the way with seven non-Chinese candidates displaying Chinese names on their campaign signs or literature. The Conservatives, on the other hand, by far led in actual candidates of Chinese origin (seven, to the Liberal and NDP’s one each) but only fielded one non-Chinese candidate who used a Chinese name in her own campaign.

The process of translating a Western-style name into Chinese is difficult:

While many East Asian names, for example Korean or Japanese names, can be translated directly into Chinese characters, Western names present a problem. As a character-based language, Chinese has no bite-sized phonetic components with which to build foreign sounds, and no dedicated script for writing foreign words as in Japanese. The only way forward is to use Chinese characters, preferably ones with innocuous or pleasant meanings, to sound out foreign names.

That lengthy group of symbols posted above is basically gibberish at first glance:

If you read this series of characters semantically (as I did when I first discovered them in a newspaper), you are confronted with the nonsensical phrase “hope pull inside eyeliner peace net ethical nanny conquer forest mound.” An experienced reader of Chinese, however, instantly recognizes the phrase as nonsensical and instead reads it phonetically, rendering, of course, “Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton.”

Trying to find an elegant solution requires tradeoffs:

Each of these methods has its benefits and drawbacks. The upper two styles, which only translate one name, are simple and straightforward, but also read as childish and inauthentically Chinese (I happen to like Garfinkel’s name, but for complex reasons). This is about as sophisticated as a French woman named Françoise Duchamps translating her name into English as “Fran Swazzy.”

The second two styles are both generally more satisfying. The Chinese style name maintains the East Asian convention of placing surname first, but by doing so muddles the resemblance between how the names sound when spoken aloud. An attentive Chinese speaker could hear that “Shane Simpson” and “Xian Chongshan” were the same name, but might struggle to match “George Heyman” with “He Zuozhi.”

You can read Bell's rankings of the the made-up Chinese names of the 2019 Canadian federal election here.