From Eccentric Flower



Here's a pleasantly simple one.



The first character means BEAUTIFUL and also sometimes means "America."


The next is the character (and radical) HEART.


The third you may recognize as PASTRY (or small baked goods), and the fourth is "house" or "room."

(There are a lot of characters that can mean "house" in one context or another. You already saw HOME at the Golden Palace, and you'll see it again. You won't see the one above again in our examples; it is usually used to mean a room of a house, not the whole thing.)

Now, here's the little joke: "Beautiful Heart" ("mei xin" in putonghua) sounds like "Maxim." So this is indeed the Maxim Pastry House. Or, if you prefer, the Maxim Pastry Room.

When choosing characters to sound like an English name, the game is to pick ones which also have a pleasant Chinese meaning. Or, vice versa, if you have a Chinese meaning in mind, it's good if it sounds like an English name. (If you read the Coca-Cola digression on the previous page, you understand the penalties for getting it wrong.) The idea of "Maxim" for BEAUTIFUL HEART is common enough that I have seen similarly-named businesses in four Chinatowns across the US and Canada so far.

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The Chinese did not choose "beautiful" to mean "America" strictly to win our goodwill. This is another example of matching a nice meaning to similar phonemes. "Mei guo," "beautiful nation," sounds somewhat similar to "America." Well, okay, only somewhat.

Most Western nations - relative latecomers to the Chinese - generally get given semi-phonetic names like that. ("Ying guo" is England.) Countries that they've coexisted with forever - like Japan - have more interesting names. The Chinese call Japan "ri ben," "sun's origin," very similar to our "land of the rising sun."


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