Chinese transcriptions of Donald Trump's surname

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From the following post, we see that there are three main ways to transcribe Donald Trump's given name in Chinese and two main ways to transcribe his surname:

"Transcription of 'Barack Obama', 'Hillary Clinton', and 'Donald Trump' in the Sinosphere" (10/2/16)

Here are the two prevailing transcriptions of "Trump" in Chinese characters:

Tèlǎngpǔ 特朗普 (mainland China, Macau, Malaysia/Singapore) — 4,970,000 ghits

Chuānpǔ 川普 (Taiwan, Hong Kong, but also on the mainland, especially on the internet) — 1,570,000 ghits

N.B.:  The relative popularity of these two forms is shifting among different groups in all of the designated regions.

There are other transcriptions of Trump's surname, such as Dùlínpǔ 杜林普, which more nearly resembles the original German forms Drumpf, Drumb, Tromb, Tromp, Trum, Trumpff, Dromb… as spelled back in his ancestral village of Kallstadt, Germany.  Dùlínpǔ is MSM; 杜林普 would sound more like the German forms if pronounced in some of the southern topolects.

There are also playful renderings, such as Chuángpò 床破 (lit., "bed-broken").  Though popular for a while, such fanciful transcriptions are ephemeral and need not detain us in this post.

I also won't go into detail about a brand of toilet called Trump made in China (they claim that their brand name is completely unrelated to Donald Trump), except to note that the Chinese transcription of their brand name is Chuàngpǔ 创普 (lit., "create / initiate general / universal / popular / everywhere"), which means that they subscribe to the same phonological assumptions for rendering the consonant cluster "tr-" in Chinese as those which I shall discuss below.

"Light relief in China as lid lifted on toilets named ‘Trump’", by Clifford Coonan (a friend of mine) (The Irish Times, 3/18/16)

In this post, I would like to concentrate on the second most common way to transcribe "Trump" with Chinese characters, viz., Chuānpǔ 川普 (lit., "river general / universal / popular / everywhere").  The equation of the Mandarin initial "ch-" with the Germanic consonant cluster "tr-" will probably flummox many readers.  So let me adduce additional evidence to show that they are actually not that far apart.

A colleague who taught English at a Chinese university a while back informed me:

Some of my students in China told me they couldn't hear a difference between "tr" and "ch", so for example, "trump" = "chump". This is the first time I've noticed it affecting transcriptions.

What makes Chuānpǔ 川普 particularly endearing is that it not only transcribes "Trump", it also signifies a variety of Mandarin spoken in Sichuan.

N.B.:  As to why "Chuān 川" ("river") is the abbreviation for Sìchuān 四川, the latter name is popularly understood as referring to the "four [major] rivers" of the province, though the situation is actually a bit more complicated than that.

Richard Warmington shared the following definition of Chuānpǔ 川普 that someone anonymously submitted to CC-CEDICT:

Sichuanese pidgin (the mix of Standard Mandarin and Sichuanese dialect)

The person also sent along the following comment (which I've adapted to Language Log style):

I lived in Chengdu for some time and this term (Chuānpǔ 川普) is very common over there and in Sichuan in general. Basically, Chuānpǔ 川普 is a Sichuanese person's attempt at Putonghua (MSM); it can be almost indistinguishable from Sichuanese topolect, or just lightly accented Putonghua; there's no standard Chuānpǔ 川普. But usually it's accented Putonghua with some Sichuanese words, like ba1si2 巴适 ("good"), xiao3de2 晓得 ("know"), ga3ga3 嘎嘎 ("meat"), mao4pi2pi2 冒皮皮 ("boast"), ta2ta2 踏踏 ("place"), mo2dei / mei2de 没得 ("there isn't any; there are none"), yao4de 要得 ("all right"; the negation of that is yao4bu4de 要不得 ["not all right"]), etc.

[VHM: I'm not confident about the tones in Sichuanese — they are often quite different from those in MSM, and when Sichuanese and MSM are mixed up together, it can be a tonal jungle, er, jumble.  It seems that people speaking Chuānpǔ 川普 are deliberately putting MSM tones on Sichuanese expressions, which adds a note of tiáokǎn 调侃 ("ridicule") to this mixed language.]

Anyway, they usually make a clear distinction among Pǔtōnghuà 普通话 (MSM), Sìchuānhuà 四川话 ("Sichuanese"), and Chuānpǔ 川普 ("Sichuanese pidgin").  Hence the joke that a Sichuanese person can speak three languages.

More information in Chinese here.

There are Wikipedia articles on Chuānpǔ 川普 ("Sichuanese pidgin") here (in Chinese) and here (in English).

From these articles, we learn that Chuānpǔ 川普 ("Sichuanese pidgin") is also popularly called Jiāoyán Pǔtōnghuà 椒盐普通话 ("Pepper Salt Putonghua"), since these are two of the favorite seasonings of Sichuanese cuisine, and the term sounds very folksy, like the language itself.

For Sichuanese attraction to various sorts of pepper, see these posts:

"Wonton in Zanthoxylum schinifolium etzucc sauce" (5/6/15)

"The bearded barbarian" (8/26/15)

"Fragrant and Hot Marxism" (12/20/15)

Here is a Chinese article dedicated to "Pepper Salt Putonghua".

For Sichuanese and Chengdu Mandarin (not the same thing!), see these posts:

"English and Mandarin juxtaposed" (9/6/13)

"Mutual Intelligibility of Sinitic Languages" (3/6/09)

Judging from what my students who are from Sichuan tell me, their parents and their parents' friends enjoy speaking Chuānpǔ 川普 ("Sichuanese pidgin") and about Chuānpǔ 川普 ("Trump") to each other.

[Tom Bishop, Richard Warmington, Matthew Trueman, and Yixue Yang]


  1. V said,

    November 23, 2016 @ 9:28 am

    I was curious what Chinese versions of the actual ballot said. It looks like NYC ballots used 川普, LA and SF ones said 特朗普, and some other major cities didn't include a transcription:

  2. Andrew Bayles said,

    November 23, 2016 @ 9:46 am

    The choice of CH for and English TR cluster makes a lot of sense to me. When I was first learning Pinyin I wondered why they didn't just use TR for the retroflex and CH for the alveolopalatal (which is now written as Q). This same kind of alternation exists in Peru among native Quechua speakers, who often pronounce Spanish CH as a retroflex consonant. Some dialects of Quechua write this sound with TR, and others with CH.

  3. Andreas Johansson said,

    November 23, 2016 @ 10:07 am

    If you use TR for pinyin CH, you'd presumably use DR for pinyin ZH, but what'd you use for pinyin SH? I guess just R, and pinyin R get's the newly-freed J (as in W-G)?

  4. Andrew Bayles said,

    November 23, 2016 @ 10:27 am

    SH is a bit more difficult, but why not just SHR? I guess if you really want to be consistent, you could use SR.

  5. Edwin Schmitt said,

    November 23, 2016 @ 11:00 am

    Although it was mentioned in the previous discussion the use of 川普 is definitely more common on 微信. Most of my friends, though, are in Sichuan and I think they enjoy calling him 川普 specifically because of the reference to 四川普通话. However, as with all retroflexes in Sichuan, the CH is transformed into an alveolar (C) thus the initial consonant of 川 in actual 川普 is probably not a very good approximation of TR.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    November 23, 2016 @ 12:10 pm

    From Heidi Krohne:

    I never thought I'd ever stick up for Bavaria, but Kallstadt is not Bavarian, it is in the Pfalz.

  7. A-gu said,

    November 23, 2016 @ 1:54 pm

    Survey of Taiwan newspapers this morning indeed shows Chuānpǔ 川普 across all 4 major papers, though that might have evolved from the start of the campaign. Since the paeprs act as the de facto arbitrators for these things, it seems like Taiwan at least has settled the matter for themselves.

  8. Coby Lubliner said,

    November 23, 2016 @ 2:29 pm

    I remember hearing that Deng Xiaoping's Sichuan accent was so strong that his speeches had to be dubbed into Mandarin.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    November 23, 2016 @ 4:06 pm

    @Coby Lubliner

    Xi Jinping is the first president of China to speak Standard Mandarin.

    Chiang Kai-shek's Chekiang (Zhejiang) accent was so thick that you could cut it.

  10. Thomas Rees said,

    November 24, 2016 @ 1:31 am

    Heidi Krohne:
    Kurpfalz and Bavaria were united in 1777 when the Elector Palatine Charles Theodore inherited Bavaria. When Friedrich Trump was born in 1869, Kallstadt was certainly Bavarian sensu lato.

  11. mondain said,

    November 24, 2016 @ 3:27 am

    Trump uses 唐纳.川普 in his trademark dispute cases in China:

  12. Neil Kubler said,

    November 24, 2016 @ 4:49 am

    The initial sound in Chuānpǔ 川普 has already been discussed by Victor and others above. But I have no doubt the final -n in chuān is also a factor here. In normal Chinese speech, an -n final followed in close juncture by an initial labial consonant, like the -p in pu, is frequently assimilated to -m. For example, "pencil" qianbi > qiambi, or "3 dimes" sanmao qian > sammao qian. So instead of Chuānpǔ, what would actually be pronounced in rapid, colloquial conversation would often be Chuāmpǔ, which is that much closer to the English (actually, German) original!

  13. Victor Mair said,

    November 24, 2016 @ 12:44 pm

    @Thomas Rees

    Below I copy Heidi Krohne's response, but I want to preface it with a note of my own. Namely, in talking to Germans in general, I've often been taken aback by their animus against Bavarians, as though they were a bunch of crude country bumpkins. Could it all boil down to a matter of BEER vs. WINE? Or is that distinction merely a symptom of a deeper gulf that separates Bavarians from other Germans?


    Regardless of inheritance(s), tribally people remain who they are.

    Bavarians do not migrate, are a dense mountain people, beer drinkers and stick to their limited diet. They neither grow nor ever drink wine, are not epicureans as the wine growers who understand joie de vivre, wanderlust, and navigate their many rivers.

    If you were to live in Germany you'd be very aware of the differences.

    Just think of New Englanders for example. They hardly compare to southerners, or Californians to Iowans, yet they are all Americans. But the trouble with Bavarians is that they are unwilling to admit that they are part of Germany.

    Or is it something like Texas and America? And are there stark linguistic differences?

  14. quyet said,

    November 25, 2016 @ 1:12 am

    some Vietnamese netizens have taken to calling him Đỗ Nam Trung

  15. Carl Masthay said,

    November 25, 2016 @ 1:35 am

    Trump is a normal variant form of the original "Drumpf," a nonstandard variant of standard "Trumpf," meaning a 'drummer' from Trommel 'drum' (which is related to "trumpet" from Old French trompette 'little trump(et),' from 'trumpet, jew's harp'). Carl Masthay, St. Louis

  16. Victor Mair said,

    November 25, 2016 @ 8:26 am

    From Ulf Jäger:

    There is a big misunderstanding about the role of beer in Germany, but beer is a beverage spread all over Germany!!!

    You are right: usually US-Americans connect Bavaria and beer directly, but never think about all other local and historical beers.

    `Einbecker´is a famous beer from Einbeck / Niedersachsen, `Fürstenberg´ from the Bodensee-region in the South-West, `Krombacher´ from Krombach / Nordrhein-Westfalen, and I could add HUNDREDS of others here from all over Germany.

    And, by the way, there is no contradiction of beer and wine; it is only a question by which order you drink them:

    German proverb:

    „ Wein auf Bier, das rat´ ich Dir! Bier auf Wein, das lass´sein!“

    Translations here and here.

  17. Rodger C said,

    November 25, 2016 @ 12:45 pm

    "Whiskey on beer, never fear. Beer on whiskey, kinda risky."

  18. Victor Mair said,

    November 25, 2016 @ 7:15 pm

    From a Taiwanese friend:

    Regarding the Bavarians, when I was working in Germany (as a visiting researcher), I sensed that the German people treated them as aliens. I heard a few jokes about them.

  19. Jichang Lulu said,

    November 26, 2016 @ 6:46 am

    Wein auf Bier

    That has a number of Continental versions.

    Vin efter øl giver glade føl, øl efter vin giver fulde svin.
    Bier na wijn geeft venijn, wijn na bier geeft plezier.
    Bière sur vin ne vaut rien…

    Those may or may not come from the German. I think the French version is an Alsatian thing, so maybe yes. There's also a Belgian French rhyme that could be translated from the Dutch. Some people say that the Dutch originally warned about drinking beer later in life (i.e. becoming poorer), rather than e.g. during a meal.

    Don't know if there's a Russian saying but at any rate градус нельзя понижать i.e. ABV should be nondecreasing (over a drinking session).

    English auctoritates disagree. There's the nondecreasing ABV school as in Rodger C's comment, but also the nonincreasing

    Wine on beer makes you feel queer

    to the extent that's not the intended effect in the first place.

  20. Jichang Lulu said,

    November 26, 2016 @ 8:50 am

    Chinese names for Trump with a 'retroflex' affricate have parallels in Vietnamese (as per quyet's comment) and Tibetan. Several of the Tibetan transcriptions I quoted in my comment to Victor's pre-election post on this topic have an initial similar to pinyin ch- in the Lhasa standard.

    To the five pre-election (PRC and non-PRC) Tibetan names of Trump in that comment, I can now add ཊོམ་ཕུ་ Tom phu (RFA) and ཊམ་ Tam (CTA), apparently manifested post-election, both with retroflex initials. The closer you get to the Centre, the more you need to retroflect.

    If anything, what's remarkable is that transcriptions with pinyin ch- aren't more prevalent. As other commenters have said, they are certainly closer to the English than things like 特朗普. I think that's true for all English pronunciations of tr-, and especially so for those closer to chr- as discussed earlier on LL (the first comment is by Victor, who suggests he's of the chr-ising persuasion himself).

    More tr ~ ch in Chinese transcriptions:

    – 楚门的世界 The Truman Show (but Harry S. Truman is 杜鲁门)

    – Castro – in the news today as both 卡斯特罗 and 卡斯楚.

    In such cases, Mainland media tend to go with monstrosities like Telangpu because that's what the Xinhua official guides dictate. To their credit, they are consistent monstrosities, as I think pinyin ch- would be reserved for English ch-. The Xinhua transcription standards are multilingual, and their quality depends on the specific language being transcribed (my impression is that e.g. Russian is pretty well handled).

    And it goes both ways. Not only do people hear and transcribe tr- > pinyin ch- as in 'Trump', 'Truman' and 'Castro' above. Multiple transcription systems spell rechroflex affricates as stop plus -r-. Off the tropf of my head:

    – Vietnamese spelling (based on the Southern pronunciation) as in Trung in quyet's comment.

    – Tournadre's Tibetan transcription system, adopted by the THL (Tibetan and Himalayan Library), e.g. ཁྲོན་ཕུ་ (Wylie khron phu) gets a tr- initial.

    – Middle Chinese: reconstructed rechroflex initials are spelt with -r- by Pulleyblank and in Baxter's notation.

    The latter can cause an extraordinary amount of serendipity in some of the transcriptions Victor quotes. Those involving characters like 创 or 床 (not 川) were likely retroflex in Middle Chinese, reconstructible as clusters with an actual medial -r- in OC.

  21. Victor Mair said,

    November 27, 2016 @ 12:38 am

    I asked Michael Drompp if his surname were related to Drumpf, Drumb, Tromb, Tromp, Trum, Trumpff, Dromb, Trump…. Here is his reply:


    I suspect that the two names are indeed the same. I’ve done a bit of genealogical work (although it was a LONG time ago), and here is what I can tell you:


    · My ancestral village is Jagsthausen, in the modern state of Baden-Württemberg. My great-great grandfather, Gottlieb Drompp, emigrated from there to the U.S., settling in northern Indiana. One of his brothers emigrated a bit later. To my knowledge, all Drompps in the U.S. are descended from these two brothers. Most live in the Midwest.

    · There are no more Drompps in Jagsthausen, which I visited many moons ago (probably 35+ years, if memory serves), but I did have some relatives there when I visited; Heinrich Jauchstetter’s mother was a Drompp. I suspect he is long dead now. His children had all moved to bigger towns.

    · While there, I saw the ancestral home as well as the graveyard. From the latter I could see that the name had earlier been spelled Dromp. The second “p” was added at some time before the move to America, however, as both my great-great grandfather and his brother spelled it that way. I have no idea how the name went from one “p” to two.

    · Kallstadt is in the modern state of Rhineland-Palatinate (not Bavaria) and is about 130 km due west of Jagsthausen. If memory serves, in earlier times Jagsthausen was considered part of the Palatinate as well. So the two towns aren’t very far apart – one east of the Rhine (Jagsthausen) and one west of it (Kallstadt). Both are small – each has fewer than 2,000 inhabitants, I believe. And both are white wine-producing towns.

    · I’m afraid I can shed no light on the name’s meaning.


    So there you have it. If you find anything more about this, do let me know. I hope to get back to my genealogy one day, but who can say when that will be?


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