Desolate Era – Naming Sense – Thoughts?

Hey, it’s not often that I come to you guys for an opinion, but this is something that is driving me increasingly nuts, now that I’m doing so many chapters of Desolate Era. In short – how should I translate the names, or should I?  And how am I doing so far?

Coiling Dragon was different, because all of the names in Coiling Dragon were clearly Western names that were phonetically transliterated into Chinese (O’Brien to 奥布莱恩/Ao’bu’lai’en to O’Brien again); all I was doing was ‘reverting’ them back to the original Western.  Desolate Era, however, proves to be something of a special case.

Normally, and this might catch some by surprise, I am very strongly against translating names at all; I hated the fact that in, for example, the classic Wuxia novel, Duke of Mount Deer, John Minford translated Xiaobao as ‘Trinket’, and ‘Xuanye’ as ‘Misty’.  However, Desolate Era is causing me some trouble, and not just because IEatWatermelons had already started the current naming system (which I actually provided input on).

Here’s the problem; even in the original raws, IET used a hodgepodge naming system.  Unlike in CD, all the naming ‘grammar’ was in the Chinese style; surname 1st, personal name 2nd.  Hence, Ji Ning instead of Ning Ji.  I’ve maintained that in my translations as well (I often drop the surname to make it easier).  However, many other aspects of the naming system are completely non-Chinese.  In short, I’ve identified several ‘strains’ of names, and have been translating them differently:

1) Surnames: IET uses a mixture of them here.  Some of them, such as ‘Ji’, ‘Kou’, ‘Meng’ are actual Chinese surnames, and I haven’t touched them.  Others, such as Beishan (Northmont), Tiemu (Ironwood), Donghe/Beihe (Eastriver/Northriver) are clearly made up, ‘tribal’-type surnames that don’t exist in Chinese, and I’ve translated those.  This results in a weird mixture of Chinese surnames and translated surnames.

2) First names: IET uses a mixture here as well!  First, we have the clearly made up names, such as Spring Grass, Autumn Leaf; those I just translate entirely.  Then, there are names that were clearly chosen for the imagery they invoke, and which would almost never be used in Chinese as actual names, such as Blacktiger (Heihu) or Ninefire (Jiuhuo).  When the names have meaning but I find it hard to translate, I ‘blend’ them into a Western name, such as Forgard, whose name actually was 忘卫, ‘Wangwei’, literally ‘Forget Guard’.  But then, we have some names that could be real Chinese names that would sound terrible no matter how you translate it, like Ning (‘calm’), Baiwei (lit. ‘hundred small’), Diancai (‘palace talent’), Qinghe (‘young grain’), and more.  These, I leave untouched.

Similarly to above, this results in a weird mixture of Chinese-y names and translated names, and we end up with (what feels to me is) weird things where Northmont Baiwei is talking to his father, Northmont Blacktiger.

3) Daoist names/titles: These are easy enough; for the most part, I translate the Daoist titles literally or with a blend.

I guess my question to DE readers is – bearing in mind that it’s a bit of a hodgepodge in Chinese as well (a mixture of Chinese names, Daoist names, and ‘tribal’ names), is this hodgepodge mixture in English working for you?  For me, it feels weird to have a character with a ‘Chinese’ surname and an ‘English’ name, like Dong Seven, or Ji Ninefire, especially if/when they are talking to people with English surnames and Chinese names, such as Northmont Baiwei.  Still, I’m not able to find a better solution.  If I don’t translate the names at all (or just footnote heavily), a lot of the ‘extra flavor’ which the Chinese readers get is lost.  If I translate ALL the names, then that’s going to lose a lot of the cultural aspect.  So I continue to translate some but not all, as judiciously as I can…

Is this working for y’all?  Thoughts?

202 thoughts on “Desolate Era – Naming Sense – Thoughts?” - NO SPOILERS and NO CURSING

  1. As a non chinese speaker, nor any language that i dont get …

    It is really hard to get the deep meaning from chinese names. Even if you type in ji ning, i wont understand the meaning of it unless you explain it. If you put so many names like that in the story, all of the characters would lose their meaning and meshed together and its really hard tracking these characters. Not to mention when you add clans, locations etc.

    As a rule of thumb, i guess what you’ve been doing is fine.
    1. Translate to english if you can, but if it sounds weird, 1-2 chinese pinyin is ok.
    2. If you cant translate to english throughout the story, character explainations are welcomed to get the gist of the name.
    3. It is better if you are consistent in translating when it comes to the types of the name, for instance, you always translate clans, but you prefer to leave people names as is, or the other way around.

    Thats my 2 cents. But frankly speaking, you guys have done a wonderful job. Ive been having a hard time remembering names in mangas, especially manhwas, due to the korean names. But i have zero problems with your naming scheme so far. So keep it up i guess.

    1. I lack the ability to remember any of the Korean names in manhwas at all, same with most chinese name too just because they sound so much different than what they should be. Wasn’t until I just read the raws for the chinese novels did the names stick with me coz I know how hey should sound XD

    2. Pretty much agree with this here. That being said I think it has been going fairly well with the last few chapters with all the character introductions.

  2. I like the names you use, those are the ones i identify with the characters, whether that is because you started translating like that or not. It’s often i feel that names may be too simple if i read a english novel of some sort, but i don’t feel that way with the characters in DE at all.
    it doesn’t feel to me, through the names that there’s a deeper meaning to each name, like for example the author wanting it to be a meaning behind the name, like ”ji ning” with ning for calm, that makes sense. but all the others, blackcurrent, blacktiger etc. They feel more like standard names with no meaning behind them, and that’s why i think i actually kinda like you translate them.

    in short – i like that you translate names that seems to have no ”meaning” behind them.

  3. Just for me:

    1. Translating the titles/daoist names works just fine for me. If that would be original i think i would have quite a problem to remember who is who. Because if you know that the name hints special traits of the character it’s much easier! At least for me.

    2. The names yeaaahh, sometimes it feels weird, but i don’t see any better solution than what you are doing right now.

    So i conclude: You (and IEW) do (did) a fine job! I have nothing to complain about and i’m happy for the good translation (oh wait, where is the last DE chapter for today? 😛 XD)

  4. I think every choice you made was right.
    And unless pointed out it wont stick out to much

    So far naming sense are ok with me
    But thats just my opinion im glad to read chapters with whatever you come up with ^_^

  5. The name of the game is consistency. It doesn’t have to be particularly right, as long as it’s just so so and not wrong all is fine.

    If IEW started translating like this, and you continued it, I’d suggest keep going this way.
    Also, I admit I really like the way things are, so that’s a bonus for keeping as is.

    Keep up the great work!
    Best regards.

  6. I haven’t felt uncomfortable so far despite noticing the variety of names in this novel. RWX’s judgment has served well. As long as we’re not missing out on anything important, which I know RWX is mindful of when translating, then it seems perfectly fine to continue the current system.

    1. I also don’t think strictly abiding by a certain rule is wise. It can be a bad thing in the long run. The translator making decisions depending on the situation is best. We don’t want strange or awkward names resulting from forced-translation, or a host of foreign, confusing names that become difficult to keep track of due to not translating names at all.

    1. Are you going to repeatedly footnote the character name?
      If a character is coming back after a medium/long time, I have to remind you, most humans do not have eidetic memory and would not able to remember their name/what their name means.

  7. The naming sense so far seems the best balance to what the author intends. For example if all names is translated to chinese then the reader would not get the meaning behind the chinese name and why the author pick that name. I think you’ve done tremendously well with the naming of characters,places and techniques. Just my two cent.

  8. I’d say leave it as is it works fine so far and it might be a little confusing to switch it up at this point after being used to how it’s been so far.

  9. I would keep the way that your naming things. The only one that you listed that I prefered was Wangwei over Forgard, because Forgard doesn’t really give a sense of imagery through his name imo. For some I think its fine to just translate it directly if the English name keeps the imagery, and the deeper meaning without needing a translator note. Imo when translating you should need as few TNs as possible. But some just don’t translate well, like Baiwei, and Wangwei (imo). These could just have an honorable TN explaining the imagery as direct as possible (I know I’m contradicting myself, but theres no way around it here). I liked Ninefire, Blacktiger, Northmont and most of the other names you’ve directly translated.

    Overall though, I agree behind your reasoning that names should stay the same, but when they’re obviously not ‘formal’ names, names that are just two things crushed together (Blacktiger for example) I think its fine to do it the way that you are doing it. Also it would be mind crushingly confusing to have everything change all of the sudden!

    TLDR: I agree with your reasoning and arguments!

  10. In my opinion you’re doing great, Ren.
    Although English is far from being my native, I like how it’s turning out right now, since it’s much easier to comprehend and remember, unlike a bunch of Chineese names, that end up mixing together somwhere along the line and it becomes plain gibberish.
    I miss this in some other TLs, to be frank.

    Anyway, thx for your hard work!

  11. doesn’t bother me that much…the only thing i dont really like is the “senior-aprentice” thing, and i know its the right translation,just wondering if you could only say senior or something like that

  12. Keep it the way it is.
    They call it translation for a reason.
    When names are introduced that can be translated, it’s normally relevant. If it’s relevant and IN our language, we’ll be able to more accurately REMEMBER and understand the characters.


  13. Keep translating the same way you have been doing so far. When you look at what some people name their kids, these names are not that bad. Do a google search for “weird celebrity baby names 2015” and go to the first result ( You will see what I mean.

  14. Overall I think it works really well, you have a good blend and as you said, translating is great for helping non-chinese readers understand a name but even more so, if the main character was Calm, that would be very awkward. I do not think there is anything wrong and i love the way you are translating this so no need to change, but i have a couple idea’s as well.

    I think translating the names not only gives the non-chinese reader an easier time to understand a name, but also, an easier time to differentiate characters. As the names of the characters differ greatly after translating, it would be easier for readers to remember certain characters. Thus I have liked the way you translate what you can as long as it doesn’t sound rediculous.

    However, I think if you want to use chinese names, this could work very well. Keeping ALL the names chinese, in a glossary you could explain or translate the names there for other readers to realize/read what the names mean/find hidden meanings. Similarly you can reverse this and use all translated names and remind the readers of the original chinese name in the glossary.

    Another method i think would work is kinda like what you are currently doing. Change parts of a name when you can. Only, keep maybe the surname constantly chinese while translating the firstname of characters. This would help you be able to translate all names while keeping the culture and feel of the chinese novel.

    Just random thoughs, overall I love what you are doing and don’t think change is necessary but if this helps then awesome. 🙂 Thanks for the constant updates and REALLY GREAT Translations!!

  15. Hi RWX, I am new to the whole “Fantasy Martial Arts” Novel scene and probably been only reading them for about a month now. I really love reading them but to be honest being new the names get confusing and makes it hard to follow . I almost dropped desolate era cause of the names. I guess what I am trying to say is that….It’s great trying to stay true to the original work but I think keeping it simple is always the best route. I think as a western reader since we know nothing about the true meaning behind many names that keeping the name the same and simple throughout the novel will be alot easier to follow along and make for a great read. Thanks for the translation on a awesome LN.

  16. I’m fine with the way you’ve been translating the names so far ^-^ I’m already used to it so if you changed the naming style I think I might get confused. But in the end whatever is easiest for you is fine~ I’m just glad I have something to read! =D Thank you for translating DE!!!

  17. Just keep doing the way it is now, if you leave the names as they are in Chinese, it will just make our head explode trying to remember all the names and even pronouncing them is a pain.

  18. Personally I like the pinyin names for regular names, and translated names for the daoist names. IT depends on the situation like I don’t want a translated name for Nuwa but I might want one for ninelotus.

  19. You can just do it how Deathblade does it with his translations of ISSTH, where he translates the characters names into what they mean at the bottom of the page to give us some insight into who they are. Same thing with MGA and HJC, I think. Such as the recent MGA chaps with “Wuqing” and why the name was significant. Correct me if I’m wrong, in the case that you already do this… it’s 2am and I’m hungry.

    Any road, I think your translations are perfect. However, I do like how you did it with CD. I prefer to see them go by their Daoist names because it’s easier for me to think of, and quicker too. With all the stories me and my friend read, our conversations are mostly just trying to figure out which character actually belongs to which story, which is difficult. MGA from ATG (they’re really quite similar…), etc.

    Good job so far, and looking forward to more DE! Thanks for the hard work.

  20. i like the current naming sistem.
    having everything in chinese with footnotes also isn’t bad, but it becomes really difficult remembering all the characters.
    though the english-chinese mixture is indeed strange, i’ve come to think of it as a characteristic of this novel… and the tribal feeling was conveyed perfectly.

    i liked a comment i read here: it would be nice if the first time a character with a translated name appears you write the original near it (like you did in CD)

  21. As a bilingual speaker (Chinese and English), i would prefer if the names are not translated. As far as readers go, names are just words that help identify characters, there is no real need to know the true meaning of their names unless it is essential for the plot of the story. To quote one of your examples, Beishan (Northmount) is quite an eccentric name and the readers would not really need to know the direct translation.

    That being said, if you do go to not translating the names, please do not change some of the existing translated names since we the readers will get confused on who is who. If you suddenly change Northmount to Beishan many would be confused.

  22. I actually like the hodgepodge of names …
    It gives both that eastern feel as well as the more western touch, giving you the feeling that the world has a large amount of different type of people in it. Not just eastern and not just western.

    For some names it’s nice to know the rough translation behind them (by actually translating them), as you’ve been doing…
    and for a name like Ji Ning, it’s enough to know that Ning means calm. It definitely doesn’t need to be translated as well.

    My suggestion would be to keep doing what you’ve been doing, cause it seems to work. And just drop a small translation towards the untranslated names with the actual meaning, like Ning/calm under the translation whenever something new comes up … underneath the actual chapter.

    And mayhaps make an index of names with translations/meanings on another page.

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