Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Michelle Obama Translated (Czech and Chinese)

Prague, Czech Republic, December 2009. I saw this image of First Lady (and cultural icon) Michelle Obama during my holiday travels abroad. Here, her surname is rendered in Czech as Obamová.

This name transformation follows the Czech practice of rendering female surnames as grammatically feminine adjectives (often a modified form of the husband's name). This practice seems to work well with Obama, as her name already ends in a vowel. Other names like, say, Hillary Rodhamová Clintonová seem to me quite awkward.

Above, an example of how the First Lady's name can take different forms even in the US (here, a promotional book cover seen in DC Chinatown, November 2009). The translation of "Obama" as 奥巴馬 (here, 奥巴马  = ào bā mǎ) has become standard in Chinese-language media; "Michelle" is somewhat malleable but is most often rendered as 米歇爾 (here, 米歇尔 = mǐ xiē ěr).


  1. I fondly remember seeing biographies of Katherine Hepburnova and Nancy Reaganova in the windows of Prague booksellers.

  2. Dr. Cleveland - I love it! "Reaganova" actually rolls off the tongue quite well...