If you’re at all familiar with pinyin, this is a nice little game:

OK, here are 30 Western writers:
(1) Camus. (2) D.H. Lawrence. (3) Bunyan. (4) Trollope. (5) Pushkin. (6) Edgar Allen Poe. (7) Donne. (8) Rousseau. (9) Yeats. (10) Cervantes. (11) George Bernard Shaw. (12) Wells. (13) Dante. (14) Chaucer. (15) Dostoyevsky. (16) Kipling. (17) Goethe. (18) Kafka. (19) Dos Passos. (20) James. (21) Fitzgerald. (22) Keats. (23) Aristophanes. (24) Gogol. (25) Hardy. (26) Charlotte Brontë. (27) Johnson. (28) Thackeray. (29) Flaubert. (30) Shelley.
Now here, in a different order, are the pinyin transcriptions of their Chinese names.
(a) Guogeli. (b) Xiaobona. (c) Alisituofen. (d) Saiwantisi. (e) Zhanmeisi. (f) Gede. (g) Danding. (h) Yuehansheng. (i) Puxijin. (j) Qiaosou. (k) Duosi-Pasuosi. (l) Jiamiao. (m) Tangen. (n) Tuosituoyefusiji. (o) Yezhi. (p) Fuloubai. (q) Feicijielade. (r) Xialuoti-Bolangte. (s) Jici. (t) Kafuka. (u) Sakelei. (v) Jibulin. (w) Ailun-Po. (x) Xuelai. (y) Teluoluopu. (z) Hadai. (aa) Lusuo. (bb) Banyang. (cc) Weiersi. (dd) Laolunsi.
Your task is to match off the second list with the first. You have five minutes to do this, starting� now.

I got them all, but managed Tangen only by process of elimination, and I’m still not sure how it works. (Via Odious and Peculiar, who got it from John Derbyshire.)
Warning: Don’t go into the comment thread if you’re still working on the puzzle; the first commenter posted the answers!


  1. This is my best guess… what are the answers? I hopped through the links, but to no avail, unless I’m blind.
    There were some that sounded as if they could potentially go with several, so I’ve probably got some of them confused.
    (1)Camus – (l)Jiamiao
    (2)D.H. Lawrence – (dd) Laolunsi
    (3)Bunyan – (bb)Bangyang
    (4)Trollope – (y)Teluoluopu
    (5)Pushkin – (i)Puxijin
    (6)Edgar Allen Poe – (w)Ailun-Po
    (7)Donne – (m)Tangen
    (8)Rousseau – (aa)Lusuo
    (9)Yeats – (o) Yezhi
    (10)Cervantes – (d) Saiwantisi
    (11)George Bernard Shaw – (b)Xiaobona
    (12)Wells – (cc)Weiersi
    (13)Dante – (g)Danding
    (14)Chaucer – (j)Qiasou
    (15)Dostoyevsky – (n)Tuosituoyefusiji
    (16)Kipling – (v) Jibulin
    (17)Goethe – (f) Gede
    (18)Kafka – (t)Kafuka
    (19)Dos Passos -(k)Duosi-Pasuosi
    (20)James – (e) Zhanmeisi
    (21)Fitzgerald – (q)Feicijielade
    (22)Keats – (s)Jici
    (23)Aristophanes – (c)Alisituofen
    (24)Gogol – (a)Guogeli
    (25)Hardy – (z) Hadai
    (26)Charlotte Bronte – (r)Xialuoti-Bolangte
    (27)Johnson – (h) Yuehansheng
    (28)Thackeray – (u) Sakelei
    (29)Flaubert – (p)Fuloubai
    (30)Shelley – (x)Xuelai

  2. ah, I wasn’t so quick; took me about 11 mins.
    that linguistics class paid off since so many of the pinyin refer to characters whose cantonese pronunciations make (marginally) more sense.
    thanks for the great post!

  3. bad, bad.
    posting answers ruins it for those who just discovered the challenge!

  4. I’ve been told that these names of famous writers, even if derived from their surnames, are like “styles” or nicknames and cannot be used by others with the same surname. IE, I am not an Ai-mo-sheng.

  5. The correspondences
    (9) Yeats – (o) Yezhi
    (22) Keats – (s)Jici
    are interesting in juxtaposition; does the vowel influence the finals in this pattern in general, or is it just one of those crufty things?

  6. Wonderful!

  7. It took me about 20 minutes, and the ones that were hopeless process-of-elimination decisions were Camus, Donne, Johnson, and the one that’s his first name instead of his last name (not fair!).
    The hardest part is how “ai” refers to both [er] and [i], and “ei” refers to both [i] and (the unpronounced “e” in “James”).
    Also, K becoming J, but I knew that already.

  8. Tangen is “Donne, John.” Tan = Donne, Gen = John.

  9. zuzentzailea says

    Easy down to the point where Zhanmeisi, Danding, Yuehansheng, Jiamiao, and Tangen are left to be distributed amongst Camus, Donne, Dante, James, and Johnson, at which point I think they’re having a lend of me.

  10. “John” seems to be interpreted as “Johann” in this kind of thing. I believe I’ve seem that before.

  11. Tangen is “Donne, John.” Tan = Donne, Gen = John.
    Thanks! But how do they get Gen for John (compare Yuehansheng for Johnson)??

  12. Zuzentzailea, Jiamiao isn’t too hard if you notice the pattern in Puxijin, Tuosituoyefusiji, Jici, and Jibulin.

  13. David Marjanović says

    does the vowel influence the finals in this pattern in general, or is it just one of those crufty things?

    I think what’s going on is that southerners don’t retroflex. If you read zhi as zi, you’re a lot closer…

  14. Luo-se-fu Road, meaning “Roosevelt Road”, is one of the main streets in Taibei. To me the sound is very pleasant.
    I also remember a hsin-i (xin-yi) road, which by extrapolation from Matthews should mean “Justification by Faith Road” (or more likely “Lutheran Road”). I never was able to check out whether that guess was right. There were a number of high-level Christians in the Nationalist Army, if I’m not mistaken.

  15. KCinDC: but all those examples you mention have roughly [ki] in the source language, which I know palatalized to <ji> in Chinese comparatively recently. Camus however hasn’t, and would come out more closely as Gamu, Gamiu, something like that. The anomalous ones are just very far from the closest you would come up with knowing the pronunciations of Chinese and the source names.

  16. You sure it isn’t Tang-en, not Tan-gen?
    Like maybe, 唐恩.

  17. A quick Google reveals 多恩 Duō’ēn for John Donne.

  18. Also found 约翰邓恩, where 约翰 is, of course, Johann, and 邓恩 is Dèng’ēn.

  19. Also 约翰·唐恩 (Táng’ēn) and 约翰·都恩 (Dōu’ēn).
    Seems like there is no unanimity on this guy’s name. Sometimes in cases like this one might suspect Japanese influence, but 唐恩 is Tō’on in Japanese, which is not right because it doesn’t start with a ‘d’.

  20. John: The “hsin” and the “yi” in “Hsinyi” are two separate things–two of the “eight virtues” or “ba de.” They are, in pairs, chung-hsiao, jen-ai, hsin-i, and ho-p’ing. Those should sound familiar to any Taipei resident.

  21. Yes indeed — takes me back 30 years!

  22. I do remember those streets in Taipei, especially “Hoping Road”, so labelled in English on a sign. (And we’re all hoping for peace, aren’t we?)

  23. With regard to Donne, note also that Ron (Weasley) in the Taiwanese translation of Harry Potter is 榮恩 Róng’ēn. So it is not just a ‘one-off’. I’m not sure of the reason for this phenomenon.

  24. David Marjanović says

    AFAIK there is some way to blame Cantonese for the gajia confusion.

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