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Help me spell Burmese names correctly!
May 7, 2009 11:41 AM   Subscribe

Spelling question involving names of people from Burma. (Or Myanmar, if you prefer dictatorial nomenclature.)

How would you spell names that sound phonetically like the following:

- San Lai

- Ji

Thanks!
posted by hazelshade to Writing & Language (8 answers total)
 
There's no official way of spelling Burmese words in the Roman alphabet. But particular people or families — especially ones that emigrate to a country that does use the Roman alphabet — can have a preferred spelling.

(Think of it like Chinese. The same Chinese family name can be spelled Chu, Choo, Zhu, Zhū, Chew, and probably other ways besides. But our Secretary of Energy and his family spell it Chu, and writing his name Steven Choo or Steven Zhu or whatever would be weird.)

Long story short — can you ask them how they spell it? (Or are these names of strangers?)
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:46 PM on May 7, 2009


What nebula said. Anywich way they prefer seems ok. Having said that, if you're not in a position to ask them I would give it a Yi instead of a Ji. Also ask somebody Burmese to make a Burmese name for you. I'm Mickey Maung, which I use when I book a room in a shady motel. (Kings bed for the Maung Party, please)
posted by ouke at 12:57 PM on May 7, 2009


if you're not in a position to ask them I would give it a Yi instead of a Ji.

That makes no sense: if it "sounds phonetically like" Ji, it certainly doesn't start with y. The normal way to represent what sounds like English j is gy (as in Bagyidaw).
posted by languagehat at 1:27 PM on May 7, 2009


It looks like there is an US Library of Congress official romanization for Burmese

http://www.usamyanmar.net/Burma/Romanization/br.htm

@nebulawindphone - Pinyin is an international standard for Chinese. There are different spellings because of either dialect or because of older phoenic systems such as Wade-giles.
posted by wongcorgi at 3:00 PM on May 7, 2009


I teach ESL and have had Burmese students whose names are written "Kyi" but pronounced something closer to "Chi" or "Ji". Actually, it seems that way for a lot of Burmese names; what is written as "ky" is actually said with a "ch" or maybe "j" sound.

Also, there are lot of students who have Kyi in their name somewhere, so I'd hazard a guess that your "Ji" person is in fact named Kyi.

I've also met a lot of people named "San" (and "Sang", for that matter), so that part is probably fine. Not really sure about the "Lai" part though.

HOWEVER: the people of Burma speak at least four or five different languages, so this may be completely inaccurate for your people!
posted by miraimatt at 3:01 PM on May 7, 2009


Thanks, everyone, for the responses - I can't ask these people how their names are spelled, unfortunately (I'm transcribing a video narration), but this is helpful. Thanks!
posted by hazelshade at 5:14 PM on May 7, 2009


@nebulawindphone - Pinyin is an international standard for Chinese. There are different spellings because of either dialect or because of older phoenic systems such as Wade-giles.

Right, good point. I didn't mean that there was no standard for Chinese — just that it's polite to respect people's choice of spelling whenever there's different romanizations floating around, and Chinese is a nice familiar example of that.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:36 PM on May 7, 2009


I'd hazard a guess that your "Ji" person is in fact named Kyi.

While that's possible, kyi sounds more like "chi" and gyi more like "ji."
posted by languagehat at 7:15 AM on May 8, 2009


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