Alex Ovechkin arrived in Beijing on Sunday to kick off a week as the NHL’s hockey ambassador to China.
He was greeted in the Beijing airport with shouts of “Ovi!” from Chinese fans who had awaited his arrival, but it was Ovechkin’s Chinese name that caught my eye.
The Capitals included Ovechkin’s Chinese name in a tweet welcoming him to China.
An authentic welcome for #Gr8inChina
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) August 4, 2019
The Capitals captain has been dubbed 奥八爷 (Ào bā yé), which roughly sounds like “Oww bah yeh.”
In China, most foreign brands get transliterated, syllable by syllable, and have no particular meaning. You’ve probably seen this at work on most of the signage on the storefronts surrounding Capital One Arena, which is located in DC’s Chinatown. For example, McDonald’s becomes Mài dāng láo and Cava Mezze becomes Kǎ fà.
But Ovechkin’s Chinese name was likely selected by a marketing team, with the intention of simplifying his name for Chinese audiences and creating a name that’s both meaningful and memorable.
Most Chinese names contain between two or three characters. The first character in Ovechkin’s Chinese name, which would typically be his surname, is 奥 or Ào. This is a transliteration of the “O” sound in English, and it’s the same character the Chinese use to sound out the beginnings of the words “Austria” or “Obama.”
The second character in Ovechkin’s Chinese name is 八 or Bā which means eight. This could only be intentional, as there are plenty of other characters that make the same or similar sound. Ovechkin, of course, wears number eight with the Capitals, but the number eight is also a lucky number in Chinese culture.
The last character in Ovi’s name is 爷 or Yé. This character means grandfather, but it’s not a commentary on Ovi’s rapidly graying hair. The word also has the connotations of a pro, someone who has mastered something.
Put together, Ovechkin’s Chinese name serves the purpose of being phonetically similar to his last name, but also roughly conveying the same meaning as his nickname in the NHL: “The Great Eight.”
Whether that name is used consistently across the Chinese market is unclear. Most of the Chinese fans in the videos that the Capitals have posted have called Ovechkin by his English name, or just Ovi.
In another photo posted by the Capitals, a more direct transliteration of Ovechkin’s name was used: 奥维契金 or Ào wéi qì jīn.
Searches on Baidu, China’s equivalent of Google, show usage of both of Ovechkin’s Chinese names. Chinese sports fans also frequently come up with their own nicknames or witty puns to refer to North American sports stars.
Headline photo: @Capitals
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