British Columbia·Video

Prince George's mayor has a Lunar New Year gift for the city: a poetic Chinese name

The name coined by Mayor Simon Yu for Prince George — which is pronounced like 'P.G.' and means 'foundation of tributaries' — is the latest in a long history of poetic monikers for B.C. cities created by Chinese Canadians, some of which have entered semi-official use in Chinese-language media.

The name 㵨基, coined by Simon Yu, sounds like 'P.G.' and means 'foundation of tributaries'

A man with blazer, black shirt and red scarf stands on the left, and a framed map with a Chinese word on it is displayed on the right.
Prince George Mayor Simon Yu in his office with a framed map of Summit Lake, which inspired his Chinese name for the city. (Nadia Mansour/CBC)

The mayor of Prince George, B.C., has a special present for his municipality as it marks the new Lunar New Year this week.

It's a poetic new Chinese name thought up by Simon Yu himself: 㵨基 — pronounced "pee jee" in Mandarin, the same as the central B.C. city's initials — which means "foundation of tributaries," according to the classical Kangxi Dictionary.

Yu said the name was inspired by Summit Lake, located in a watershed about 50 kilometres north of the city. He said it also aligns with the name of the area's First Nation, Lheidli T'enneh, which in the Carrier language means "people from the confluence of two rivers," namely the Nechako and the Fraser.

It's the latest in a long history of poetic monikers for B.C. cities created by Chinese Canadians, some of which have entered semi-official use in Chinese-language media.

Yu, Prince George's first mayor of colour and of Chinese descent, says he's spent more than a decade researching a new name for his city, which Canada's Chinese media commonly calls 喬治王子市, pronounced "chao jee wang zee shee" in Mandarin and literally meaning "city of Prince George."

"[The current name's] phonics is a little bit long," he said. "[Chinese names of] most cities around the world, such as New York and London, normally have only two syllables."

WATCH | Simon Yu explains the meaning of Prince George's new Chinese moniker:

Prince George's mayor shows off his Chinese calligraphy skills

2 months ago
Duration 2:23
Simon Yu, Prince George's first mayor of Chinese descent, uses an ink brush to write Fai Chun decorations and the Chinese name he coined for the city.

Names should look good and sound good

Jan Walls, a retired Chinese studies professor formerly with Simon Fraser University, says Canada doesn't have a government agency to decide official Chinese names of its cities. 

In the past the task mostly fell to Chinese-language newspaper editors, who were mostly Cantonese-speaking immigrants in the country's early history, he adds.

Several men read newspapers pinned on the wall outside a building.
Chinese Canadians read newspapers pinned on a wall outside The Chinese Times (大漢公報) building on East Pender Street in Vancouver, in an undated photo taken sometime between 1960 and 1980. Retired professor Jan Walls says many B.C. cities' Chinese names were coined by editors of Chinese-language newspapers. (City of Vancouver Archives (CVA 780-472))

Walls explains this is why many B.C. cities' Chinese names sound more like the English name when spoken in Cantonese than in Mandarin.

Each Chinese character used to imitate an English sound bears a meaning, Walls said, so Chinese Canadians have always tried to ensure transliterated names both look good and sound good.

"The Chinese have to be more sensitive to the vibes of every syllable that they use," he said.

Cantonese vs. Mandarin

As more Mandarin speakers immigrated to B.C., Chinese media editors felt a need to adjust cities' names to make them sound right to this newer audience.

Walls takes Vancouver as an example: years ago, editors changed its Chinese moniker from the more poetic, Cantonese-sounding 雲高華 ("blossoms under high clouds") to the less poetic, Mandarin-sounding 溫哥華 ("warm brother's blossoms").

Two people walk near a cherry blossom tree in Vancouver's Stanley Park in spring 2021. The old Chinese name for Vancouver, 雲高華, roughly means 'blossoms under high clouds.' (Ben Nelms/CBC)

But some names have also become more poetic in Mandarin, Walls adds — sometimes out of necessity. 

He points out the City of Port Moody adopted its current Chinese name 滿地寶 ("land full of treasures") in 1998, after finding that the old one, 穆迪港, sounds like "port of graveyards" in Mandarin.

As for Yu's name for Prince George, Walls says 基 is a good choice to capture the "G" sound, but many Chinese speakers don't know what 㵨 means and sounds. 

Walls admits it's hard to find a good "P" sounding replacement in Chinese.

"'Breaking wind' is pronounced pee in Mandarin, [and] you certainly don't want that," he added.

Yu agrees 㵨 is a complicated word, but says it's not a bad idea to revive an ancient Chinese character by coining a new name, which he hopes can make his city better known to Chinese people in Canada and beyond.

A man with glasses and blazer holds two Lunar New Year calligraphy decorations in the office.
Simon Yu holds two Fai Chun decorations containing Chinese calligraphy he wrote, with the right one reading 'jade rabbit ushers in the spring,' and the left one reading 'prosperity and fortune.' (Nadia Mansour/CBC)


  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the location of Summit Lake.
    Jan 25, 2023 6:09 PM PT


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