Chinglish International Airport?

In what many view as a long-overdue move, Taiwan’s government has removed the name of Chiang Kai-shek, the island’s one-time dictator, from the title of the country’s main international airport. What has been reported as the new English name, however, is a bit strained in that the country’s name precedes the county/city name.

  English Pinyin Hanzi
old Chiang Kai-shek International Airport Zhōngzhèng Guójì
new Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport Táiwān Táoyuán Guójì

In Mandarin, there’s nothing tremendously odd about using “Taiwan Taoyuan.” In English, however, it’s a completely different story.

exact phrase romanization no. of results in Google
Taoyuan Taiwan   241,000
Taiwan Taoyuan   42,400
臺灣桃園 Taiwan Taoyuan 43,200
台灣桃園 Taiwan Taoyuan 220,000
total for 臺灣桃園
and 台灣桃園
桃園臺灣 Taoyuan Taiwan 5,720
桃園台灣 Taoyuan Taiwan 461
for 桃園臺灣 and 桃園台灣

Almost all of the examples in English of “Taiwan Taoyuan” have punctuation (stronger than a comma, that is) or new lines separating the words, so running the two names together in that order is less common than the Google result implies, as most English speakers know intuitively.

“Taiwan Taoyuan,” when used in English, reminds me of nothing so much as the annoying term “Chinese Taipei” (Zhonghua Taibei / 中華台北). This name represents the international kissing of Beijing’s ass diplomatic solution worked out so Taiwan’s teams can participate in international sporting events without China throwing too much of a hissyfit. (We we still get some of those anyway, of course.)

Since using anything along the lines of “Chinese Taipei” would be anathema to the present administration in Taiwan, what’s going on with the new name for the airport? The logical name would probably be simply “Taoyuan International Airport,” the airport being in Taoyuan County rather than Taipei County. But outside of Taiwan, who has ever heard of Taoyuan? (That’s probably just as well for Taiwan, because much of Taoyuan is downright ugly.) And, anyway, I think that those deciding on the new name regarded adding “Taiwan” and taking out “Chiang Kai-shek” as the top priorities.

Of course, it could be worse. Some in the KMT have called for the name to be changed to “Taiwan Taoyuan Chiang Kai-shek International Airport.” Ugh.

However, the code letters for the airport, TPE and RCTP, will not be changed. These are both rooted in the Wade-Giles romanization system, under which we have Taipei (properly T’ai-pei) rather than Taibei.

Fortunately for all concerned, both “Taoyuan” and “Taiwan” are examples of names spelled the same in most romanization systems. So, at least in this case, the current administration’s attachment to the Tongyong Pinyin romanization system won’t lead to further international embarrassment.

I spoke earlier today with someone at the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, who informed me that although the Mandarin name of the airport was now officially Táiwān Táoyuán Guójì Jīchǎng, the English name has yet to be set by the Ministry of Education. So it’s possible the English name could change.

Anyone want to play Name That Airport? I’m more than half serious. The authorities here no doubt need some help with this. (Even though Taoyuan is one of the ugliest places in Taiwan, let’s keep this nice.)

Oh, in case anyone’s puzzled that “Chiang Kai-shek” and “Zhōngzhèng” don’t look much like each other or even have the same number of syllables, the reason is that Zhōngzhèng is a sort of assumed name, not the name by which he was known to his family, which in Mandarin is Ji?ng Jièshí (???). For more on this see the names section of the Wikipedia article on Chiang Kai-shek. (Me linking to a Wikipedia article? There’s a first time for everything, I guess.)


23 thoughts on “Chinglish International Airport?

  1. I don’t see anything wrong with (the English) ‘Taoyuan International Airport’. Whoever heard of Narita before the airport was built there?

  2. It is almost as bad as Thailand where the soon to be opened new Bangkok International Airport has been given the name “Suvarnabhumi”. It is a name that most people would have trouble both spelling and pronouncing. It is actually pronounced su-wan-a-poom (the final “i” is silent and there is actually no phonetic equivalent of “v” in the Thai language). Of course, it will probably be mostly known as Bangkok International Airport.

    Here is a list of a few selected airports around the world. They show two basic naming conventions.

    Melbourne Tullamarine
    Singapore Changi
    London Heathrow
    New York John F Kennedy International
    Paris Charles De Gaulle

    Hong Kong International
    Kuala Lumpur International
    Cape Town International

    Following these the international airport in Taoyuan County should either be called “Taipei Taoyuan Airport” or “Taipei International Airport”.

  3. The Good:
    “Taoyuan International Airport” is just fine. (But, please, no “Peach Orchid International Airport”.)

    The Possible:
    “Northern Taiwan IA” is a sort of compromise between “Taipei IA” (which is geographically off) and “Taiyuan IA” (which is in northern Taiwan).

    “Greater Taipei IA” is borderline okay. The “Greater” would likely be dropped in casual reference, but at least Taiyuan saves face (okay, it’s not yet part of Greater Taipei, is it?).

    The No-no’s:
    Just say no to “Chiang Kai-shek whatever”. It’s incompatible with claims of democratic progress.

    As well, no to “Taipei IA”. Taipei already enjoys the notoriety of being equated with the whole island if not country (partly thanks to “Chinese Taipei” and such). No need to pump it up further.

  4. Taiwan doesn’t seem like such a huge country that naming the aiport after the island would be particularly misleading or jarring. After all, were I to ask people around the world what the ROC capital was, I suspect the most frequent response would be Taiwan. I suppose calling it “Taipei etc.” would help to clear that point of confusion up though.

  5. David’s right: “Taipei International Airport” makes the most sense. You can’t call it “Taiwan Int’l Airport, because Kaohsiung has its own. “Taoyuan Int’l Airport” is just plain silly. No one is coming to Taiwan to visit Taoyuan.

  6. But haven’t you noticed that neither “JFK” nor “Charles de Gaulle” are place names, but “Taoyuan” is? Perhaps that’s why “Taipei Taoyuan” sounds so weird.

    I don’t think “Taoyuan Int’l Airport” is silly. Take the Chamatin and Atocha railway station in Madrid, for example: there is no “Madrid” station in that city, but only these two stations for different directions. No one go to Madrid just to visit Chamatin or Atocha (except going to the Chamatin Stadium to watch a Real Madrid match), but people would know either the name represents a railway station in Madrid. People who come to Taiwan just have to know that whereever they are visiting (Why not Taoyuan? There’s Mount La-La and a lot of peaches in that county.), Taoyuan Int’l Airport would be the mainstream airport, and “Taoyuan” can just be another Airport name, no big deal.

    So why should we always put “Taipei” before everything?

  7. I object.

    Taoyuan County is not “just ugly.” It actually has a number of beautiful areas.

    Taoyuan is an important county as it has the highest concentration of industry in Taiwan. So there are good reasons to come to Taoyuan. (although I confess it is not a tourest destination!)

  8. Well, I did say “much of,” not “all of.” And I had mainly the city rather than the county in mind. That said, though, I’d love to see the nicer parts of Taoyuan County; they would make a welcome counterbalance to the the not-so-nice parts, which I travel through and work in three days a week.

    I went to Daxi once, which was pretty nice. Do you have recommendations for other parts of the county to see?

    BTW, interesting Bible site. Is that yours?

  9. Can you please help me ? I am travelling to New Zealand from Paris with a 15 hour stop-over in T’ai Pei airport. Already the journey is so long that I know I will be extra tired if I arrive in New Zealand without being able to rest in Taiwan.
    I have looked everywhere on Internet and can find no Transit hotel in the airport.
    Can you please let me know if there exists a hotel in the actual airport where I could book a room for say 10 hours so I could sleep and rest. I would be very grateful for this information.
    With thanks,
    Mary le Rumeur

  10. why all the fuss with taiwan taoyuan international airport?? narita and haneda airports both serve tokyo–why are neither tokyo international airports??? what about the main airport in south korea–it is not in seoul–hence it is not seoul international airport–it is actually in another province outside of seoul. visitors will just learn that taoyuan is the neighboring county prefecture/city to taipei and serves taipei.

  11. follow-up on my previous response. the international airport that serves south korea (seoul) is actually the new incheon international airport located 32 miles outside of seoul–like taoyuan (teheng) is to taipei (taibak)!! the airport is not seoul international but visitors all believe they are flying into seoul. kimpo airport in seoul and songshan in taipei are now domestic airports!

  12. why all the fuss with taiwan taoyuan international airport??

    Because “Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport,” with the country’s name in front of the county’s/city’s name, is just plain weird English. “Taoyuan International Airport,” on the other hand, would be entirely normal and conforming to international patterns.

  13. The other airport of Paris is Orly. Nobody comes to Paris to visit Orly, yet that’s what the airport is called. After all, it is in Orly.

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