from: Victor H. Mair
date: Tue, Sep 8, 2009 at 12:00 PM
Perhaps you can post this for me on HANZISMATTER.
The attached picture, sent to me by Jonathan Smith, shows a basketball player's "Chinese" tattoos. They read 康女宀 from top to bottom: KANG1 ("peace, vigor") NÜ3 ("woman") MIAN2 ("shelter, thatch"). Yet the proud owner claims that they are "my initials in Chinese, M.A.D."
My best guess as to how this may have happened is that the basketball player approached a tattooist who was minimally literate (or illiterate) in Chinese or English (or both) and showed him / her his initials, requesting the tattooist to "write them in Chinese symbols / characters / ideographs / hieroglyphs / pictographs / whatever." The initials may have been more or less ornately written, with the result that the tattooist came up with these three HANZI as his / her best representation of what he / she was seeing. For example, if you twist 女 around in different orientations, you can sort of see an "A" there. Ditto for the other two HANZI.
Victor H. Mair, Professor of Chinese Language and Literature
Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations
University of Pennsylvania