I'm not sure if I've got the right wording in the question, but it comes from playing around with translate.google.com.

I was aware that Japanese and Chinese have similar (if not identical) characters (I'm a Westerner, so again, I apologise if this is all just wrong).

So, for a laugh, I entered my name in English and translated it to Chinese.

I then took that Chinese translation and told Google it was Japanese and then translated it back to English.

Some names were just non-sensical. I also think some of the translations have improved over time.

For example, my name Richard, is translated to Chinese as 理查德. Treating that as Japanese, it becomes Ri-sense back in English.

A couple of years ago, it was management (or middle management - I can't quite remember).

I was demonstrating this to my work colleague Joe. Joe didn't do anything as there seems to be no translation of 乔 from Japanese to English.

But when I tried his full name of Joseph, ... well ... embarrassment all round.

In Chinese, Joseph translates to 约瑟夫. If this was Japanese, translating it to English is a quite an offensive word.

Is this a fluke?

Are there any rules about what characters are used?

I suppose one rule is don't get a Chinese tattoo of your name and visit Japan if your name is Joseph!

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    I don't know much Chinese but I think the characters in 理查德 are used phonetically, not for the meaning – siikamiika Apr 26 '17 at 13:25
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    Putting Google Translate aside, 乔 and 约 never exist in Japanese. Those are Simplified characters (of 喬 and 約) only in currency in mainland China (and around Singapore). 查 is the same character as Japanese 査 but was assigned separate code due to technical reasons, so it's also a non-Japanese character for computers. – broccoli facemask - cloth Apr 26 '17 at 14:11
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    If enough users suggest something as a translation, Google Translate will eventually assume that to be correct. This has led to other funny things, like this. – Blavius Apr 26 '17 at 20:59
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    Just as a remark, I think it's not correct to say that "in Chinese, Joseph translates to 约瑟夫". In fact, for proper name "translation" means simply finding characters with the closest sound to the original pronunciation. Probably that example is coming from a specific Joseph (some famous character.. Bible Joseph?) but it would not be wrong if for your own name or your friend's you choose three completely different characters with similar phonetic. – Tommy Apr 27 '17 at 5:37
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    Some Chinese words that the Chinese are using today are actually created by the Japanese, like 人民、電話、服務、民主、革命、哲學、化學、經濟、科學、商業、幹部、健康、社會主義、資本主義、法律、封建、共和、美學、文學、美術、抽象 ... – David Washington Apr 27 '17 at 9:22

To native speakers of Japanese, 理查德 and 约瑟夫 mean nothing. To me, they are just some random kanji, most of which are unfamiliar. (Japanese people only use 理 and 夫.) I don't even know if it's a proper noun, a full sentence, or complete gibberish. All I can say is that they are kanji, and may or may not mean something for Chinese speakers.

I also tried Google Translate to translate "约瑟夫 as Japanese" to English, but I have absolutely no idea why they showed this word. You should know Google Translate is not a grammar/spell checker. It almost never complains. Even if you entered complete gibberish, it often shows something that may look meaningful.

As for the Chinese rule of choosing characters for westerner names, perhaps this question at Chinese Language SE helps:

Regarding how such names would look to Japanese people, it's very unlikely that such Chinese-Western names happen to mean something in Japanese. Usually they only strike us as unfamiliar characters which are "presumably Chinese".

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  • Thank you for the comments. It was just the silliness of Google translating what I naively took to be valid symbols for 2 languages. An idle curiosity. – Richard A Quadling May 4 '17 at 14:33

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