Name translation between foreign languages and Chinese can be amusing, confusing, and interesting all at the same time. Collecting and studying this information is an interesting subject. It also has practical usage in studying history, as you will soon see.
For foreign person's and place's names, particularly names in European languages, mostly it is done with transcription, which tries to map the sounds of one language to the best matching Chinese characters. 约翰，耶稣，撒旦，切尼，奥巴马，大卫，谢尔盖，and so on, are good examples. Foreign person's and place's names from Japan, Korea, Vietnam usually have Chinese names, due to extensive Chinese influence historically. It seems Arabic, Persian, Turkish, African, and other continent's names are translated into Chinese by way of English.
Prior to the founding of the People's Republic of China, name translations were at least consistent, such as translations for famous philosophers like 尼采(Nietzsche)，叔本华(Arthur Schopenhauer), 马斯洛(Abraham Moslow).
However, for historic reasons, there was no single and consistent method used since the founding of the People Republic of China. As a result, the same name can, and usually are, transcribed differently in the greater China region, especially mainland, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. For instance, the name Michael, is transcribed as 迈克尔 in mainland, 麥可 in Taiwan, and 米高 in Hong Kong. This author, Ji Haidong, is not sure what the situation is for countries that have a large Chinese diaspora, such as Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia.
Chinese person's and place's names are translated into other languages via romanization. However, because different romanization systems were used in the past, the same Chinese people and places' names were rendered differently in English, and possibly in other languages like French, German, and Russian too. For English, Wade-Giles was used for the better half of a century before Pinyin took over. As a result, Wade-Giles names were present in many books, historic documents, treaties and such. (Update: It turned out that Chinese place's names used a combination of Wade-Giles and Chinese Postal Map Romanization, something I learned after just now). I don't know French, German, and Russian, but I suspect the same, and I think there is a treasure trove of China related documents there, given the history in the last 150 years or so. Now that Hanyu Pinyin has become the internationally accepted standard, it will make things easier. Politicians in Taiwan is not making things easier by adopting Tong Yong Pinyin for political purposes.
However, most native Chinese are taught and only know one romanization system: Hanyu Pinyin or Wade-Giles. This has made it inconvienent for history studies. For example, it would be fun to be able to read Deng Xiaoping and Zhou Enlai's records in the French archives, both are well known. But what about less well-known people and places in books and missionary and correspondents' documents? Wouldn't it be nice if there is a place where this information can be easily looked up? Yeah, there is Wikipedia, but I thought a dedicated site for this purpose would be nice.
There is also another interesting twist: certain other objects' (food, drinks, gadgets, famous pop songs, movies) transcription/translation into Chinese can cause confusion for Chinese from different regions. In some cases, one region's transcription can be gradually accepted by most other regions, such as 曲奇, which is cookie's transcription in Hong Kong. Other objects, such as titles for pop songs, movies, shows, can also have different rendition in mainland, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Don't get me started on those 总动员 movies! So a central place for that is also helpful.
So I created this wiki site. It is a central resource just for names related to China and Chinese history. I will start with English and Chinese names first. Since it will be a wiki, a lot of people will be able to contribute to it. Gradually, it can be a great place for cultural and history buffs.
It will be nice to include German, French, Russian, Japanese, and Arabic and such in the future, but I guess one step at a time.