Suppose we had a time machine and we decided to visit China in around 500 BCE. If we asked around about Confucius, no one would have a clue who we were talking about. In truth, the name Confucius was coined by Jesuit missionaries in the late 16th century.
Why did they Latinize his name? Mainly because they wanted to share knowledge about China with other Europeans. Rendering a name into Latin was a way of demonstrating how important he was. In fact, many Europeans first became familiar with Eastern culture through a book written by one of these missionaries with the impressive title, Confucius: The Philosopher of the Chinese.
In China, the man we know as Confucius is called Kong Fuzi, or simply Kongzi, which means, roughly, Master Kong. In fact, if you see a –zi at the end of someone’s name, it’s a safe bet they’re considered an important teacher or thinker.