China Marketing Blog

How To Pick The Right Chinese Name For Your Company

Misha Maruma — Fri, 05/30/2014 - 14:04

Chinese and English brand names for Coca Cola

Image from iResearch.cn

 

As many brands go global they want to take a slice of the Chinese pie. One of the biggest considerations when moving into the Chinese market is the language barrier. This means having to carefully consider what Chinese name to give your company.

There are numerous luxury brands moving into China these days. Some brands are so well known that it would seem that there is no need to change the company name.

Brands such as Gucci, YSL and Chanel have such a strong identity that they are known by their English name. These brands have Chinese names, but their brand is so well known that Chinese consumers rarely use the Chinese name. 

Chinese language

But the Chinese government has recently attempted to protect the ‘purity’ of the Chinese language by trying to put a stop to the use of foreign words.

Brands that have been in China for a long time are known by their Chinese name because when they entered the Chinese market the use of English was not as common as it is now.

 

Examples of translated brand names

Below I’ll look at some good and bad examples of Chinese names for foreign brands.

Then I’ll take you through an example of the process we use at Nanjing Marketing Group to help a company pick the best Chinese name for their specific needs.

 

There are four different ways for a company to choose a Chinese name:

  1. A name that has no resemblance to the original in sound or meaning

  2. The Chinese name sounds like the original but the meaning has no resemblance

  3. The Chinese name has a close resemblance to the original meaning, but the sound is completely unrelated

  4. Both the meaning and the sound of the new name are related to the original brand name

Of course, of the four different ways to choose a name number 4 is the best. But it’s also the most difficult. There are so many things to take into consideration that this is no easy task.

Good examples

Hopefully the examples below will help you to understand the complexities of translating a brand name into Chinese. This will then help you to understand the process we use at Nanjing Marketing Group.

 

  • Heineken

This alcohol brand chose option 1 above. The Chinese name喜力 (xǐ lì) does not sound like the original brand and the Chinese meaning, happiness power, bears no semantic meaning either.

  • Audi

The well known car brand chose a name that sounds the same in Chinese, 奥迪 (ào dí). But the meaning in Chinese, profound enlightenment, has no connection to the original meaning.

  • Colgate

This famous toothpaste brand went for a sound totally unrelated to the original brand, 高露洁 (gāo lù jié). The meaning on the other hand tells the consumer what the product does: showing cleanliness and happiness.

  • Coca cola

This has to be one of the best Chinese brand translations ever. The Chinese name, 可口可乐 (kě kǒu kě lè), sounds just like original. The meaning, tasty fun, again represents what the product is (depending on your opinion of coke of course).

 

Some other good examples are:

  • Reebok 锐步 (ruì bù) which mean rapid steps.

  •  Nike 耐克 (nài kè) which means to endure and overcome.

  •  Apple 苹果 (píng guǒ) which literally means apple!

 

Bad examples

There have also been some mistakes, showing the perils there are when translating a brand name.

  • Best buy 

The convenience store brand went down a strange route. The Chinese name百思买 (bǎi sī mǎi) bears a similarity to the original sound. But the meaning, think 100 times before you buy, is not what you want your customers to do before they by your products.

  • Bing 

The search engine, rather unfortunately, has a name that sounds similar to the word for sick or ill in Chinese, 病 (bìng). They attempted to use the same sound, but change the meaning.

The new name, 必应 (bì yìng), meaning certain to respond seemed like a good fit. But the association with illness meant that Bing should have gone for option 1 or 3 above.

 

The Nanjing Marketing Group way

The process we use at Nanjing Marketing Group to create a Chinese name for a western brand is based around our core philosophy of explore, create and discover

I’ll demonstrate this using an example:

An invitation-only VIP club based in Australia wants to rebrand the company name for the Chinese market. It is an exclusive club for Asian and Australian companies who do lots of business in China. There are a lot of wealthy businessmen who are part of this association.

This exclusive club provides members with a number of benefits: a quarterly magazine, regular invitations to experiential events across Australia and China and throughout Asia. These events are built around the individual needs, interests and passions of each member. The name of the club is AffluentAsia.

Explore

The first part of the process is explore: the client will suggest words that reflect their brand. The name of the company is self explanatory and easy to understand. Words such as ‘tycoon’, ‘club’ and ‘network’ are favoured words that the client feels reflect the brand: successful, wealthy businessmen who are part of an exclusive network.

The Chinese brand name must reflect what the client wants. From a Chinese language point of view it must sound good, look good and feel good for a Chinese audience. The name must be memorable. Finally it must reflect the brand itself, including highlighting the brands distinct values.

This is by no means an easy task. It’s obvious how some of the bad examples above can happen.

Create

The second part of the process is create. At Nanjing Marketing Group we will come up with around 15 to 20 examples of different Chinese names that we believe reflect the core values of the client’s original brand name.

Some examples for AffluentAsia that we would present to the client might include:

  • 华绅汇 (huá shēn huì)

A club with the name “华绅汇” sounds like a place for high-class Chinese people to gather together share and exchange their ideas, business experience and so on.

华: Chinese, ethnic Chinese

绅: Gentry, high class

汇: Network, converge, exchange, collect. In this name, it gives the impression that this is an organization for wealthy, talented people to gather together. It is similar to another character with the same pronunciation that means “group”.

 

  • 鸿顶汇 (hóng dǐng huì)

A club with the name “鸿顶汇” sounds like a place for the most successful business people to gather together, share and exchange their ideas and business experience.

鸿: Wild goose. Used in many Chinese sayings such as “鸿商巨贾” which refers to a very rich business person. 

顶: Top, peak

汇: The same character used in name #1.

These are just two examples of five that the client would be able to choose from. What is important here is that the Chinese brand name can be assessed in different categories so that it can be tested for the final part of the process: discover.

Discover

Once the new Chinese name is chosen we test it in focus groups using the categories below:

Sound – How easy is the brand to pronounce? Will it sound good when said in conversation or heard over audio media?

Appearance – How does the brand look? Will it look good in writing? Will it look good when used as a logo? Will it look good online?

Feel – How will the brand ‘feel’ to those that interact with it? Does it evoke an emotional response?

Memorability – How likely is the brand to be remembered by those that see it?

Reflection of Brand – How well does the brand name support the brand’s unique selling proposition? How about the values of the brand? Does this brand name let people know what the brand is about?

Once it has been tested and we have discovered any problems and corrected them, then it’s up to the client to make their choice.

 

There isn’t one way to rebrand an English company name into Chinese. As the real examples at the start of this blog show there are many routes to take.

There is no one size fits all solution to such an important decision as choosing a name for a company. If it is a recognized brand in the country where the company is based it does not mean that a Chinese audience will respond to the name in the same way.

The way we work at Nanjing Marketing Group is to adhere to our core company philosophy: explore, create and discover. This way we can find the perfect solution for each individual client.

 

Have you had any experience with changing a company name for a new market? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

 

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Comments

Your "COLGATE" example is actually a very good "No.4" - except that it is Cantonese pronunciation. No doubt marketed first in HK/Singapore?

Hi there
I didn't know that. I don't speak any Cantonese. Thanks for letting me know.
 
I'll research into where Colgate was marketed first, but you are mostly likely correct. Very interetsting, thanks.

It is a very interesting area trying to pitch your brand in China. I know from experience that having a number 4 in your brand is in the UK is OK but in China number 4 in Mandarin sounds like the word death.

Years ago in hotels you never had a room 4 or floor 4

Hi Gary
You're totally correct. The word for die or to be dead is sǐ (死) whereas the number four is sì (四). The tones are totally different though. But superstitious people will refuse to use the number 4 in hotels or bars etc.
 
Do you have any experience of rebranding a company name into Chinese?
 
 

We have helped companies before rebrand in to Chinese

That's great. If you need any help or advice in future then don't hesitate to contact me. 

Thanks Misha

your example on best buy is hilarious! it takes genius to come up with Chinese names using method #4. all the best.

I think the Best Buy example is a bad translation, but some of my colleagues disagreed and think it's a good translation. They suggested that it's a good idea to think a while before you buy a product.
 
When you say hilarious do you mean in a bad way? 

I like the "COLGATE" example. My Chinese business partner has not told me about this.

As I've learnt from the comments the Colgate example is actually a Cantonese pronunication and so in Hong Kong or Taiwan would be a good example of the meaning and sound being related to the original brand.
 
Does your business partner speak Mandarin or Cantonese?

Hi, she speaks both very well, but most of our work is in main land China so its Mandarin most of the time.

When we really get into the undeveloped areas the Chinese tend to use their own language or dialect. Which makes things interesting.

On our last project on Hainan Island, South China we decided to do some shopping in the local town 4 miles away. We also decided to enjoy a walk there and get a taxi back. This is were the fun started.

On speaking with the taxi driver it was hard for my Chinese business partner to understand what the driver was saying. Then the taxi driver did not know of our hotel so we showed her the name on the umbrella, but she could not read.

So in the end we had to point our way out to the driver. We got back in the end.

Yes this problem is very common. I've had the same problem when I've travelled around. You know what you're saying is correct, but people don't understand. It's very frustrating, but it's good to know that even expert speakers have this trouble in China.
 
Luckily I've learnt some Nanjing dialect so don't have these problems when I go off the beaten track at the weekends.

When leaving the hotel or my Chinese family's home I'm prepared with address, money and mobile. 90% of the time this works.

My favourite example of "#4" (semantic-phonetic localization of brandname) is Logitec: 逻技 (with the 逻 from 逻辑 logic and 技 from 技术 technique).

Canon 佳能 is another one which I think was either a compromise or based on Canto pronunciation (whereas 卡农 is canon like the song "Canon in D"). Similar sound and a positive meaning.

Hi Kaiwen
 
Thanks for these examples. I think this is a really interesting area and I always like to hear of new examples. I particularly like the Logitec example in this case. 
 
Many thanks for the insights.

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