Having a Chinese brand name for your brand can help you navigate one of the world’s largest and most lucrative markets. It is the golden key to the success of any brand looking to market effectively to China.
Your Chinese name is an important part of your brand’s identity and should also give a sense of your brand. Moreover, it’s what people will most associate with your brand in China’s commercial landscape.
So, when thinking about choosing a Chinese name (especially for a Western brand), consider how well the new name fits Chinese culture, style, and messaging – and whether it appropriately reflects your brand. Here are the steps to creating a great Chinese name for your brand in 2022.
Step 1: Do Research and Brand Positioning
The key to any successful and great Chinese brand name is research and brand positioning. To create the best Chinese brand name, you need to understand your brand identity and what aspects of your brand would be most important in national and global branding.
Then you can begin to bring out the high-level elements of your brand, like quality, innovation or image.
A great example of a well-researched and well-positioned Chinese brand name is Carrefour which is 家樂福 (Pronounced as “Jia Le Fu”). It means a “happy and prosperous home”, but more than that, their Chinese name is phonetically similar to its French pronunciation and both with positive meanings to its consumers.
Step 2: Try Translation
There are a few ways that you could translate your original name to a good Chinese brand name. When creating an excellent Chinese brand name, try first if the literal translation of your brand name is good. This means you should use the name of the product or service in its original language.
For example, the Austrian drink brand Red Bull when literally translated becomes Hóngniú 红牛 which means ‘red bull’. Obviously, this does not work well with every brand out there, but if it does for your brand, you’ve got an excellent Chinese name working for you.
Another option is phonetic translation, which can be achieved through phonetic spelling and sounds. A good example is the German automation company Siemens, which opted for a phonetic translation of its brand name. In Chinese, their brand name phonetically translates to “西门子”, which is pronounced “Xīménzi”. Furthermore, the name also carries positive meanings for it. The syllables translate to “west”, “door”, and “son”.
The third method is the symbolic or literal+phonetic translation; it engages a feeling or an idea from the words without directly copying their meaning from one language to another. This method is perhaps the best one out of the three as it considers the literal translation of the brand name as well as how it sounds to native Chinese speakers.
Basically, it is the essence of the brand’s name with a good balance between sound and meaning. One good example is Mercedes-Benz’s Chinese name. They settled with Bēnchí 奔驰, which sounds similar to its English equivalent and is made of two characters that mean “to run quickly” – a fitting name for a luxury car company.
Step 3: Mirror your brand’s attributes with your name.
If you are yet unsatisfied with the translated version of your brand name, try looking toward your brand-image or brand attributes. What does your brand stand for? What does it make? How do people take it? These questions are crucial to generate keywords that could be a springboard for your Chinese name.
A good example is IKEA, the Swedish furniture company. Their Chinese name is 宜家 (Yí jiā), which means a “proper home” or “suitable home”. This is directly in line with IKEA’s brand attributes and lets the consumer know that they are dedicated to properly and aesthetically furnishing their homes.
Another layer to their meaning is how “一家” is pronounced the same as IKEA’s Chinese brand name. This is fortunate since it means “the whole family, ” a core Chinese value. All-in-all, IKEA’s name works by explicitly and positively showing what they are and includes important Chinese values.
Step 4: Lean towards positive meanings
This one is a no-brainer. As shown in the example above, the Chinese community has different sets of societal norms regarding the Chinese language. Moreover, they prefer names with positive meanings, especially in their culture, like auspiciousness, good fortune, happiness, power, status etc.
Hence, your Chinese name should not just be a mere translation but also convey positive meanings. Culture is also one key message for Chinese names. Your target audience loves brands with characters like jīn 金 (“golden”), fènghuáng 凤凰 (“phoenix”) or lóng 龙 (“dragon”), among others, because they represent strength and goodness in Chinese culture.
An example is SNP Cosmetics, a Korean beauty brand. While the English version stands for “science, nature, and purity”, the Chinese translation became Sineipu 斯内普, a phonetically similar term to the Harry Potter character Professor Severus Snape. On the one hand, there is no connection between SNP Cosmetics and the HP character, both in character or any other implications. On another note, the character is not really someone you want to associate with positive meanings; hence, they could hurt SNP Cosmetic’s brand image.
Step 5: Check for IP regulations.
Regardless of how your brand came up with its Chinese name and messaging, it would be useless if it violated one of China’s strict IP regulations. Brands must be aware of them first, and they must tread carefully in this area. As much as possible, trademark your brand or IP in China.
This will help protect your brand image and niche in the Chinese community, such as Starbucks’ landmark case over Shanghai Xing Ba Ke Coffee Shop over its green logo. The legal battle lasted for two years after Starbucks discovered that Shanghai Xing Ba Ke Coffee Shop had a Chinese name and logo that was altogether very similar to Starbucks. “Xingbake” is a transliteration of Starbucks itself, and more than that, the Shanghai company was also using a green logo reminiscent of the green mermaid of Starbucks.
The lawsuit started in 2003 against the Shanghai company, and Starbucks won it in 2005, receiving around $62,500 USD in damages and Xing Ba Ke changing its name. Since then, the case has served as a standard for brand identity imitation and counterfeiting in China. To avoid problems in this area, try using coined or arbitrary words but still keeping with the above points.
Step 6: Double-check with other dialect meanings
China is a vast country with different Chinese dialects, so it makes sense that your Chinese name will not offend a group of people in your target audience when marketing to China. Dialect checks in Cantonese, Shanghainese, Hakka dialects, Min dialects, and others are crucial in ensuring that you do not commit any naming faux pas in Chinese.
One example to note is Peugeot, a French automobile brand. Its Chinese name is 标致 (Biao Zhi) which means handsome, but in the southern regions of China, it sounds a lot like“婊子”(Biao Zi) prostitute. Another automobile brand Volvo has a purely phonetic translation of their name – “沃尔沃” (Wo Er Wo). Unfortunately, in Cantonese, it sounds completely different and acts as a tongue twister (Yuk Yi Yuk).
This could be difficult to check, especially if you are naming your brand unilaterally, so it’s best to seek the help of professionals with this one.
Step 7: Lastly, do social listening and testing
Think of this step as a soft launching or dry run of your Chinese brand name to your Chinese audience. Social listening can properly assess the reactions of Chinese consumers to your new Chinese name.
A brand can observe in real-time what its consumers may likely think about its new name without the hassle of huge negative backlash. Moreover, they can tweak accordingly to the people’s reactions to their social testing set-up.
For example, the original Chinese name for Coca-Cola is 蝌蚪啃蜡, or “biting a wax tadpole” which is not at all appetising. Obviously, the unfortunate name was a disaster when they debuted it. Coca-cola did not do enough social listening and testing to catch the undercurrents of its original Chinese name, hence the PR disaster.
They have since rebranded their name to (可口可樂 or phonetically said as kě kǒu kě lè), which loosely translates as “happiness in the mouth”, and the Chinese loved it. While integrating what’s important to Chinese culture (positive messaging and Chinese values), Coca-cola also retained a phonetic equivalent of its famous name.
Brands can understand the Chinese preconceptions associated with their selected Chinese name that would otherwise escape a thorough research round. However, not all social impressions of your Chinese name can be immediately prepared for, so social listening and testing allow for audience feedback while minimising other negative instances. This method can be done by creating questionnaires (say, 20 questions) with your top candidates of Chinese brand names. The data could also serve as a baseline for online consumer research.
Challenges and Characteristics of a good Chinese brand name
A great Chinese name can increase your brand’s visibility in the Chinese market; however, a bad one could also damage it. Especially for western companies, it is difficult for the target audience to pronounce their brand name, so it’s easier to forget and not recognise your brand.
Best Buy’s Chinese name is Baisimai 百思买, which means “thinking over 100 times before buying”. For a retail store, that is not exactly the message that you want your consumer to think of when thinking of your product. Even worse, you could commit a naming faux pas, or your brand could become a laughingstock. Moreover, brands must be careful of associating their names with less-than-savoury characters.
For example, while Facebook has no official Chinese name, the transliteration of its western name is “feisibuke”, meaning “must die/death is inevitable” – a definite no-no. Another translation is “Lianpu”, which also means literal “face” and “book”, but the former has already negatively attached itself to Facebook and is not likely to disappear anytime soon. Trademark issues also hound a badly-crafted Chinese brand name because
Good characteristics of a Chinese brand name include easy recall and relatability. Chinese names are essential for brands in China because they are easier for consumers to recall and are more relatable than western brand names.
With the way that Chinese consumers refer preferred brands to friends and family, having a local name will get you far. Additionally, Chinese consumers are more receptive to brands with local names. Chinese brand names are also an embodiment of a brand’s value and personality and one that is strongly appealing to Chinese consumers.
Having a great Chinese brand name will open your brand to the world’s biggest market and target audience. Conversely, having a bad one will make you a laughingstock and directly affect your sales and company growth, so it is crucial to create your Chinese name carefully.
There are several considerations when creating your Chinese brand name, and it all starts with research and how you position your brand. After that, try out translating your original name and see if it is satisfactory without negative connotations. Key concepts to remember are to reflect your brand’s attributes if possible and incorporate positive meanings as much as possible. Lastly, check for IP regulations and unintended adverse meanings in other Chinese dialects, which will require the help of professionals.
Create your company’s perfect Chinese brand name today with Alarice. You don’t need to worry about the hassle of thinking about what works and what doesn’t because Alarice will help you out. At Alarice, we specialise in Chinese digital marketing, including creating Chinese brand names that will completely suit your brand image. We also do trend analysis and market insights to ensure that your name stays relevant to Chinese consumers. Contact us here, or drop us a message.