Last week we took a look at the requirements for brand names in China. We found that transferring pronunciation as well as meaning of the original western name is important for the success of a Chinese brand name.
Today we present four practical methods that can be applied when translating a brand name into Chinese. Each of them is being used successfully by international corporations - from Heineken and Sony to Porsche and Mercedes-Benz.
Method 1: Creation of a new brand name
About 11 % of all companies that enter the Chinese market do not do so with the original Western name, but rather develop a new name. It is a good opportunity to communicate exactly what you want to Chinese consumers, without any restrictions.
When using the method, the new brand name has no phonetic or conceptual similarity to the original. This method makes the most sense for brands that are not yet known in China. It can also serve as a Plan B if the following three methods do not yield any good results.
Examples of brand names without adaptation:
- Heineken - Xi Li (Happy Strength)
- Quaker Oats - Lao Ren (Old Man)
- Pizza Hut - Bi Sheng Ke (Certainly Brings Guests)
Method 2: Phonetic adaptation of the brand name
The most common method for translating a brand name into Chinese names is phonetic transfer. About 43% of all Western-to-Chinese translations use this method. The pronunciation of the western original is altered in order to fit the Chinese syllable structure. The meaning of the new name is not relevant in this case.
With this method, it is particularly important to check that the new name cannot be turned into a negative pun. One problem with this method is that the resulting names are often very long. This can be easily solved by using only the first two or three syllables .
Examples of brand names with phonetic adaptation:
- Audi - Ao Di (Brighten Profoundly)
- Nokia - Nuo Jiya
- Adidas A Di Da Si
- Sony - Suo Ni (Search Nun / Priest)
Method 3: Semantic adaptation (translation) of the brand name
About a quarter of all brand names are translated literally for the Chinese market. This is only possible if the name is not a made-up word but carries a real meaning. Therefore, the method is useful for brand names which carry a strong message.
This method does not care about phonetic similarity. Some meanings can be adjusted if a literal translation wouldn't evoke the same positive associations in China as in the West.
Examples of brand names with semantic adaptation:
- Red Bull - Niu Hong (Red Bull)
- Microsoft - Wei Ruan (Small and Soft)
- Volkswagen Dazhong Qiche (Car for the Masses)
- General Motors - Tong Yong Qiche (General Motors)
- Fisherman's Friend - Yufu Zhi Bao (Treasure of the Fisherman)
Method 4: Phonetic and semantic similarity
Undoubtedly the best way to transfer a brand name into Chinese is chosen by 22 % of all companies: take the time and trouble to find a translation that both sounds similar to the original and also has a similar or related meaning.
This method requires detailed knowledge of the Chinese market, the Chinese language, and the values of the brand. The effort is worthwhile, however, because a consistent international branding can be achieved.
Examples of brand names with phonetic and semantic similarity
- Ikea - Yi Jia (Pleasant Home)
- Jägermeister - Ye Ge (Wild Character)
- Coca-Cola - Kekou Kele (Tastes Good and Makes You Happy)
- Porsche - Buo Shi Jie (Secure, Fast and Timesaving)
- BMW - Bao Ma (Noble Steed)
- Nike - Nai Ke (Endurance Wins)
- Siemens - Xi Men Zi (Master of the West Gate)
- Mercedes -Benz - Ben Chi (Canter)
- Allianz - Anlian (Security Alliance)
The ideal Chinese brand name
To conclude: The ideal Chinese brand name is easy to remember, easy to pronounce and has a similar pronunciation and meaning as the Western brand name. Therefore, don't forget to work with native experts to find your perfect Chinese brand name.
If you're still looking for a Western brand name to start out with: Find it easily with our smart naming tools.