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Whenever I introduce myself to Chinese people, I usually get a nice laugh for my silly name – it literally translates as “Happy Field” (田乐 – tián lè). This is fine for a goofy English-teaching, blogging, backpacking hippie such as myself, but for foreign companies looking to do business in China, you probably don’t want people laughing at your name.
With more and more foreign enterprises trying to enter the Chinese market, choosing a high-quality name is of the utmost importance. There’s much to think about when selecting a Chinese name for a company:
In the past, plenty of foreign companies avoided choosing a Chinese name; they worried it would damage their brand recognition. These days, however, it’s crucial to have a proper Chinese name if you want to do business here. Without a Chinese name, it’s hard to sell your products online and word-of-mouth will basically be non-existent. After all, how can they talk about your company if they can’t say your name? Helping foreign companies choose a great Chinese name is now big business, as marketing and consulting firms are ready and willing to assist – for a reasonable fee, of course.
There are a few different approaches to finding a Chinese name, which we can see clearly in three fast food chains. Some companies choose a Chinese name that simply sounds sort of like the original without any special meaning, such as McDonald’s (麦当劳 – mài dāng láo). The name literally means “wheat serve as labor,” which doesn’t exactly describe fast food. Others go for a literal translation, as we can see in the name of Burger King (汉堡王 – hàn bǎo wáng). Finally, some companies go for a combination with a Chinese name that sounds similar and can also have a special meaning. For example, the famous Subway (赛百味 – sài bǎi wèi) sandwich shops – the Chinese name is a phonetic match, and the characters 百味 can be translated as “100 flavors” – a good connotation for a place where you can design your sandwich any way you like.
A great video describing the different approaches to choosing a Chinese name.
As you can see, picking the right Chinese name is no easy task. For some more examples, here are the Chinese names of 50 famous foreign companies, split into five categories:
So, who has the best Chinese name? That’s hard to say, but most people would have to give it up to Coca-Cola. The Chinese name not only sounds very similar to the original, but it’s easy to pronounce even though it’s 4-characters long. Plus, it can directly be translated as “delicious happiness” – a great positive connotation for a soft drink. Another great one is BMW, which literally means “precious horse.” For further reading about companies choosing a Chinese name, check out this NY Times article from a few years back.