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Chinese Names for 50 Famous Foreign Companies Posted by on Feb 10, 2015 in Culture, Vocabulary

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:

  • It should sound similar to the original name.
  • It’s best to keep the name to 2-3 characters, as is the case for most people.
  • The Chinese characters should look and sound good together.
  • Negative connotations should be avoided.
  • The name must be legally available.

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.

Even the Golden Arches need a Chinese name.

Even the Golden Arches need a Chinese name.

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:

TECH

  • Apple (苹果 – píng guǒ)
  • Microsoft (微软 – wēi ruǎn)
  • Google (谷歌 – gǔ gē)
  • Facebook (脸书 – liǎn shū)
  • Amazon (亚马逊 – yà mǎ xùn)
  • Sony (索尼 – suǒ ní)
  • Nokia (诺基亚 – nuò jī yà)
  • Canon (佳能 – jiā néng)
  • Samsung (三星 – sān xīng)
  • LinkedIn (领英 – lǐng yīng)

CARS

  • BMW (宝马 – bǎo mǎ)
  • Audi (奥迪 – ào dí)
  • Ford (福特 – fú tè)
  • Toyota (丰田 – fēng tián)
  • Ferrari (法拉利 – fǎ lā lì)
  • Mercedes Benz (梅赛德斯奔驰 – méi sài dé sī bēn chí)
  • Volkswagen (大众 – dà zhòng)
  • Honda (本田 – běn tián)
  • Nissan  (尼桑 – ní sāng)
  • Acura (讴歌 – ōu ɡē)

FASHION

  • Nike (耐克 – nài kè)
  • Adidas (阿迪达斯 – ā dí dá sī)
  • Armani (阿玛尼 – ā mǎ ní)
  • Gucci (古奇 – gǔ qí)
  • Levi’s (李维斯 – li wéi sī)
  • Rolex (劳力士 – láo lì shì)
  • Burberry (巴宝莉 – ba bǎo lì)
  • Chanel (香奈儿 – xiāng nài er)
  • Ikea (宜家 – yi jiā)
  • Louis Vuitton (路易威登 – lù yì wēi dēng)

FOOD/DRINK

  • Coca-Cola (可口可乐 – kě kǒu kě lè)
  • Pepsi (百事可乐 – bǎi shì kě lè)
  • McDonald’s (麦当劳 – mài dāng láo
  • Burger King (汉堡王 – hàn bǎo wáng)
  • KFC (肯德基 – kěn dé jī)
  • Pizza Hut (必胜客 – bì shèng kè)
  • Starbucks  (星巴克 – xīng ba kè)
  • Subway (赛百味 – sài bǎi wèi)
  • Lay’s (乐事 – lè shì)
  • Budweiser (百威 – bǎi wēi)

FINANCE

  • Visa (维士 – wéi shì)
  • Mastercard (万事达 – wàn shì dá)
  • American Express (美国运通 – měi guó yùn tōng)
  • HSBC (汇丰银行 – huì fēng yín háng)
  • Citibank (花旗银行 – huā qí yín háng)
  • Ernst & Young (安永 – ān yǒng)
  • KPMG (毕马威 – bì mǎ wēi)
  • Goldman Sachs (高盛 – gāo shèng)
  • JP Morgan (JP摩根 – JP mó gēn)
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers (普华永道 – pǔ huá yǒng dào)

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.

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About the Author:sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.


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