Brand names around the world come embedded with deep meanings and connotations, but nowhere is this more true than in China. Western brands looking to export abroad must translate and localise to a Chinese brand name, or they risk losing out on a growing market. But it’s not as straightforward as you might think: do you translate the phonetic sounds, the name, the meaning, or create something new altogether?
How hard is it to translate your brand name to Chinese? We examine 12 brands who did it right.
Transliterated Name: Nai Ke
Meaning: Enduring and persevering
Nike’s Chinese brand name is arguably the most impressive as not only does it sound the same in both languages, but it also has a strong meaning that matches the product. As for the famous swoosh? It needs no translation at all.
Transliterated Name: Ke Kou Ke Le
Meaning: Tasty Fun
Another Chinese brand that sounds similar to its English name, although is in some ways superior, as this meaning can’t match the original. Translating your brand name to Chinese in this way will give the greatest chance of success as it sounds the same worldwide.
Transliterated Name: Bao ma
Meaning: Precious Horse
Horse is one word in Chinese that has a positive connotation, which makes it ideal to include in a brand name. Other good words to include are clear, “le” and “xi,” or happy; “li,” meaning “strength” or “power”; and “fu,” translated as “lucky” or “auspicious.”
Transliterated Name: Xi Li
Meaning: Happiness Power
Heineken takes advantage of two words with a positive connotation for their Chinese brand name. By changing it so that it sounds nothing like the original, the brand may be perceived to be local.
Transliterated Name: Tai Zi
Meaning: Gets Rid of Dirt
The characters used here are key: using ones that sound the same but are written differently would have meant “too purple”.
Transliterated Name: Rui bu
Meaning: Quick steps
The running shoe brand’s Chinese name gives customers an idea of the product they are about to buy, while conveying an essence the English title could not hope to match.
Transliterated Name: Gao Lu Jie
Meaning: Revealing Superior Cleanliness
The Chinese will surely want to brush their teeth with no other toothpaste, as it’s hard to beat something that’s superior!
Transliterated Name: Le Shi
Meaning: Happy Things
Lay’s Chinese name is an almost sound adaptation, but mostly uses words with a positive connotation to sell their product abroad.
Transliterated Name: Hua Qi Yin Hang
Meaning: Star-spangled banner bank
Although they are in 160 countries around the world, Citibank looks to its American roots with their Chinese brand name, focusing on meaning rather than sounds.
Brand: Marriott Hotel
Transliterated Name: Wan hao
Meaning: 10,000 wealthy elites
Owners of the Ritz-Carlton and Bulgari Hotels, Marriott’s Chinese brand name looks to target the luxury market in the hospitality industry.
Transliterated Name: Man wei
Meaning: Comic power
Noted in the New York Times, consultants came up with this name which is “roughly phonetic, foreign-sounding and eminently suited to superheroes with the meaning “comic power.”
Brand: Mr. Muscle
Transliterated Name: Wei Meng Xian Sheng
Meaning: Mr. Powerful
Mr. Muscle was originally not translated when exported to China but ran into a problem: when spoken by native Chinese speakers it sounded like ‘Mr. Chicken Meat.’ Thus, a new name with a similar meaning was needed and Mr. Powerful was born.
Today Translations is a London-based translation company who can help you translate and localise your brand name into Chinese, or any of the 200 languages we work in. If you’re looking at doing business in China, read our Doing Business In article or get in touch with our team by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or connecting with us on Facebook or Twitter.