Free tips to Brand name translation to Chinese

When it comes to dual localization, translating a brand name can be one of the most sensitive issues, and despite the fact the end result may only consist of one or two words or characters, the amount time, research, and effort involved to arrive at this point can be enormous. This is especially the case in China, where one character may have several meanings, and these meanings may morph into something completely different when paired with another character. Even characters with a generally positive meaning may sound a little odd to a local ear.

To illustrate this, 好(hǎo) means “Good”, and 好坏 (hǎo huài) means “Very bad”!

It is very important to leave this work to the Pros, otherwise you might end up on the pages of “failed marketing” articles all over internet:

1. Funny on the ear

A recent buzz around Air BnB’s new chinese name 爱彼迎 (àibǐyíng) appeared after the seemingly innocent characters 爱 (love) and 迎 (welcome) (which also sounds like “lust”)were separated by a second character 彼, making the name sound a little like a word for female genitalia. The original meaning of 彼 is “those”, but its spelling is not so important, as it sounds the same. And considering that the business of Air BnB is based on inviting strangers to your home, this may give some a strange impression of the company’s main line of business…

2. Missing the point

Examples of major campaigns such as KFC’s “finger licking good” being translated to “bite your fingers off” in China a few decades ago, and Pepsi’s “Now it’s Pepsi for those who think young” translated as, “New Pepsi is for people with the minds of children” have basically become classics in failed marketing.

3. Irrelevant meaning 

When translating a brand name, keep in mind that the characters have to remind a customer of your scope of business. So if you are in the automotive industry, pick characters that represent speed, safety or even an animal like a “precious horse” (BMW with their 宝马 (bǎomǎ)), or a tiger on a road (Land Rover with 路虎(lùhǔ) ). If you work in the IT business, opt for words relating to “ideas”, “progress” or “knowledge”.

When Google picked 谷歌(gǔgē), which literally means “a village song”, their supporters were, let’s say, a bit confused.  And in the case of Best Buy,  百思买 (bǎisīmǎi) their name is more of a warning: think a hundred times before buying!

4. Skipping a translation 

So as you can see, it’s a minefield out there. No wonder some companies have never localised their brand name in China. Look at GAP, or Facebook, for example. But if the first one has 3 letters and somehow fits into local minds, the second one is called by the users as they please which can be a good excuse to turn a brand into a joke (脸书(liǎnshū)), and in worst case scenario an English name of a brand will be long/complicated/unmemorable for Chinese customers, so they will just not talk about it, putting a stop to word-of-mouth. This actually happened to Hermes; for the first few years, Chinese customers simply did not talk about the brand, giving the company no choice but to pick a Chinese name.

You would think that companies as big and as prestigious as Hermes would know better and would never make poor judgment on such an important task as brand name translation, but apparently no one is immune. So think twice before deciding to do such a job in-house.

If you are looking for a trustworthy professional with experience in China in brand naming? Then HI-COM is here for you! An international multilingual expert that makes communication easy, professional and engaging. With our rich pool of resources all over China and an ever-ready international team, HI-COM will make sure your message is fully understood, localized according to the highest standards, and delivered on time!

Kate CHERNAVINAFree tips to Brand name translation to Chinese