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Chinese company names: How they work.

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Chinese company names: How they work

Some of the world’s biggest multinationals struggled with selecting proper Chinese company names for their entity in China. When Mercedes found out their initially selected name freely translated to “Rush to die”, they rushed to alter their name into “Dashing speed” (Ben Chi 奔驰). The example of Mercedes shows that picking the right name is not easy. So what is important when selecting your Chinese name?

Selecting Chinese company names

In the process of registering a company in China, people need to prepare several ranked Chinese company names to hand in for registration at the AMR. The AMR, short for Administration of Market Regulation, is the registration authority and regulator of most businesses in China.

Based on the availability of those names, the highest-ranked available name can be selected. Every company name in China is structured in a specific way. The city of registration is mentioned, as well as the chosen company name, the industry, and the company type. The order of these parts can vary and may even be chosen by the investor. For Acclime in Shanghai this means the following name: Acclime 雅可丽玫 ( company name ) Business Information Consulting 商务信息咨询 ( industry ) (Shanghai City上海) ( city ) Co., Ltd., 有限公司 ( company type ).

Leading in company name selection is the Chinese name. Some western company names are not so easy to translate. A name like Heineken is just not that easy to translate into something which sounds comparable. More about that below.

Translating into Chinese

There are four different ways of translating a company or brand name into Chinese.

Dual adaptation

The first and most ideal option is dual adaptation. With dual adaptation, the Chinese name sounds the same as the original name and conveys the meaning of the original name. This is the most ideal name because it conveys meaning and sound, connecting well to the content and the international sound of the company.

A good example of a foreign company that has used a dual adaption for its name is Nike. Nike selected the name 耐克 (nài kè). The sound is comparable to Nike and conveys the essence of Nike. Nài kè means enduring and persevering.

Phonetic adaptation

The name sounds the same as the original name but conveys a different meaning. Such a setup is ideal for organisations that seek a connection between the original company name and the Chinese company name. The risk of phonetic adaptation is that the meaning of the brand could be contrary to the company’s goals or values.

An example of a foreign company that has adapted its company name phonetically is Audi. Audi chose a name that sounds the same in Chinese, 奥迪 (ào dí). But the meaning in Chinese,  profound enlightenment, is not connected to the original meaning Westerners associate with the company.

Meaning adaptation

The third option is a name which conveys the same meaning as the original name but sounds different. Especially when selling to consumers, it is very important to create a connection between the company name and the company’s meaning. The risk of meaning adaptation is that the connection to the international brand name gets lost.

Colgate is an example of a company which chose a Chinese name that is in the same spirit as the feeling Western customers have with the name Colgate. Colgate’s Chinese brand name is “高露洁 (gāo lù jié),” which roughly means “high reveal clean.” However, it does not sound like Colgate. Another great example for this type of adaption is Heineken. Heineken tried to show their company values in the Chinese name, 喜力 (xǐ lì). xǐ means happiness, and lì means strength.

No adaptation

The last option is selecting a totally different name. The least ideal of all options, but sometimes better than a bad phonetic or meaning adaptation.

Original versus Chinese company names

Some famous western companies fully stick to their original name in brand communication, including the English language. This is possible for marketing purposes, but not for the company registration. For the company registration the name must be in Chinese. To still protect your brand name in China, many organisations opt for registering the brand logo with the English written version of the company in it.

Using the original company name could be a benefit. The English name could add a desirable effect to the name. Especially in the luxury consumer goods market, this could provide extra allure to the brand name. However, switching to the Chinese name will likely reach a much larger target market. Most Chinese people regardless of their English proficiency will use a Chinese name to refer to a brand. If no Chinese name is provided by the company, consumers will likely create their own. To remain in control of its messaging to the market, the company should create their Chinese name and also register it as a trademark in China.

Your Chinese company names

When selecting the six Chinese company names to hand in for the registration process, it is very important to consider the goals your company has in China. The following aspects have a strong influence on the name selection:

  1. The sound of your Chinese company name
  2. The meaning of your Chinese company name
  3. The goal of your Chinese company
  4. The type of industry
  5. The market segment, and whether you sell to businesses or consumers

We’d love to brainstorm about company names for China, feel free to connect with us.

Contact our teams for expert support and further information about entering the market and setting up a legal entity in China.

Maxime Van ‘t Klooster, Partner,
Bram Voeten, Regional Business Development Manager,
Julia Jin, Corporate Formation Director,

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About Acclime.

Acclime is Asia’s premier tech-enabled professional services firm. We provide formation, accounting, tax, HR and advisory services, focusing on delivering high-quality outsourcing and consulting services to our local and international clients in China and across the region.

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