Chinese company names: How they work.

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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 at least six different Chinese company names to hand in for the registration at the AIC. The AIC, short for Administration for  Industry and  Commerce, is basically the Chinese version of the Department of Commerce in the U.S.

Based on the availability of those names, one of the names can be selected. Every company name in China is structured in the same specific way. First the city of registration is mentioned, followed by the chosen company name, the industry, and the company type. For Acclime in Shenzhen this means the following name: Shenzhen City 深圳市 ( city ) Acclime 一四二一 ( company name ) Business Consulting 商务咨询 ( industry ) Co., Ltd., 有限公司 ( company type ).

Leading in company name selection is the Chinese name. With Acclime China this is quite straightforward, translating each number (一四二一). However, 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.

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 their 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 who 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 their 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 it 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 translated. 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 could reach a much larger target market. Many Chinese people are still not proficient in English, which could create a distance between the company and the consumers. An oversimplified conclusion is that middle class consumer goods and business to business products would benefit more from a Chinese name.

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 original company name
  2. The meaning of your original company
  3. The goal of your Chinese company
  4. The type of industry
  5. The market, consumer or business-to-business

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

Chinese company names: How they work
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About Acclime China.

Acclime China helps established multinational companies and startups start and operate their business in China. By seamlessly navigating our clients through the complexities of the Chinese laws and bureaucracy, we allow them to reclaim valuable time and fully focus on growing and developing their business.

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