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What Is Your Chinese Name?

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by: Helen Fu Thomas, Principal
 

I’ve started the “What’s your Brand” series by saying each of us has his or her own identity and it takes great insights to build it into a great brand.  So let’s start with the name itself.  I came to the United States in 1992 with my Chinese passport showing my Chinese name 符海京 (Fu Haijing).  In the past 13 years, I have been traveling the world with my American passport showing my name Helen Fu Thomas. Interestingly all my friends across the globe call me Helen (or even Miss Helen).  Helen has become an old fashioned name in the US.  All of the Helens I have met except for one are either Asian or English.  The most distinguished Helen Thomas, of course, is the retired White House correspondent.  It turned out she and I were both born under the sign of Leo, but 48 years apart.  It was all coincidence as my first name and last name were both given not by choice.  The point is that whether you are aware or not, all names have meanings and connections.

 

Conversely, I have been helping American brands and companies to localize their English names into Chinese names that will stick; but why Chinese?  Why can’t we just use BMW, IBM and Coca Cola as they are in the rest of the world?  Chief Marketing Officers would always argue for the consistent branding identity, and I don’t blame them.  The main reasons are relevance and emotion connection; but more importantly, the reality is that if you don’t have your own Chinese characters chosen and trademarked, you may end up with something in Chinese that you didn’t choose and don’t like.  Someone may argue that there is not just one Chinese language anyway.  Cantonese and Mandarin, for example, are two different spoken dialects.  The situation is different from Europe, where both spoken and written languages are different among most of the countries. In China among 1.2 billion people and many different provinces and spoken dialects, there is one unified written language and that is Simplified Mandarin Chinese.  Because internet and mobile devices are spreading so rapidly, these Chinese characters are becoming the second most used languages in the world.  So having your Chinese name and website for searching and education purposes is becoming a “must have” for all global marketing firms.  Google translation doesn’t give you the personality, creativity and relevance you desire.

Here are the top 50 most-searched for luxury brands in China, published by the Digital Luxury Group.  All of these global brands have their Chinese names.  Interestingly if you can identify the characters, the two Chinese characters for Audi (No.1) and Dior (No. 8) are the same but reversed in order, that is 奥迪 (ao-di phonetically) and迪奥 (di-ao) respectively.  These are different industries and different targeted audience in terms of gender (men vs. women) but use the same characters in opposite order based on phonetic localization.  And almost all of these 50 brands have adopted Chinese names based on the pronunciation, except for Intercontinental (No. 50) 洲际 (zhou-ji) which is based on the meaning.  When I was with LeapFrog, we chose 跳蛙 (tiao-wa) meaning “jumping frog” that is quite popular with positive energetic image for learning.

 

 

If you are not convinced that a Chinese name is necessary, take a look at the impact of language differences by the Digital Luxury Group, which shows that 76% of people searched Burberry using the unofficial Chinese name 巴宝莉 (ba-bao-li) vs. its official Chinese name博柏利 (bo-bai-li) 15% vs. its English name Burberry only 9%.

 

 

Everyone that knows anything about brand localization would talk about Coca Cola and its Chinese name 可口可乐 (ke-kou-ke-le) ; and how clever it is for the name created based on the sounds to have such positive meanings of tasty and happiness.  That’s successful branding in the Chinese culture.  It has become such a classic that 可乐was adopted by Pepsi so that Pepsi Cola becomes 百事可乐 (bai-shi-ke-le).  Now take a look at the global Google Trend between the English and Chinese names.

 

 

I wouldn’t underestimate one’s Chinese name for its global branding at all given the growing consumption power and dominant web presence of the Chinese people.  Now looking at the technology brands on Google Trends using English and Chinese names separately, HP (惠普) and Lenovo (联想) are almost reversed, while Apple(苹果)is quite consistent between the two languages (likely due to American and Chinese demographics). While Apple has surpassed Microsoft(微软), the gap between the lines in Chinese is much bigger than in English.  Does that mean that Chinese perceives Apple as much more prestigious than Microsoft?

 

 

 

 

One of the main reasons for the need of Chinese brand names is the fact that the internet world is divided between inside and outside China, with different search engines and social media in two separate cyber worlds.  While China may be behind in many areas of research and development, it is certainly head-to-head with the rest of the world in terms of internet development.  It’s fascinating to see how the Chinese, who were isolated by physical and geographical barriers in the past, are now quickly jumping on the mobile phone and web infrastructure.  They are ahead faster because they don’t have to replace what is already in-place over years of development by the western world, but build the best and fastest from the ground up.  And the power of over 500 million people using mobile devices to communicate in one textual language, one market and one country is historical.

 

 

 

So are you ready to communicate to them and educate them about your brand, value, products and services?  Start with your brand name and website in Chinese.  There - you now have your presence in the biggest consumer market in the world. 

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