How to translate your brand’s name in Chinese?

branding china

As the world’s largest economy and the world’s largest population, China is more than a prosperous market for many foreign companies. However, it is not so easy to enter the Middle Kingdom’s market.

Well-understanding your target

The cultural differences between China and the West are not insignificant. On one hand, because of the “Great Firewall of China,” the inhabitants have their own networks. Making them unable to use Google, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, etc … you thus have to go and get them on their favorite social networks. But they are often totally unknown by Westerners though they are used by millions of users every day. On the other hand, the major part of the population does not speak English.

Even though they have now understood the stakes behind mastering this language. This is why the new generation is learning it much more than the previous ones. However, the learning of English remains poor in the villages and remote provinces. It will be necessary to wait a few years before being able to converse with them in Shakespeare’s language. Moreover, they particularly appreciate when foreigners are interested in their culture and their language. That’s why, from a marketing point of view, it can be very wise for a company to translate its name into Mandarin to attract new customers.

But it is not that simple! Since Mandarin is made up of sinograms (more commonly called “Chinese characters”), the translation of a word or a brand is much more complicated than it seems.

You have to be particularly careful in translating your brand because it can be double-edged. If it is well translated, then the Chinese will greatly appreciate the effort and will be grateful. Your image will be well received and they will not have any trouble trusting your brand. However, if the translation is not good enough, then your brand image will be devalued. Even before trying your products, they will already have a negative impression of your company and will prefer to go to a competitor.

Best way to translate your brand’s name

Translating your brand into Chinese requires a lot of work, research and knowledge, and understanding of the Chinese culture. Especially because Chinese characters can have several meanings. They vary according to the context. You must also pay attention to the different possible translations of one character and make sure Chinese people will get the meaning you wanted it to have while reading your brand. Moreover, since the cultures are relatively different, there will not necessarily be an equivalent to every English word in Chinese. Some words may be similar but the subtlety of a word may be missing in its translation. We will see the different ways to translate your brand. There are three:

  • Transliteration

In this case, the translation is based on the sonority of your brand’s name. Because each Chinese character has a sound (transcribed in pinyin). It is, therefore, possible to transcribe any brand with this technique, simply by choosing characters with similar sounds. It is also the fastest and easiest solution, but this is not the best. Because by translating that way, only the sound is taken into account, not the meaning. And because each sinogram carries meaning, the final translation may seem strange. It will allow the Chinese to be able to pronounce your brand’s name and to make the link with the Latin name of this one. However, it will be totally

meaningless. It will still be necessary to ensure that the final pronunciation of your brand in Mandarin does not have a homonym that can have a meaning that would lower the image of your brand.

  • Translation related to the meaning

If the name of your business has a special meaning in relation to your business, then you can not afford to use the first option. Its meaning is also a reminder of your brand’s activity and defines it. If this is more important than the sound of your brand’s name, then you just need to find the Chinese translation of your company’s name. A very simple example to understand this technique is that of the EDF Company. They simply chose to be called “法国电力”, literally France (法国) electricity (电力). This strategy paid off for them because this choice of translation allows the Chinese to understand very clearly the activities of their company. Indeed, the sound does not matter and has no added value, which is why this choice of translation was perfect for their company. But beware, this technique is not necessarily applicable to all companies.

  • Free translation

This technique is the most recommended and therefore the most used by foreign companies. However, it is also the most complicated and requires the most effort. In this case, the translation will also make sense, but not necessarily the same as the one it can have in your brand’s original name.

Work to give visibility to your brand

It’s here more about sharing a subjective idea in connection with the image that you want your brand to have. This can highlight a feature of your product or service (for example the quality, the function, etc.). This translation is difficult because it requires quite advanced knowledge of characters and Chinese culture. The best example of this type of translation is the one of the famous “Coca-Cola”, translated as “可口可乐”: “可口” meaning tasty and “乐” meaning happy. In addition, the pronunciation transcribed in pinyin is “Ke Kou Ke Le”. So we are not far from the American pronunciation! But the brand still managed to convey a clear idea: we are a brand of tasty drinks that will make you happy. They thus kept both a similar sound and brand image. It may seem like a feat, but many have arrived. Click here for more examples.

You understood now that the translation of a brand’s name in Mandarin is far from easy! There is no single or exact translation. Only the knowledge of culture and language can help you choose the best solution, the one that will be most in line with the image you want your brand to have. Note that some brands mention their two names on their logo, the original name of the brand and its Chinese translation.

Once you have found the perfect name, there is still a lot of work to give visibility to your brand! The best solution for attracting an ultra-connected population is digital marketing. Let a specialized team take care of it for you! You will find all our services on our website.

Do not hesitate to contact us.

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