Developping an activity in China has to face the question of the translation

Any company wishing to develop an activity in China has to face the question of the translation of its mark in Chinese characters.

The vast majority of large international marks translated their names, in order to render their approach to the Chinese market easier. Two solutions arise.

The first consists in using Chinese characters that are phonetically similar to the western name, even if those will bear no particular meaning. This was the approach used by many companies, among which Sony, whose Chinese name is « Suo Ni ».

The second solution consists in finding a phonetically close translation, which will, however, also bear a meaning. An example can be found in Yahoo. Indeed, the company’s Chinese name is « Ya Hu », which is similar to the western name and which also has a meaning: « gracious tiger ».

The choice will have to be made in favor of the translation which best represents the mark. The goal of this article is to provide companies, which wish to develop in China, with some tips on how to choose a good translation for their mark. The stake of a good translation is high.

In fact, the newly found name will determine the attractiveness of the mark to the consumers. The quest to find a Chinese trademark name shall first start with checking its availability A search for anteriority is thus highly recommended. Neglecting this research could generate a considerable waste of time. In China there is the existence of a principle, which is used in order to distinguish two marks.

It is thanks to the rule known as the 2/3 that one can proceed to this distinction. Thus, if a name is composed by three characters, and two of them are jointly used by an already existing trade mark in the same category, this name will be considered too close to allow a precise identification and therefore will not be suitable. The chosen characters for the translation of the foreign mark shall use all the richness offered by the language in order to best reflect the values and ambitions of the represented company. The Chinese name of a trademark is generally made of two or three characters. In fact, the current consumer products are in general composed of two characters.

Evian, for instance, chose to be called « Yi Yun », which means « depend on the clouds ». Names with three characters tend to represent specific products (L’Oréal, « Or Lay Ya » meaning « elegant grass of Europe »). As for the rare names composed by more than 4 characters, they are most likely to be simple phonetic equivalents (Coca Cola and its « Ke Kou Ke Le »). 


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