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Key Takeways:

1. Chinese naming complexities demand precision in transliteration and translation to avoid unintended meanings, exemplified by Coca-Cola’s initial misstep. 

2. Legal diligence is vital in Chinese naming to prevent trademark conflicts, protect brand reputation, and avoid legal disputes. 

3. Chinese brand names must resonate positively on social media platforms, balancing uniqueness and cultural appropriateness for enhanced visibility and engagement. 

YouTube video

The Complexity of Naming in China 


Entering the Chinese market can be a lucrative opportunity for brands seeking growth and expansion. With a population more than four times that of the United States, the potential for success is immense. However, one aspect that often surprises many is the intricacy involved in naming when venturing into China. Unlike in English-speaking countries, where a straightforward translation may suffice, the Chinese language presents unique challenges that require careful consideration. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the complexities of naming in China and explore the key steps involved in crafting a successful Chinese brand identity

Understanding the Linguistic Landscape 

The Chinese language, primarily Mandarin, is vastly different from English. While English relies on an alphabet of 26 characters, Mandarin boasts over 50,000 characters, although an educated individual may know around 8,000. This stark contrast underscores the challenge of transliterating English names into Mandarin equivalents. Take, for example, the case of Coca-Cola, whose initial transliteration resulted in a term resembling “tadpole,” hardly an ideal association for a beverage brand. 

Transliteration and Translation: Striking the Right Balance 

Transliteration involves converting the sounds of an English name into Mandarin characters that closely approximate those sounds. However, achieving phonetic similarity is only the first step. It’s essential to then translate the Mandarin name to ensure it conveys the desired meaning and avoids unintended associations. Coca-Cola learned this lesson the hard way but eventually arrived at a Mandarin name that evoked positive sentiments related to pleasure and joy. 

Navigating Trademark Considerations 

Naming isn’t just about linguistic nuances; it also involves legal considerations, particularly regarding trademark infringement. Before finalizing a Chinese brand name, thorough research is necessary to ensure it doesn’t conflict with existing trademarks or infringe upon intellectual property rights. This step is crucial for safeguarding the brand’s reputation and avoiding costly legal disputes down the line. 

Adapting to Social Media Dynamics 

In today’s digital age, a strong social media presence is vital for brand visibility and engagement. When selecting a Chinese brand name, it’s essential to consider its resonance in the digital sphere. A name that may sound quirky or unconventional could garner attention on platforms like TikTok, potentially attracting a larger audience. However, striking a balance between uniqueness and cultural appropriateness is key to success in the highly competitive social media landscape. 

Expert Guidance: The Role of Legal Advisors 

Navigating the complexities of naming in China can be daunting, but expert guidance can make the process smoother. Law firms specializing in intellectual property, such as Hogan Lovells, offer invaluable support in trademark research and legal compliance. Their expertise ensures that brands enter the Chinese market confidently, equipped with a name that resonates with consumers while respecting legal boundaries. 

The Promise of AI: Revolutionizing Brand Naming 

While current technology may not fully meet the complexities of naming in China, the future holds exciting possibilities. Artificial intelligence (AI) presents a promising avenue for automating and streamlining the naming process. Imagine a scenario where AI analyzes English names, generates phonetically accurate Mandarin equivalents, evaluates their meanings, and conducts trademark searches—all within minutes. While AI hasn’t reached this level of sophistication yet, ongoing advancements suggest that such capabilities may soon become a reality. 




Mike (00:04): 

Today we’re going to talk about naming in China. So let’s say you’ve got a product or a service or a personal brand, or you’re social media influencer in the US and you’re doing quite well and you’re thinking about growing and expanding your brand. And maybe China’s an opportunity for you. Why China’s more than four times as big as the US market? So how hard could it really be to take that English name to China? Well, most Chinese don’t even know what the English name is. They may speak Mandarin, which is arguably the most common language in China. And Mandarin has characters 26 characters in English. According to the great compendium of Chinese characters, there are over 50,000, 50,000 characters. If you’re an educated Chinese person, you may only know about 8,000 characters. You don’t know all 50,000. And if you need to be able to read a newspaper, it’s about two to 3000 Mandarin characters. 


So it isn’t quite as complicated or involved as 50,000, but that’s still a lot. So you need to first sort of take the English and then maybe transliterate it into the Mandarin that sounds closest to the English name. So when Coca-Cola went over there, that’s what they did. That’s exactly what they did. And it meant something that approximates a tadpole, that Nas wax not exactly ideal. So not only do you need to transliterate your English name into the Mandarin that approximates the sound, but then you need to translate that mandarin to make sure that it doesn’t mean something bizarre like a tadpole that Nas wax. So Coca-Cola did that after they stubbed their toe. The new Coca-Cola Mandarin translated loosely into pleasant to the mouth gives joy. So you’re done, right? You’ve gone through this translation, you’ve gone through the translation. No, you still need to look at trademark infringement, right? 


So you need to say, okay, does the Mandarin sound like sound like another name that would be confusing to the Chinese consumer or your customer in the same class of goods and services? Likelihood, a trademark infringement? Does the translation translate into something that already is owned by a different company or a different product or a different service? And then what about social media habits? Let’s say you’re a TikTok influencer. Well, tadpoles that all wax is sort of cool and wacky and different. You might have a lot of followers. So lots of things to think about. We’ve come across a law firm, Hogan Laves, that’s just excellent in this space. They have offices and attorneys. We’ve heard great things about them. They’ve been very responsive to some of our queries, and they’ve got some great content that would help in understanding how to go about naming. 


Feel free to reach out to me, DM me, and I’ll send you a couple PDF files that they’ve given us that really go into a lot more detail. But since this is all about ai, the overall title of our podcast and our YouTube is about naming in the AI world. How neat would it be to go to AI with this kind of a prompt? Here’s my English name. I want you to transliterate it, transliterate it into the Mandarin characters that are phonetically the closest. It would sound the same. Then I want you to translate it and make sure that the meaning is appropriate for my brand. It conveys the kind of value, proper, the differentiation or the benefit that we provide. And if it doesn’t, then I want you to find other Mandarin characters that sound maybe not quite as close, but still fairly close to my pronunciation of my English name, but has a great meaning. 


Got it? Now, I want you to do a trademark search and make sure that that Mandarin character set or that translation doesn’t conflict with any existing intellectual property in China. And by the way, we need some social media handles and we need a URL. So I need you AI to go out there and give me all this stuff. Now we do research in this area a lot and AI can’t quite deliver on all those things yet, but we think it’s coming soon. So if you need a Chinese name right now, AI’s not going to get you there and you’ll have to go through some of the other things I talked about. But you just wait in the not too distant future. That kind of prompt may give you a great name to go forward with when you’re ready to roll out into China. 


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