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Main Topic: Product Naming in Chinese

Hosts: Stephen Huang , James Stanworth , Clyde Warden

Guest: Robert Reynolds, Ph.D.

What is in a name? Well, a lot. Certainly everyone knows, coming up with a good product name is not easy, but when you are moving your brand to a Chinese cultural setting, one of the first, and certainly one of the most difficult, challenges is naming in Chinese. In this show, we welcome Robert Reynolds on TAM, a Chinese linguist, to discuss the ins and outs of what this is all about.

This topic has an accompanying research show (show 18) for marketing researchers. It includes details on research methodologies and findings mentioned in this show. We invite Robert back and look at more examples, some video, and a few research papers. To view the supplement and other research related shows, register and/or sign in.

Why is Coca-Cola's Chinese name brilliant? What is a snipe and a star fruit, and why is XP wiping your butt in Chinese? Robert guides us through the numerous approaches to brand name translation and what the advantages and risks are. It's all way more complex than we thought!

Chinese & English have little in the way of equivalency. (Although orange color is orange in Chinese, it is NOT an orange but a tangerine--Warden lost the bet with his kids).

A Tangerine

What is Chinese anyway? (many characters and few sounds creates dangers and opportunities).
Star Fruit

Four word phrases, cheng yu, are commonly used in Chinese (成語ž), especially by children in learning the language. This means consumers are very open to combinations of words and plays on words--both positive and negative.
A Snipe

Imported words and phrases do not have a standardized approach, as in Japanese, although the PRC has tried (外來語ž).

Chinese brands going the other way may actually start out life in English, then move to Chinese, as in the case of Giant Bicycles (捷安特).

When choosing to name a product in Chinese, you can’t escape the individual meaning and phonics in each character.

The Show:

Length: 1 hour 15 minutes. Download MP3 35.4MB (Right click->Save As).


Commercial Examples:

Head & Shoulders Taiwan commercial.
Head & Shoulders Hong Kong commercial
Head & Shoulders in the PRC (note the name has been condensed to 海飞丝 hai fai si)

Show Links:

Bottom Line:

  • In Chinese, some characters are pronounced in a similar way.
  • The availability of more than one character to represent a sound in a foreign language makes product naming challenging.
  • Chinese characters are numerous but the sounds are few.
  • Each character encodes meanings.
  • The degree of complexity of the character is determined by the number of strokes E.g. 口have three.
  • When naming products, happy words are chosen to represent happy ways (List of happy words) E.g. Carrefour 家樂福.
  • Not all dictionary are created equal, some will give you the meaning but not the equivalent translation.
Category: Podcasts

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