International Brand Names in Chinese
Post by Eva

As every other language, Chinese language has undoubtedly been undergoing many changes, such as new vocabulary and even new sentence structures, particularly under the influence of English. New words have been seeping into Mandarin since Qing dynasty, but the process has been much more notable in the recent decades. This has been propelled by the economic collaboration between USA and China (as well as other economies) which brought on the sudden need to translate the names of international brands into Chinese.


The most common method of doing this is by transliteration, which is often used for invented words (such as brand names) or surnames and other words that carry no other meaning otherwise. When writing down the English word in Chinese, in this case, characters are used that are similar to the original sound in English.

Characters with good (auspicious or generally positive) meanings are most commonly used to carry this sound, especially words that suggest happiness, longevity, good luck, fortune, wealth, etc. You will see many of this characters repeated in various brand names:

  • 顺 (Shùn) Smoothness
  • 利 (Lì) Benefit
  • 宏 (Hóng) Grandness
  • 祥 (Xiáng) Auspiciousness’)
  • 金 (Jīn) Gold
  • 鑫 (Xīn) Prosperity
  • 福 (Fù) Happiness
  • 寿 (Shòu) Longevity
  • 喜 (Xǐ) Delight
  • 乐 (Lè) Pleasure
  • 美 (Měi) Beauty
  • 吉 (Jí) Luck
  • 泰 (Tài) Peaceful
  • 瑞 (Ruì) Lucky

Besides using a character with positive connotation, it’s suggested that brand names should also be memorable and unconventional as possible in wording, pronunciation and other aspects. Some examples of companies that successfully used that to their advantage are:

  • 7 Up (七喜, Qī Xi, ‘Seven Happiness)
  • OMO (奥妙, Ào Miào, ‘mysterious and profound’)
  • Xerox (施乐, Shī Lè, ‘giving happiness’)

Due to the nature of unique economic relations with Hong Kong – which had opened to the world much sooner and faster than Mainland China – some problems occur  arise when, a name is transliterated into Cantonese first and then subsequently used in Mainland China. Although the same characters would be used, the pronunciation would be substantially different. For example, McDonald’s uses a transliteration(麦当劳) which in Cantonese approximates to MakDonNo. In Mandarin this becomes MàiDāngLáo, which is not that similar to the original McDonald’s.

Going back to the process itself, there are four different ways of either transliterating or translating a foreign word (an English brand name in this case) into Chinese.

1. Pure transliteration occurs when an English sound is transliterated, imitated in the Chinese language. Of course when interpreting sounds from the source language into the target language, not all the sounds can be represented accurately.

Look at the English words and their equivalents in Chinese:

  • 卡迪拉克 (KǎDíLāKè) Cadillac
  • 希尔顿 (XīĚrDùn) Hilton
  • 劳斯莱斯 (LáoSī LáiSī) Rolls-Royce
  • 西门子 (XīMenZi) Siemens
  • 阿迪达斯 (ĀDíDáSī) Adidas
  • 迪斯尼 (DíSīNí) Disney

2. Part transliteration, part translation:

  • 芭比娃娃 (BāBǐ) WáWa Barbie Doll (Babi is transliteration for ‘Barbie’, Wawa is the translation for ‘doll’)
  • 英特网 (YīngTèWǎng) Internet (Yingte is transliteration for ‘inter’, wang is translation for ‘net’)

3. Pure translation:

  • 美洲豹 (MěiZhōuBào) Jaguar (the animal or the brand)
  • 骆驼 (LuòTuo) Camel
  • 联邦快递 (LiánBāng KuàDì) FedEx (Federal Express)
  • 微软 (WēiRuǎn) Microsoft (small soft)

4. Transliteration with added meaning (most common choice for brand names):

  • 奥美加 (‘mystery beautiful add’) ÀoMěiJiā Omega
  • 可口可乐 (‘tasty cola’) KěkǒuKěLè Coca-Cola
  • 奔驰 (‘run quickly’) BěnChí Mercedes Benz
  • 宝马 (‘treasure horse’) BǎoMǎ BMW
  • IKEA: 宜家 (‘suitable home’) YíJiā IKEA
  • Reebok 锐步 (‘quick steps’) RuìBù Reebok
  • 美宝莲 (‘beauty treasure lotus’) MěiBǎoLián Maybelline
  • 雅芳 (‘elegant beauty’) YǎFāng Avon

One Comment

  1. leeshin wrote:

    this post is nice. im interested in collecting Chinese stuffs . this post helps me a lot. thank you.

    Sunday, June 14, 2015 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

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