2

Say you have a word in English like "stone" or "parabola". How do you write that in Chinese literally so that it is pronounced in Chinese like it is in English? That is, you can write the pinyin version perhaps of these words, so you get the sound right (stoan perhaps, and p'raboaluh I don't know haha). Then you convert that to Chinese characters.

How does this work?

I am not asking how to translate simple words from English to Chinese. Instead I am asking how to sort of transliterate English words (or any non-Chinese word) into Chinese.

Basically, in English you can take Chinese words like 到 and go to pinyin "dao" and to english "Tao". So we can write any Chinese word in English (Not perfectly accurately because of tones, but pretty close). But how do you do the reverse, and write an English word in Chinese?

The use case is I would like to create a brand such as "MyBrand" and then have it pronounced "My Brand" in Chinese as well, or as close to it as possible.

2
  • The question addresses a crucial issue when translating foreign names to Chinese👍 Can you clarify bit more on the purpose/use-case? – hc_dev Apr 23 '20 at 12:00
  • 1
    Just a remind, in practice, if your brand name is simple and your target customer are young or mid-aged people, you could consider use your brand’s original name in English alphabet, but you still need use a Chinese transliteration without literary features and meaning in company registration. e.g. H&M keeps its original name in China, but its name in registration is 海恩斯莫里斯 (上海)商业有限公司. Gap keeps its original name in China, but its name in registration is 盖璞 (上海)商业有限公司. – Bosai Apr 24 '20 at 1:23
3

There are two directions you mentioned:

You are asking for the latter.

How to choose characters?

For the selection of matching chinese characters there is always the trade-off between phonetic (sound) as well as semantic (meaning) similarity.

Some are just resembling phonetic: For example 打的 (dadi) means (to go by) taxi. It's colloquial although there are "original" chinese idioms for that, e.g. 出租车 (chuzuche) meaning taxi (or rental-car in Taiwanese).

Difficult to reflect both, sound and meaning: Especially foreign businesses are smartly applying creativity to give there brands recognizable chinese names (easy to associate and remember).

That effort leads for example to IKEA translated to 宜家 (yijia) literally proper-home, or Cola to 可乐 (kele) literally amusing/entertaining.

Localised Foreign Brand Names

Since you are asking especially for the "translation" of brand names, there are further aspects for selecting the right characters/words:

  • cultural fit
  • socioeconomic and psychological associations
  • historical and traditional reflections

Above factors are essential for designing brands, not only for translating their names.

The difficulty in selecting a suitable chinese brand name may even include visual (stylish) aspects: aesthetic and beauty of the characters, since they should appeal visually to the target audience:

The translation from English brand to Chinese brand involves issues of “translating a name from a letters -and- phonemes-based phonographic language (i.e. English) to a visual-character-based logographic language (i.e. Chinese)” (Schmitt & Zhang, 2012, p.656).

Refer to examples where the name was selected to incorporate such aspects, although neither matching phonetically nor semantically:

  • Poison (a luxury fragrance) was retranslated to 百爱神 (Bai Ai Shen), which means everyone will love it. So that people would like to purchase it, rather than they would if it has a negative connotation like its original name and meaning.

Further Reading

Branding in China is covered by many Studies and Research Papers, published at Universities by sinologists and economists alike:

  • Shi, H. (2017). Translation Strategies from Target Culture Perspective: An Analysis of English and Chinese Brands Names.  International Journal of English Language & Translation Studies. 5 (1), 15-22.
  • Berende, B. (2012) : What’s in a Name? A study on the success factors of brand naming in China. Master Thesis, Jönköping International Business School
5
  • 1
    Yes this is what I was looking for, I updated to state that my use case is for brand names, which you covered :) Thanks! – Lance Pollard Apr 23 '20 at 17:25
  • So can you summarize what the rules are for selecting such a name? Is it just pick best match between the phonetic and the literal meaning as you can? – Lance Pollard Apr 23 '20 at 17:25
  • 1
    @LancePollard A good name will surely cover phonetic and semantic aspects, but also produce beauty in Chinese culture. e.g. 百达翡丽Patek Philippe,露华浓Revlon,赛百味Subway. You can hire a native to help you with it since you may lack this kind of perception as a foreigner(maybe?) – Toosky Hierot Apr 23 '20 at 17:52
  • @TooskyHierot Great you mentioned this important aspect of branding and visuals 👍 I updated to incorporate that. Strongly agree on support of native speaker. – hc_dev Apr 23 '20 at 19:03
  • @LancePollard Oh, branding😲 There are no rules to selection. But if it's really about branding, then similarity (be it phonetically or semantically) is the least important 😧 Luckily you can approximate that too, as others could 😉 – hc_dev Apr 23 '20 at 19:15

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.