Chinese Naming for Digital China – Don’t Just Translate!


A key rule for creating your brand name in China, is ironically – do not just simply translate.

As part of our new Name Creation approach at Resonance’s SMART – we are looking at the fundamentals of a strategic brand name in China.

One of the fundamentals is – to not just translate, it sounds a little counterintuitive, but just treating your Chinese name as a task in translation can create liabilities you never anticipated.

To make this point clearly – so you do not fall into this naming trap – we will use Burger King, respectfully, as an example of how ‘good translation’ does not lead to an optimal name in China.


2. 1830 Burger_King_China

Burger King’s Chinese name – Hanbao Wang. Good Translation, but Strategically Weak.

Category Context – essential to the right Chinese name

When Burger King entered the Chinese market in 2005, two other foreign fast-food brands had already established a foothold. Burger King, had been successful as a challenger brand in other markets – so the right Chinese name was essential to planting that challenge firmly in the minds of Chinese consumers.

Burger Kings choice of name, was a very accurate translation of their international name.
Hanbao Wang (汉堡王) – broken down this is literally burger (hanbao) plus the closest Chinese word to “king” (wang).

The Chinese name deserved an A+ for translation,  but an F for strategic appreciation.

At the time, many small restaurants, such as hot pot and local eateries, used the character “king” to make lofty claims of their hero dishes.

From a cultural perspective, Burger King’s use of the character created the idea of a form of localism simply impossible for a new international brand, and worse, created the perception of a brand “trying too hard” and “making exaggerated claims”.

To place this in an international context, it was similar to a large foreign pizza brand using the name “John’s” as part of their American naming.  Naturally, perceptions would link the brand to all the small local pizzerias throughout the city, and deflate any sense of internationalism.

Our SMART tips to avoid stumbling the wrong side of local naming rules

As part of our SMART Naming Creation, we include key steps to ensure your Chinese name is strategically right.

One crucial steps is to check the prevailing naming rules, habits and conventions that exist in the client’s category, and related areas.

We look to see how this impacts the client’s ability to differentiate and communicate their global equity in a local context.

In the case of Burger King, missing this cultural point, meant their name created an unintended consequence of being seen as very provincial – an initial competitive disadvantage against McDonald’s and KFC, who had established names that cemented them as offering international experience and quality.

In terms of creating your name for China, it is vital to leave no stone unturned.
To address this challenge, we have created a 360 Name Creation methodology that ensures your Chinese name is culturally and digitally ready for the Chinese market.

Book a session in-person in Shanghai – or by Skype anywhere you like – to hear more about how we ensure the success of your brand’s Chinese name.  A fundamental part of your brand extension in China.

About Author

Jerry Clode

Jerry Clode is Head of Digital & Social Insight at Resonance. He leads Resonance SMART, providing leading-edge research, strategy and naming for brands in China using bespoke methodologies. Jerry also produces Resonance's popular China Social Branding Report, a bi-weekly publication covering modern marketing methods of the world's top brands.

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