Article by Aaron Posehn


After working hard to build a profitable company at home, you may now be wondering if it would be viable to extend your product lines into new and foreign markets. Although you could try selling it anywhere in the world that makes sense to you, one of the places that companies these days inevitably face is China. Only you will know if it’s the right time to expand, but if you do, you’ll want to consider how to most effectively portray your brand in this new market.

People in China, like anyone else in the world, will likely be most comfortable understanding and purchasing products to which they have some emotional attachment, and a good product name can make the inclination to buy that much stronger.

Many foreign brands that have already set up shop in China have had to deal with the dilemma of (re)naming their company. However, get it right, and it can help Chinese people see your product in a whole new light. One reason for this is because Chinese is a bit different than some other languages like English; each character has its own unit of meaning and by putting these together in creative ways, you may be able to influence the way people view your products.

For example, the company Subway is a popular chain of stores that sell submarine sandwiches. The name in English alludes to the type of food that can be bought there (ie, subs), but other than that, it’s not overly ingenious. However, the Chinese name is much more clever: 赛百味 [sài bǎi wèi].

Not only does it phonetically resemble the English name, but each character lends a hand in creating a colorful image of a unique company. 赛 [sài] means to surpass, 百 [bǎi] means one hundred, and 味 [wèi] means flavor, suggesting that this company has an incredible amount of variety and flavors from which to choose.

Another example of a well-known brand name is Mercedes Benz. In Chinese, this has become 奔驰 [bēn chí] and is phonetically similar to the name Benz.

This name can be used to suggest the unique or favorable selling points of the product: 奔[bēn] means to run quickly and 驰 [chí] means to gallop. Together these suggest a dashing speed at which these cars are able to go.

At least in my mind, this name also provides for visions of great generals galloping on horseback across a vast terrain off to claim victory in yet another battle. And who wouldn’t want to pretend to be a great leader while driving to work every morning, especially if your day job tends to make you feel like less than a hero from time-to-time.

With this in mind, here are a few more examples below of clever Chinese translations for well-known Western brands:

Original Name

Chinese Name



Nestlé 雀巢咖啡 Quècháo kāfēi Què: sparrow
Cháo: nest
Kāfēi: coffee
Meaning: Sparrow’s Nest Coffee
Marlboro 万宝路 Wànbǎolù Wàn: 10,000
Bǎo: treasure
Lù: street, path
Meaning: 10,000 Treasure Road
BMW 宝马 Bǎomǎ Bǎo: treasure
Mǎ: horse
Meaning: Treasured Horse
Jaguar 捷豹 Jiébào Jié: win, victory
Bào: leopard, panther
Meaning: Swifting Panther
Coca-Cola 可口可乐 Kěkǒukělè Kěkǒu: delicous
Kělè: happiness
Meaning: Delicious & Happiness
Carrefour 家乐福 Jiālèfú Jiā: family
Lè: happy
Fú: prosperous
Meaning: Family Blessing
Pepsi 百事可乐 Bǎishìkělè Bǎi: one hundred
Shì: matter, thing
Kělè: happiness
Meaning: A Hundred Happy Things
Lay’s   乐事 Lèshì Lè: happiness
Shì: matter, thing
Meaning: Happy Event

Original table compiled by the Hutong School


As all business owners know, choosing an appropriate company name in the first place is not something that should be taken lightly, and nor should it be when later translating this name into Chinese. Although we’ve seen several examples of well-translated company names above, there have also been those businesses that chose names without a full understanding of how Chinese people might interpret them.

An example might be the consumer electronics chain Best Buy, or 百思买 [bǎi sī mǎi]. Just like the examples above, this name also phonetically sounds roughly like its English equivalent, but the individual characters used here actually portray a negative meaning when linked together.

百 [bǎi] means one hundred, 思 [sī] means to think, and 买 [mǎi] means to buy. As a group, it’s easy to see how some people might interpret this name as to think 100 times before buying. If you have to think that long about whether you really want something, odds are that you probably won’t end up purchasing it.

Due to these potential linguistic pitfalls, when choosing a Chinese name for your company, be sure to consult with somebody who has a deep understanding not only of the Chinese language, but also of branding and marketing to Chinese people in general; you can most likely hire a consulting company to help you with this task.

However, don’t be afraid to then do some street-level investigation and ask Chinese friends or colleagues what they think of the potential translation that you have come up with. Ask how it sounds to them, what emotion(s) it may evoke, and if it makes certain qualities of the product seem more desirable (and why!).

The decision to expand your company into China may have the potential to offer great rewards, but regardless of what you are selling, be sure to put as much effort into marketing your brand properly in this new market as you did when first creating it back home.


 $RZJHEJ1Aaron Posehn is the managing editor of LearnChineseBusiness.com and is a graduate of the University of British Columbia, where he majored in Asian Area Studies. Currently also working as an academic editor in Taiwan, he has had an intense interest in the crossroads between business and culture for as long as he can remember. He has also recently completed writing chinEASE, a guidebook that teaches Chinese learners how to more easily learn Chinese characters for purposes of business and pleasure.