Guest article by Céline Chen

Dior, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent… All these successful designers have given their family brands an eponymous name, making it sound elegant, luxurious, glamorous. What happens in China, when the language doesn’t allow its original pronunciation to sound as graceful as it actually is ? In order to appeal to the local population, brands have to adapt themselves to culturally fit the standards of the clientele.

It can prove to be quite tricky, as chinese is comprised of thousands of dialects, and every one of them possesses different accents : for example, Gucci 古琦 Gu Qi (traditional jade) can become 哭泣 Ku Qi (sigh, cry out of despair) if you don’t pay enough attention. Naming is something that can’t be overlooked by the brand if it desires to be taken seriously by the consumer!

In the beauty and cosmetic market, this reality becomes even more harsh as the brand has an image of beauty and luxury to uphold. Essentially, the chosen name has to inspire elegance, class, and sometimes even… mystery.

That’s the road taken by La Mer when investing in the Chinese market : they’ve translated their brand name by 海蓝之谜 Hai Lan Zhi Mi, which literally means « the mystery of the blue ocean ». Relaying the ideas of rejuvinating, moisturizing and soothing the skin, as well as reminding the customers of seaweed, the basic component of La Mer’s famous cream, this name seems almost mystic thanks to the use of the word « mystery ». What’s so mysterious ? The fact that this brand’s product may hold the key to perfect skin, or even to beauty itself ? In any case, this seems to work for Chinese women who immediately fell in love with the brand and its products.

Another brand which has chosen a fairly successful name is Estée Lauder, currently standing as number two in the beauty market in China. Its chosen translation, 雅诗兰黛 Ya Shi Lan Dai, reveals to be quite mysterious but really meaningful for the chinese : indeed, « 雅诗 Ya shi » refers to elegance in poetry, « 兰 Lan » means orchid, a flower loved by the chinese because it’s linked with purity, elegance, patriotism. As for « 黛 Dai », there are multiple interpretations for this character ; the commonly accepted one is that it’s the « 黛 Dai » of « 林黛玉 Lin Dai Yu », one of the principal characters of 曹雪芹 Cao Xue Qin’s « Dream of the Red Chamber ». Inspiring the ideas of traditional beauty, youth, and intelligence, this mysterious yet meaningful name might just be one of the reasons as to why Estée Lauder became so widely popular in China.

Targetting another range of customers, OLAY has also chosen a chinese translated name that’s attractive for the local population : 玉兰油 Yu Lan You means « Oil of Pure Orchid ». « 玉 Yu » means jade, but associated with « 兰 Lan », it can be interpreted as the purity of the orchid : it reminds the chinese of a beautiful pale skin, an asset coveted by most chinese women. Somehow, the brand’s name sounds like a promise : this miracle oil can transform one’s skin, and make it look as beautiful as Snow White’s! Thanks to this naming, Olay became one of the firsts drugstore brands, loved by many women across China.

Article contributed by Sinonym China , naming in China

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