Sinonym and the naming in China
Nike, Adidas, Coca-Cola and Pepsi are present throughout western people’s daily lives and, generally speaking, of the culture in the West. In China, these very same brands will be found throughout different name: Nai ke (耐克), Ai di da (艾迪达), Kekoukele (可口可乐), Bai shi (百事).
Sinonym has a strong experience of this naming adaptation in China. Finding the good name is a critical task when it comes to enter China market and is greatly enhanced by the Chinese culture, as names have a deep and strong significance in China. Thus, it became evident that foreign companies really have to get assisted by a specific consulting agency to find a suitable name in China.
“On the surface, Sinonym’s service is simple: we help clients find great Chinese names for their products, brands and services,” told us Steven Hansen, co-founder of Sinonym. “But behind that simple service is a set of processes and knowledge that is quite complex.”
Sinonym provides key drivers to find a name in China
Finding a name is not an easy process and involves critical skills. The founder of Sinonym insists on the main requirement to identify the most suitable name in Chinese market: “Linguistic resources, process management, and creativity. In naming, you must have all three.”
Indeed, unlike what many foreign companies may think, linguistic knowledge is not enough to find a good name. “Even though non-Chinese companies may have employees on the ground in China, most likely those employees don’t have the creative resources or process know-how to ensure the best naming choices” added Steven Hansen. “Therefore, Sinonym gives clients one-stop expertise in these critical areas to ensure that their naming choices are appropriate and inspiring.”
A national presence in China required a name suitable in every dialect
Another issue for naming in China is related to the country size and the diversity of culture and dialect within China. “One of the critical elements of name testing in China is to ensure that the name is acceptable to speakers of a wide variety of Chinese dialects,” told us the co-founder of Sinonym. “These so-called “dialects” — more different than French, Italian and Portuguese — are a constant source of difficulty for local and international companies alike.” Indeed, Chinese has thousands of characters, each with many meanings and with pronunciations that vary from region to region. Even for local brand, it can be difficult to find the right name when it comes to a national presence. Checking the sound and meaning of potential names in every dialect in China is thus crucial to establish your brand in China.
It is this crucial task, often forgotten by other agencies, which led to the creation of Sinonym, through previous project of Steven Hansen, a website which gather local speaker and writer from all over China to promote Chinese dialects named Phonemica. “I have years of experience in market research, including name testing, from when I was director of market research at Thomson Reuters. But since I left in 2009 and came to China, I’ve also been immersed in Chinese dialects through my Chinese dialect preservation project, Phonemica.”
“It was Phonemica that inspired us to first think up the naming service idea”, added Sinonym’s founder. “Choose unwisely, and your wonderful Mandarin name may be a curse word in Cantonese. To prevent this, we survey some of the many dialect speakers who use Phonemica to better understand the sound and meaning of potential names in their home dialects.”
Sinonym has different approaches to find a name in China
Finding a name is a crucial task in a branding strategy in China. As explained by the founder of Sinonym, it required strong process management; but are there different kinds of approaches to find the most suitable name. Steven Hansen described to use the four most common processes.
- Use a name that sounds similar but has “no meaning”
That is, the name has “no meaning” in the sense that it uses characters commonly used in foreign names just for sound. Classic example: 别克 (pronounced biékè in Mandarin) is the Chinese name for Buick. The sound is similar but the characters invoke little in the way of meaning.
- Translate the concept and forget the sound
Microsoft did this by using the name 微软 (pronounced wēiruǎn). The literal meaning is “micro” and “soft”, but the sound is nothing like the English.
- Retain the original sound while communicating the meaning
This approach attempts to maintain some sort of international consistency in the sound of the brand / product, while producing a thoroughly Chinese meaning. Well-executed and well-known examples include Coca-Cola’s 可口可乐, whose pronunciation (kěkǒukělè) bears some resemblance to the English and whose meaning is a fizzy mixture of something that “fits your taste” and “makes you happy”.
- Focus on positioning and meaning without regard to the non-Chinese name
Let’s talk toothpaste for example. P&G’s Crest toothpaste became 佳洁士 (jiā jié shì). The sound is nothing like the original, and the meaning is entirely unrelated but does everything Crest wants it to do by implying: “good” + “clean” + a hint of well-culturedness.
Or even P&G itself. The company name is translated as 宝洁 (bǎo jié), meaning something like “precious” + “clean”. It’s pronounced the same as another word (保洁) spelled with different characters whose meaning is “to keep a public place clean”. In making this name selection P&G was clearly trying to capture some of the essence of their disparate brands.
More about Sinonym: