After enjoying your “sparrow’s nest coffee” while smoking your “10 000 treasure road”, you drive your “treasured horse” to the nearest “family blessing”.
Meaning: after having your Nescafé coffee and smoking your Marlboro cigarette, you drive your BMW to the nearest Carrefour.
There are many funny examples of where multinational companies have used Chinese names, with the result looking like they’re lost in translation. They may seem weird to foreign ears, but for native Chinese, they zing like music. What’s more, they often give a new meaning to the original name.
Here are some examples from western brands who adapted or literally translated their names:
Here is an example that indicates a relation between a brand’s name and its success in the Chinese market.
– Mercedes Benz and BMW are both big car companies in China. Benz’s Chinese name holds the meaning of ‘dashing speed’, while BMW means ‘treasured horse’. ‘Dashing speed’ holds a more masculine connotation, while ‘treasure’ is a feminine trait. BMW is among the leading sellers to wealthy Chinese women.” (Li & Shoostari, 2003)
And of course, some bloopers!
– Search engine Bing has found it difficult to break through the Chinese market. Bing sounds similar to the Chinese word for ‘illness’ 病 (bìng). Although it’s official Chinese name is 必应 (bì yìng), which means ‘very certain to respond’, the resemblance of its original brand name with illness is hard to compete against.
– Best Buy, 百思买(bǎisīmǎi) In Chinese this means ‘Think 100 times before you buy’ , not the best name for a retail store, isn’t it? The company has been closed down.
Next time someone is talking to you about riding his “swift panther”, don’t frown your eyebrows in huge wonder, they’re most likely talking about their new Jaguar.
Want to read more about western brands adapting their brand names when entering the Chinese market? Don’t hesitate, go to Hutong School’s website!
More from Hutong School? Check out last week’s story “Excuse me, but you have “pig face” on your shoulder: Chinese tattoos gone wrong” here!
Wanna come up with your own brilliant transcriptions? Learn Chinese at Hutong School:
Hutong School has Chinese courses for all tastes: Short- to longterm intensive Chinese programs in China, flexible Chinese classes for expats, and unique internship programs with China-based companies!