After we participated in a competition of the Business and Innovation Hub Germany-China, the DC Hub, in September 2018 and won as one of five startups, we had the chance to lay the foundation for our China expansion during a four-week stay in Shanghai. However, you encounter some stumbling blocks when you want to gain a foothold in China as a German startup. You can find out exactly what those were for Peakboard in our blog post.
One hurdle that all Western companies have to overcome in order to get off to a successful start in China is the Chinese language. The Chinese language has a completely unique writing system that has nothing in common with our 26 Latin characters. It is particularly tricky to translate the brand name in such a way that people in China can pronounce it well and remember it. This raises the question of what exactly happens when Starbucks, Siemens or other Western brands set themselves up for the Chinese market and want to translate the name of their brand.
the chinese phonetic spelling pinyin
Historically, the phonetic transcription Pinyin was introduced to explain the sound of the Chinese language to learners coming from Western countries. For this purpose, Pinyin romanizes the Chinese characters based on their pronunciation. In other words, it describes an attempt to spell Chinese expressions with letters from the Latin alphabet. In fact, in Mandarin Chinese, the expression “Pin Yin” literally means “to spell.”
To understand the principle behind pinyin, you should first know that each Chinese character corresponds to exactly one syllable, which has a specific pronunciation, stress and meaning.
The character 我, for example, is pronounced roughly like “where” and denotes the personal pronoun “I”. When speaking, the voice goes down briefly, then up again. In order to record the stress in the phonetic transcription, a corresponding accent is placed on the “wo”, which represents the stress. So “我” becomes “wo”, thus becomes “wŏ”.
western brand names, translated into chinese
There are several ways for Western companies to translate the name of their brand into Chinese. Most often, they try to follow one of the first two ways described below. The third option is chosen in rare cases, for example as a backup plan if the first two types of translation do not produce results.
In this type of translation, one triesto find Chinese syllables that correspond to the original meaning of the original.
The second possibility is a phonetic translation. In this case, Chinese syllables are strung together so that they sound similar to the original when pronounced. However, it is important that the new Chinese name has a positive connotation.
If a semantic or phonetic translation of the brand name is not an option, there is also the possibility of creating a completely new name for the Chinese market. This makes sense especially if the brand is still unknown in China. In this way, companies have the opportunity to create precisely the associations that are desired for tapping into the Chinese market through the choice of name.
beispiele aus der praxis – so machen’s “die großen”
The popular coffee roaster and franchisor Starbucks uses a combination of the first two methods. Starbucks is called “星巴克” in Chinese, which is pronounced “Xīngbākè.”
“Xīng” translates to “star,” so it is a substantive translation of the English word “star.” The second part, “bākè”, is again a phonetic translation and sounds pronounced similar to the syllable “-bucks”.
Siemens opted for a phonetic translation of its brand name. The Chinese name “西门子” is pronounced “Xīménzi.” The three syllables translate to “west,” “door,” and “son.” In terms of content, this fits only very roughly, but its meaning carries a positive connotation for the technology group.
In communication, Siemens uses the logo we are familiar with, but if the name is mentioned in continuous text, the Chinese spelling is used. You can see an example of this here.
The car manufacturer also decided to use a purely phonetic translation. The Chinese name “奔驰” is pronounced “Bēnchí,” which not only sounds very similar to the word “Benz” but also carries a fitting meaning. You see, the two characters “奔” and “驰” mean “runs fast.” Fitting!
how was peakboard translated?
At Peakboard, we handle things very similarly to Siemens. The original logo stays as it is because in this form it represents a brand with strong recognition value.
Our brand name translated into Chinese is “奔峰板” and is pronounced “Bēn fēng bǎn”. Fēng bǎn” is a direct translation of the English words “peak” and “board”. The first syllable “Bēn” stands for powerful, dynamic or fast and has a very positive connotation. With this syllable added, the Chinese version of our brand name sounds appealing and is well-rounded!
By the way, our “Bēn” is also found in the Chinese name of Mercedes-Benz.
best to let the pros handle it
Unfortunately, this knowledge is often not enough for the perfect translation of a brand name. Both in China and in Germany, there are agencies that specialize in this area and can also take care of the trademark registration and any other formalities. In our experience, such a translation of the brand name costs between €800 and €2,500 – depending on how much consulting service is included in the assignment. But since the name of your brand is the figurehead of your company, in our opinion it is money well spent!