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Jun
2015

What’s in a name?

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The low-key luxury brand Bottega Veneta announced its official Chinese name ‘葆蝶家(bǎo dié jiā)’ which means ‘flourish’, ‘butterfly’ and ‘family’ last month after what is claimed to be years of deliberation. The story of the Chinese name is beautiful and poetic, but one spoof by Weibo followers has put the brand in an embarrassing position. ‘暴跌价(bào diē jià)’ also sounds like BV’s new Chinese name but means‘ a significant reduction in selling price’, and has always been used in the promotion of most of China’s low-end brands, all positioned far from BV’s luxury status.

In fact, BV selected this Chinese name only after the better name choice had been registered by another company. Renaming a brand in China is common because cyber squatting is prevalent; Lexus, Hermes, Tesla and other big names were all been forced to rename in China. Apple spent $ 60 million to regain the ‘iPad’ name. New brands will often now register more than 10 Chinese trademark at once, as well as a variety of transliteration of Chinese names they can think of.

Of course there are also brands that have changed their Chinese name successfully; Karing is a good example.The Chinese name ‘开云(kāi yún)’, means ‘lucky’ and ‘dispel the clouds and see the sun’, it is an excellent name to use. Although Hermes forced to rename, ‘爱马仕(ài mǎ shì)’ is now more suitable compared to its old name ‘爱玛仕(ài mǎ shì)’, because the ‘马’ they use now means “horse” which is closer to the brands history.

In addition to considering recognition of the existing name, having a Chinese name not only has to take into account the brand culture and positioning, but also consumer acceptance, Chinese cultural elements, and whether a similar pronunciation will bring with it a negative affect or not. Take BV as an example, it has more male products than female, but the Chinese name is quite feminine. Burberry changed its Chinese name ‘巴宝莉(bā bǎo lì)’ to ‘博柏利(bó bǎi lì)’, the former was feminine, whilst the new name is more masculine than feminine and includes a character for lucky. There is a clear reminder here that if the brand plans to have a balanced development with male and female products one day, a masculine or feminised Chinese name may cause them problems.

Therefore, for any brand that wants to enter the Chinese market in the future, no matter how far away, having a good Chinese name and completing the registration in China as soon as possible would be a wise choice. There is more to a Chinese name than first meets the eye, so whether it’s the name of your brand or the one you adopt yourself, get advice and avoid potential embarrassment that it may one day bring you.

Fashion sector

Good example:

Balenciaga 巴黎世家(bā lí shì jiā)
Sounds like the native word.
Means an aristocratic family in Paris.
It implies that the brand has a long history and
heritage.

Bad examples:

Chloé蔻依(kòu yī)
No specific meaning, a collection of characters that
are popular in Chinese female names.
When pronounced in Chinese, it doesn’t really
sound like the English one.

Marc Jacobs莫杰 (mò jié)
The name sounds to the Chinese like a small local
designer brand and not a luxury one.

Juicy Couture 橘滋(jú zī)
Literally means orange juice

Car sector

Good example:

BMW 宝马(bǎo mǎ)
Means pedigree horse, and is also very auspicious in
Chinese tradition

Bad example:

Peugeot标致(biāo zhì)
Peugeot (biāo zhì) sounds like a Chinese
swear word (biǎo zhi) used in southern China,
where the pronunciations are especially close.

Your western brand name should also be registered

Other than ensuring you have an appropriate Chinese business or personal name, any brand must consider registering its western name in China to protect it. There are western brands who cannot use their name in China because someone else has already registered it. Costume National bought its name back from the registered owner, Dsquared2 and Iceberg are owned by their distributor, and Dries Van Noten has been owned by a Chinese company since 2005.

Any individual in China may apply for and register a personal business license, after which they may apply for ownership of a brand name. The authorities here will of course research that name and its existing ownership, which could take up to one year, and is sector specific, but any international brand that may one day want to enter China, or even just want the peace of mind to ensure that their name is not abused by others, should consider registration as a matter of urgency.


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