Characterful brands gain in translation

Discussion in 'International Politics' started by amoy, Aug 14, 2010.

  1. amoy

    amoy Senior Member Senior Member

    Jan 17, 2010
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    By Jonathan Guthrie
    The allure of the Chinese market is prompting western companies and business locations to have their names translated into Chinese. It is a ticklish task, since Mandarin characters can have both phonetic and descriptive meanings.

    Guernsey has lately taken the plunge, registering a Chinese name whose characters imply that it is a “finance island”. According to Kevin Lin, translator for the promotional body Guernsey Finance, the trademark will make it harder for similar tax havens to describe themselves as “finance islands” too.

    The response of government officials on nearby Jersey can best be summarised as “harrumph”.

    Guernsey is one of a second wave of western organisations seeking meaningful identities in China. Big consumer brands went in years ago. Pizza Hut, according to Mr Lin, adopted a transliteration of its name with the dual meaning “always triumphant guest”. That had connotations of customer service, but was a little elliptical. So the stuffed-crust titan added characters that stood for “happy canteen”.

    Coca Cola did better with a transliteration that portrayed its product as “palatable and joyful” and had no connotations whatsoever of tooth decay. But Google, back in the days before its spat with the Chinese government, chose a name (Guge, meaning “harvest song”) that many Chinese thought plain weird. That was appropriate, since Google sounds plain weird in English too, reflecting its geeky co-founders' inability to spell the term “googol”.

    According to the China Daily newspaper, Bing, Microsoft's search engine, has meanwhile chosen a Chinese name that inspires queasiness because its sounds like the word for “sickness” in Mandarin.

    Eager to dodge such pitfalls, Notebook commissioned an evocative Chinese translation of its own name from Mr Lin. He came up with: Apparently that means “tube of ten thousand patterns” or, more simply, “kaleidoscope”. That nicely captures the eclecticism of a column comprised of northern grit, business trivia and emotional cruelty to cabinet ministers. Unless Mr Lin is pulling our leg. In which case the characters may mean “Chongqing Municipal Garbage Co”. Or worse.

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