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BRANDING

How to Pick the Right Chinese Name for Your Startup

Brand names carry deeper meaning in China than elsewhere, so you need to make sure that yours tells the right story.
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Your brand name should tell the right story. It's important in any market, but perhaps none more so than China, where brand names tend to have more connotations than they do in the U.S. 

That's according to Advertising Age, which published an excellent story on the subject Wednesday. A good Chinese name has to stick and sound original. What's more, it should work in Mandarin, Cantonese, and Shanghainese, none of which sound alike. 

If you're hoping to expand your reach into the vast Chinese market, here are a few tips for picking a name. 

Be Positive

When LinkedIn, which recently pushed into China, chose the name "ling ying," many pointed out that it sounded a lot like the term for the ghost of a dead infant. To avoid such a backlash, opt for something uplifting--or better yet, meaningful. Pepsi-Cola is bai shi ke le in Mandarin, which roughly translates to "anything can be happy." 

Skip the Gibberish 

Nonsense names that sound like the original have gone out of vogue, Ad Age notes. Exhibit A: mai dang lao, which was used for McDonald's. Sometimes it's better to keep the original if it's short, or find a creative workaround. 

Get Clever

A little clever wordplay can go a long way. One good example is Booking.com's name in China, which plays on the word for guest, bin ke.  

Do Your Homework 

Perhaps the most important aspect of localizing your name is finding a language specialist to help. Lest you sound ignorant or offensive, it can pay to hire a professional to help you come up with names for your brands and products. 

Last updated: Mar 5, 2014

JILL KRASNY | Staff Writer

Jill Krasny is a staff writer for Inc. magazine, where she covers the intersection of entertainment and startups. Prior to Inc., she was a writer for MTV and Esquire and an editor at TheStreet. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California with a degree in communication. She lives in New York City.




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