In 1965, during the presidential campaign, De Gaulle uttered a famous phrase: "Of course, one can bounce on one’s chair like a kid saying, ‘Europe! Europe! Europe!" Today all the brands bounce on their chairs like kids exclaiming "China! China! China!" ...It is interesting to refer to the same interview with De Gaulle because he added: "Because politics cannot be practiced unless it is based on reality. We must take things as they are. How are they?" The crucial question to be asked of all the brands that are so enthusiastic about China is that of the reality of contemporary China. Then a fascinating article from Labbrand "Why does your company need a Chinese brand name?" drew our attention to the fact that a brand that addresses this market is obliged to adopt a Chinese name.
We must firstly remember that the significance of a name in China is not the same as in a Western civilization. And I will put forward three reasons:
- The first name is not invariable: According to Chinese tradition, a person’s first name changes between birth and adulthood because it bears the qualities of the individual. This explains, for example, the ease with which contemporary Chinese adopt westernized first names.
- The surname, like the first name, consists of ideograms – and each of them has a meaning: There is therefore a polysemic richness in a name that extends well beyond the name itself.
- In China the written equals the real, whereas with the Western alphabet the written is a representation of reality.
Consequently, the polysemic import of the name obliges a brand to adopt a Chinese name - which will often be a phonetic transcription. However, unlike Western phonetics, Chinese phonetics have a significance imparted by the ideograms and sometimes homophonies. If the Chinese name - for example, consists of 4 ideograms – it will carry the attributes of the 4 qualities attached to the 4 characters: the brand name is thus enhanced by the addition of the significations and attributes of these signs. The result is fascinating:
A brand must acquire a Chinese name also because otherwise someone else will select it instead - and it will become very difficult to re-appropriate it. Porsche experienced the problem, having forgotten to register the names of their models in Chinese: Carrera was registered by an electric bicycle company. The most interesting case is that of Starbucks which had not foreseen the importance of adopting a Chinese name "星巴克[xīng bā kè]” and registering it early on. A Chinese coffee chain did it before them - making consumers believe they were part of Starbucks “上海星巴克[shànghǎixīngbākè]”.