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Author: Qian Kan
  • Video
  • 5 minutes

Chinese at the tip of your tongue: How do you translate brand names?

Updated Wednesday, 23 August 2023
Have you got a 'treasure horse'? Discover the interesting stories behind the Chinese translations of international car brands.

Chinese at the tip of your tongue: How do you translate brand names?

Dr Qian Kan
When translating a foreign name into Chinese, whether it is a personal name or a brand name, there are a few good practices to follow. 

Let us look at the translation of some famous cars.  One common practice is to use characters that translate either directly or indirectly the original meaning.  For example, Volkswagen is translated into dà zhòng, which means people.  This translation is based on the indirect meaning of Volkswagen.  As the market and the image for this brand is low cost and for ordinary households, this translation reflects its original meaning.

Another example of this category is the translation for Land Rover.  The Chinese name is lù hŭ, meaning road tiger.  The first character, lù, means land or road.  The second character, hŭ, means tiger, which has got nothing to do with the original word rover.  But in Chinese culture, tiger symbolises power and daring, so it is a very good name for a car.

Another practice is to use characters that sound similar to its original name.  The translation for Ferrari is fă lā li, which is purely based on the pronunciation, because when these three characters are put together in Chinese, it doesn’t have any specific meanings.

One other way is to use characters that have got nice meanings but have got no link with the original sound.  BMW is translated into băo mă.  Băo in Chinese means precious or treasured, and mă is a horse.  Horses in Chinese culture symbolise success, progress, and energy.  So if you have got a BMW, you’ve got a treasured horse.

Finally, the perfect translation is when you can combine the sound with characters that have got nice meanings.  The translation for the car Mini is mi nĭ, which sounds like Mini, and it means to fascinate you or to attract you.

Dur: 3’15”


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