Given the importance of Chinese character trademarks for the Chinese market, brand owners are naturally concerned about the ways to translate the original Latin trademark into Chinese. In brief, there are three types of translation.
One is phonetic transliteration. This is the translation of Latin text into Chinese based on sound, i.e. to ensure the Chinese characters, when reading out, sound the same or similar with the original Latin text. There are pros and cons for this way of translation. The advantage is that the brand owner can ensure consistency of its mark in terms of the sound, whether the mark is in Latin or in Chinese. The disadvantage is that the translated mark may not have any sensible meaning in Chinese. Thus the Chinese mark may be unfamiliar to normal Chinese consumers and sometimes hard for them to remember. Some brand owners prefer phonetic transliteration, because the Western brand is still considered as a luxury and a symbol of high social class in China. Consumers of Western branded products may want to retain this “Western” feeling in relation to the translated Chinese marks.
Another is translation by meaning. Obviously, the purpose of this approach is to convey the meanings of the Latin text to the Chinese translation. Again, there are pros and cons for this way of translation too. In contrast to the phonetic transliteration above, the advantage is that the Chinese marks thus generated are usually simple, concise and meaningful in terms of Chinese, and thus easy to remember by Chinese consumers. The disadvantage is that the phonetic link between the original Latin mark and the translated Chinese mark is cut. Brand owners, as well as consumers, may feel that there is no strong link between the original mark and the Chinese mark, and that the two marks appear distant from each other, unless extensive marketing and promotion has resulted in a strong association between the two.
The third is a combination of the above two ways, i.e. translation which balances phonetic similarity with clear meanings in Chinese. This is usually the ideal solution for the brand owners to translate their marks into Chinese. A clever, simple and meaningful translation can have strong impact to the consumer’s memory and fondness of the brand. Some good examples of Chinese translation of trade marks are “Coca Cola”, “Benz”, and “Safeguard”.
There are also service providers in China which specialize in devising Chinese names for either foreign individuals and foreign company names as well as trade marks. Trademark agents normally offer the service of phonetic transliteration only. Their level of expertise differs quite significantly. When brand owners instruct an agent to devise a Chinese name for their brand, they shouldn’t just leave it to the agent’s discretion. They are advised to actively tell the agent the intended effect and purpose of the Chinese mark, and ask the agent to explain the cultural meanings or connotations of each of the Chinese characters in the mark.
About the author(s)
Dr. Jian Xu is an internationally recognized China intellectual property expert. He is the Managing Director and Head of IP Prosecution of Gowling WLG Beijing. He has been a dually qualified Chinese lawyer and patent/trademark attorney since 2006 and has handled all aspects of IP in China.