Monday, August 20, 2007

Writing "Heaven Fresh" in Chinese

One of the criteria for a multi-national organization is that it should be able to conduct its business in various languages. As of today, Heaven Fresh web sites and marketing materials are being produced in English (US & UK), French, German and Arabic. Although the words "Heaven Fresh" do not mean anything to a person who does not understand English, they can still be read by someone who can read Latin alphabets based scripts e.g. French and German. For the languages that use Arabic script, Heaven Fresh is  simply  spelled out the  ھیون فریش (phonetically sounds Heaven Fresh).  Therefore, an Arabic speaking person will read "Heaven Fresh" but will have to get some help to figure out what language these words come from and what do that actually mean.  As part of our initiative to start Heaven Fresh branch in China, the very first thing that we need to do is to translate our brand name into Chinese.  Since Chinese language does not use alphabets, the words "Heaven Fresh" cannot be spelled out in Chinese as it is. One of our options is to change our name using the literal meaning of "Heaven" and "Fresh" in Chinese. The 2nd choice is to use the Chinese symbols/characters that will phonetically sound like "Heaven Fresh" but they will not necessarily have anything to do with "Heaven" and "Fresh". Few examples of the famous brand names translations into Chinese are as follows:

Table 1:

English Name Chinese Name Meaning of Chinese Name
Nike 耐克
(Nài Kè)
耐(Nài) = durable;can stand wear and tear
克(Kè) = defeat;overcome
Yahoo 雅虎
(Yǎ Hǔ)
雅(Yǎ) = fine;refined;elegant
虎(Hǔ) = tiger
Google 谷歌
(Gǔ Gē )
谷(Gǔ) = valley;mountain
歌(Gē) = song;sing
Pepsi-Cola 百事可乐
(Bǎi  Shì Kě Lè)
百(Bǎi) = one hundred
事(Shì) = matter;thing
可(Kě) = may;should
乐(Lè) = happiness;happy
Disney 迪士尼
(Dí Shì Ní)
迪(Dí ) = enlighten
士(Shì) = soldier
尼(Ní) =very intimate
Reebok 锐步
(Ruì Bù)
锐(Ruì) = sharp;hard-hitting
步(Bù) = step;walk
Subway 赛百味
(Sài Bǎi Wèi)
赛(Sài) = compete
百(Bǎi) = one hundred
味(Wèi) = taste
McDonald's 麦当劳
(Mài Dāng Láo)
麦(Mài) = wheat
当(Dāng) = equal;turn towards
劳(Láo) = work hard
Sony 索尼
(Suǒ Ní)
索(Suǒ) = Search
尼(Ní) = very intimate

Table 2:

English Name Chinese Name Meaning of Chinese Name
(people's car)
(Dà Zhòng)
大(Dà) 众( Zhòng) = people
Burger King 汉堡王
(Hàn Bǎo Wáng)
汉堡(Hàn Bǎo)= hamburger
 王(Wáng) = king
Microsoft 微软
(Wēi Ruǎn)
微(Wēi) = minute;tiny
软(Ruǎn) = soft;flexible
Apple 苹果
(Píng Guǒ)
苹果(Píng Guǒ) = apple

Table 3:

English Name Chinese Name Meaning of Chinese Name
Honda 本田
(Běn Tián)
Common characters in both Japanese & Chinese
Toyota 丰田
(Fēng Tián)
Common Characters in both Japanese & Chinese
Fuji 富士
(Fù Shì)
Common Characters in both Japanese & Chinese

All the companies mentioned in Table 1 went for Chinese name that sounded like their original name.  In many cases there are several different characters that can have the desired sound so there is room to be creative in picking the characters to have some related meanings as well. My favorite translation is for Nike. Not only that is sounds the closest but also conveys a perfect  image of the  Nike shoes and apparel.

Table 2 lists the companies that have a Chinese name which does not sound like their original name at all but a direct translation of the English words.

Table 3 lists the Japanese brand names that are actually Japanese family names.  Chinese and Japanese written scripts share a large number of symbols, however they they can be pronounced completely differently in both languages.  For example, the written Japanese characters for "Honda" (本田) are also used in Chinese script, but they are pronounced "Běn Tián".  Therefore, the Japanese companies seem to be able to avoid the process of translating their name into Chinese but instead use the symbols as it is as long as they are recognizable to a Chinese.

Now for Heaven Fresh we can either go for similar sounding words or literal translation of the words "Heaven" and "Fresh". For example, 合万福世 is pronounced in Chinese as hé wàn fú shì. (Did not really sound much like "Heaven Fresh" to me at first but when read quickly by a Chinese friend, it does the job). 

合(hé) = Combine
万(wàn) = One Thousand
福(fú) = Blessings

Read together, it will mean "Combine 1000 blessings for lifetime/world"

If Heaven Fresh is translated literally,  it will simply be read as:

天堂清新 (tiān táng qīng xīn) = Heaven Fresh 

If you can read and write Chinese and have a better idea for naming "Heaven Fresh", I will be happy to hear from you. After going through this name translation exercise, my sixth sense is telling me that we need to be ultra prepared if we are to run a successful Heaven Fresh branch in China.


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