The art of naming a company in China — so people don’t think it’s a brothel

McD's in China has officially changed its Chinese name from Maidanglao (a literal translation of “McDonald’s”) to Jingongmen -- or, “Golden Arches.”

October 27, 2017

Earlier this year, McDonald’s sold control of its 2.5k Chinese locations to a state-run conglomerate for $2B.

Now, the fast food chain has officially changed its Chinese business name from Maidanglao (a literal translation of “McDonald’s”) to Jingongmen — or, “Golden Arches.”

A seemingly simple change, but as it turns out, renaming a giant foreign company in China is a complex and nuanced art form.

Tricky business

In China, some Western words have dramatically different meanings when directly translated. Even when a brand translates appropriately, it may prove difficult to pronounce in Mandarin or Cantonese, and selecting the right name is a whole business in itself.

As a result, some brands opt for more simple and literal names that latch positive connotations to their products — which has led to some rather unusual product names…

Like Coca-Cola’s Chinese rebrand to Ke kou ke le

Or, in English, “tasty and fun.” Some other classics include:

  • Tide: Taizi (“gets rid of dirt”)
  • Colgate: Gao lu jie (“revealing superior cleanliness”)
  • Nike: Nai ke (“enduring and persevering”)
  • Marriott: Wan hao (“10,000 wealthy elites”)
  • Heineken: Xi li (“happiness power”)

These rebrands struck a balance between phonetic similarity and connotation, but others haven’t been so lucky: like when Airbnb rebranded to Aibiying (“welcome each other with love”), and Chinese citizens assumed it was a brothel.

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