When LinkedIn decided to push into China, it needed a Chinese name. So the company hired Shanghai-based branding consultancy Labbrand to hunt for the right moniker, something that encapsulated the social network's professional image and had a good ring to it.
Labbrand started with hundreds of candidates, whittled them down to a shortlist, grilled consumers about them and ended up with Lead Elite, pronounced "ling ying" – which sounds almost like the original.
Often, a company's most important marketing decision in China is localizing its name. It's also a notoriously tricky one, and branding consultancies big and small are in on the naming game, blending inspiration, linguistic know-how and science. Labbrand has even developed special naming software to make the process more efficient.
Naming: a checklist
The right Chinese name should tell the brand's story, experts say. It should sound similar to the original or it might not stick. The characters have to look good together, and it has to be legally available. It should work in Mandarin as well as Cantonese and Shanghainese – which sound nothing alike.
On top of that, the name shouldn't evoke negative connotations. LinkedIn's brand name won praise, though some complained online that it sounds similar to a term for the ghost of a dead infant. (Labbrand saw that critique coming but decided the many positives outweighed that small drawback.)
Often, Chinese brand names take on more weight and meaning than the originals. Pepsi-Cola becomes bai shi ke le in Mandarin -- "anything can be happy." BMW is bao ma, a "precious horse." Subway sandwiches are sai bai wei, "better than 100 tastes."
Experts say brands are moving away from choosing nonsense names that merely sound like the original, like McDonald's. That's mai dang lao, a head-scratcher whose characters mean wheat, should and labor.