The challenges of starting a business in China – Part 3 (Our Chinese Name)
In the last two blog posts I discussed the importance of location and some standard business operations. In this post I will be discussing the process of coming up with a Chinese name to register a company in China.
There are two routes you can go to determine a name in China. One is to do a literal translation of the name. For example Apple’s Chinese name is 苹果 (Píngguǒ) which literally means Apple. People in China will call Apple by both names because of their popularity. Another more popular way of coming up with a name is to come up with a Chinese name that is pronounced similar to the original name. An example of this style is Dell which used the name 戴尔(Dài'ěr), when spoken by a Chinese speaker the name sounds similar to Dell. What complicates this is in China is they have common and uncommon characters. This means you have to be careful to pick a character that can be recognized by most people or they won’t be able to read the name. In addition, when dealing with Mandarin there are literally hundreds of different dialects so the character might sound one way in Chinese but another way in Shanghainese. It’s important to have someone who is well cultured helping with the selection process of a name. If your idea is to just to put the name into Google Translator you can forget it. Believe me, I put Hitcents into Google Translator a few times, showed it to a Chinese person and said there’s our Chinese name!
Since it was impossible to do a literal translation of Hitcents, we had to go with the second option and pick Chinese characters that sound similar to Hitcents when spoken but could be easily recognized. This task proved to be very time consuming and frustrating. When you register a company name in America it’s relatively simple. You just have to make sure the state you are incorporating in doesn’t have someone with the exact same name. In China it’s very complicated because they not only check to make sure no one has the same name, but also that no one has the same sounding name. In China several characters have similar sounds with different meanings. When submitting the forms for name registration the information is submitted to the district for approval, which is then routed to the city for final approval. This process normally takes two weeks if the name is accepted on the first submission. In my experience, we provided over 30 names on five different occasions, which were rejected every time for different reasons. The process took over a month to complete and was a showstopper for all other tasks. The name is the first step to being able to get a business license. Without a name you can’t draft the legal documents required to start the process. Depending on which district the name is being registered in (and possibly which day of the week it is) the government officials might require several documents including the Chinese translated versions of your company’s Articles of Incorporation to even start the process for submitting a name.
Another difference in China is names are submitted under each industry and protected by the industry each company belongs to. The industry and city are added to the end of the name to ensure uniqueness. For example with Hitcents, we are in Shanghai and under the Information Science and Technology industry so the English version of our Chinese name is as follows: Hitcents (Shanghai) Information Science and Technology Co., Ltd.
After going back and forth many times our name ended up being 赫士(hè shì). 赫 means Reputation and Famous and 士 means a gentleman and scholar.
It was an exhausting process, but once the name was finally determined a large amount of satisfaction was gained.