Bilingual brands: Google China's GuGe yarn continues

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Google doesn't seem to draw much comfort from its activities in China. Earlier this year, the world's largest media company copped some flak over the launch of Google.cn, a local version of its search engine that saves people the trouble of clicking through links that are inaccessible from China. A recent Keynote survey declared Google to be China’s “best search engineâ€? as far as user experience goes, but the American giant is still trailing behind local rival Baidu, which controls roughly 50% of the local market (according to some surveys).

The latest episode in the Google China saga features the unveiling of the company’s local name, GuGe, (pronounced Goo as in “gooâ€? and Ge(r) as in “girlâ€? without the “rlâ€?). As multinational giants forage into new markets, they are required to add a local dimension to their identity and make it easier for consumers to pronounce and remember their brand names. Most Asian languages cater for foreign names: Thai, Korean, Indian, and Vietnamese all have phonetic alphabets, and the Japanese have Katakana, a syllabary (yes, this is an English word) script commissioned exclusively to accommodate foreign words and expressions.

China is different. Chinese language boasts more than 50,000 symbols, of which many have more than one meaning and pronunciation. It is thus impossible to simply translate a brand name to sound the same as its foreign language original. The localization process requires companies to balance the phonetic and the poetic, to choose a name that sounds like its original foreign source while carrying a positive meaning.

Successful examples include French retail giant CarreFour ( JiaLeFu, 家ä¹?ç¦?, meaning a happy and fortunate household ), IKEA ( YiJia, 宜家, meaning a proper home ); and Coca Cola ( KeKouKeLe, å?¯å?£å?¯ä¹?, meaning something along the lines of “tasty and makes me smileâ€?). Less exciting examples are Siemens (XiMenZi, 西门å­?, meaning west gate ) and Pepsi ( BaiShi, 百事, meaning a hundred things or a hundred troubles ).

GuGe (谷歌), Google’s new Chinese name, comprises è°· (gu3), meaning cereal or grain and also valley; and 歌 (ge1), meaning a song. Together, they mean “harvest songâ€? or “song of the valleyâ€?. In choosing the characters, the good people at Google (apparently) wanted to connect to Chinese tradition, refer to successful reaping of results, and allude to the company’s origins in the (Silicon) Valley.

A fine effort, but the Chinese are not impressed. Local bloggers have been complaining that the name sounds old fashioned, uncool, and downright boring. A bunch of them decided to exercise their freedom of association online and launched NoGuGe.com, a site featuring a petition calling on Google to rethink its new name. 10,743 people have signed it so far. The site also allows people to propose and vote for alternative names.

Popular suggestions include:
狗狗 – GouGou, meaning Dog-Dog. This is currently Chinese people’s favorite way of referring to the baffled search engine. Earlier this week, Google dwelled on the shortcomings of its canine nickname in reaction to queries from a local newspaper: "Names such as Gougou (dog dog) are unable to fulfill the responsibilities of a corporate, brand or product name, nor do they reflect fully our goals and mission."
够了 – GouLe, meaning enough (is enough ).
姑姑 – GuGu, meaning sister in law or aunt.
割乳 – GeRu, meaning cut off/shave your breast.
å?¤ç‹— – GuGou, old dog.
狗哥 – GouGe, dog-brother, or doggish old brother.
孤狗 – GuaGou, an orphaned dog.
å?ƒåº¦ – QianDu, doesn’t sound exactly like the original, but keeps some of the meaning - "a thousand times" - while playing on the name of local competitor BaiDu ("a hundread times").
果果 – GuoGuo, double fruit.
自由狗 – ZiYouGou, Independent dog.
哥哥 – GeGe, older brother ( as opposed to Big Brother).
呱呱 – GuaGua, the Chinese equivalent of quack-quack, the noise made by (Peking?) ducks.

Your correspondent has been trying to gather a few additional ideas from the rest of the Danwei team, but nothing substantial came up. Latest suggestions include: GuGao (顾告), which consists of the characters for the verbs “to consider/to look afterâ€? and “to informâ€?; and GuGao (固告), which consists of the characters for “strengthening/solidâ€? and the verb “to informâ€?.

The first one is about paying attention or looking after information, which is what Google is all about. The second one is about solid, reliable information. Both include Gao (告), which is a part of GuangGao (广告), the Chinese word for advertising., which could help enhance Google's local image as the world's largest advertising network.

Another idea came from Danwei’s cheeky neighbor, Imagethief, who suggested GuKe 锢客, loosely translated as “imprison your clientâ€?. Perhaps this name might be more suitable for Yahoo!, who was in the news again this week for allegedly being instrumental in the arrest of another journalist.

As much as we would like to help, it seems the cause for Google’s trouble might lay in the hands of greater powers. Noam Urbach, a devoted Danwei reader from Jinan, points out that Google’s new name - which contains the Chinese word for grain or cereal - was launched during the Jewish holiday of Passover, a period in which God commanded the Jewish people: “Thou shalt have no grains within your borders for seven daysâ€?. So, there you have it.

Danwei readers are encouraged to suggest alternative names for Google China in the comments section.

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Note: The views and observations expressed on this web site are published for the sake of public discussion and do not represent my personal opinion or the opinion of my companies, clients, and/or employers. If you would like to get my opinion on anything, ask me.

This page contains a single entry by Dror Poleg published on April 27, 2006 4:39 PM.

Dao bless America: The Congress, China, and counter productivity. was the previous entry in this blog.

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