China Bans Weird Company Names

For companies looking to expand in China, choosing an adequate name just got a lot more complicated. finding a creative, culturally knowledgeable individual to help with a name will help keep you out of trouble.

Acompany in northwest China that has gained notoriety for its verbose name—“There Is a Group of Young People With Dreams, Who Believe They Can Make the Wonders of Life Under the Leadership of Uncle Niu Internet Technology Co. Ltd.”—will have to change its name in the wake of new company naming regulations.

The Rules for the Prohibition and Restriction of Enterprise Names, released by China’s State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC), ban businesses from registering company names authorities consider “weird”, overly long, politically sensitive or mimicking existing brands. Businesses already registered with names authorities deem inappropriate may be compelled to alter them. The new rules came into effect on July 31, 2017.

Names now banned by the regulations
There is no formal character limit on the length of permitted names; rather, it appears that local regulators will have discretion to determine if they are compliant.

The rules also ban names that are “too weird”, which is a more subjective designation. Media outlets and social media users have uncovered numerous examples of company names that authorities might consider “too weird,” including:

  • Anping County Scared of Wife Netting Products Factory
  • Beijing Under My Wife’s Thumb Technology Co. Ltd.
  • King of Nanning, Guangxi, and His Friends Trading Co. Ltd.
  • What Are You Looking At Shenzhen Technology Company

Under the new guidelines, other types of banned company names include those that contain:

  • Names that have negative political connotation (e.g. “Chi Na”, “Black Sun”, “Large Landowner”)
  • References to colonial culture (e.g. “Yamato”, “Formosa”)
  • References to undesirable ‘feudal era’ cultural concepts and superstitions that hinder social stability
  • Language that discriminates against genders, sexes, races, or ethnicities
  • Names of foreign countries, regions, or names of international organizations
  • Names that give the impression that they are non-profit organizations
  • Names that include names of political parties, organizations, and designation of troops
  • Name of region, industry, and organization structure (e.g. “Beijing”, “Steel”, “WFOE”)
  • Names that mimic existing brands
  • Names that say they are “national” or “the best”

Streamlining company registration
While the new guidelines add a variety of rules to company naming in China, the SAIC most likely designed them to filter out egregious and politically sensitive names, rather than to strictly regulate the naming process. In addition to eliminating duplicate names and intellectual property infringers, the guidelines aim to limit the potential for company names that authorities may find embarrassing to China.

Many foreign companies localizing their products to China strive for a name that sounds phonetically similar to the original, but also captures the essence of the product. One well-known example is Coca-Cola, whose Chinese name Kekoukele means “Tasty Fun.”

To prevent duplicate names, last year the SAIC established the “Enterprise Name Query System,” which enables companies to check their prepared names online. The SAIC also recently issued the Rules for Comparison of Similarity between Enterprise Names, which also seeks to streamline the naming process by limiting duplicate and similar sounding names.

Naming your company
Although a direct translation can sound innocent on the surface, a name might unintentionally be associated with an offensive or absurd word or phrase, given the similarities in Chinese characters, tones, or cultural symbols. For example, the French auto company Peugeot’s Chinese name, Biaozhi, can sound similar to the word for prostitute.

Many foreign companies localizing their products to China strive for a name that sounds phonetically similar to the original, but also captures the essence of the product. One well-known example is Coca-Cola, whose Chinese name Kekoukele means “Tasty Fun.” The home sharing company Airbnb tried to use this strategy earlier this year when announcing its Chinese name, Aibiying (“Welcome each other with love”), but Chinese netizens ridiculed it, saying the name was hard to pronounce and sounded like a sex product.

Even if the local branch approves a name, authorities could review it again in the future. Xu explained, “Any organization or individual who thinks a registered enterprise name is inappropriate may request the registration authorities to correct it. As such, a strange, controversial, or provocative company name might be problematic for businesses.”

Beyond complying with the new enterprise naming restrictions, preexisting laws stipulate that a name must consist of more than two Chinese characters. The SAIC does not accept names containing foreign languages or alphabets, as well as numbers and special characters. Before submitting the application, businesses can conduct a preliminary check through the local Enterprise Name Query System to identify similar company names that are already registered. Further, businesses should prepare at least five potential names for AIC approval.

Naming companies in China is a delicate art, and foreign entrants now have additional considerations when developing their local name. Foreign businesses looking to develop a Chinese company name that both captures their brand and complies with government regulations should enlist professional consultation services to successfully localize their name to China’s unique business environment.

Category Business