Update: some dead image links have been removed, and currently Google has moved to Hong Kong, and the screen snip shows what Google looks like now. (updated on May 17th, 2012)
On April 12th, Google announced its Chinese name – Gu-Ge (谷歌), which literally and officially means “harvest song”. But if one does not know the official definition, and just by looking at the two Chinese characters Google has picked out, the new name could also be interpreted as “song in the valley“. “Harvest song” or “song in the valley”, those who applauded for it would tell you how “romantic” this name is as it gives you “the sense of a fruitful and productive search experience, in a poetic Chinese way” as Google says, while others might explain to you with a frown how “old-fashioned” it sounds, since it reminds one of a slow and remote agricultural scene.
Some Chinese media and internet users have in the past merely used Google’s English name, while others have nicknamed it as “Gougou” and “Gugou”, meaning “doggy” or “old hound”. Literally, the new name GU-GE does bear some extent of poetic and melodious tones, and is certainly better than those unofficial alternatives in the past. But interestingly, this new name of the world’s second most populous internet search company does not actually lead you to think in the least of an internet search.
Names are not mere codes in Chinese. Each character of Chinese language has its own meaning but when two characters come together to make a phrase, it very often becomes more meaningful. Two character phrases are most common and easy to remember.
Translating names into Chinese can be tricky, particularly so with alphabetic languages. In most cases, translation of a name is in fact a conversion of the sound. So as Google did this time. But since all Chinese characters have its meanings, the selection of the characters can be very crucial. The story about the Coca-Cola’s translation would tell a bit about the tricks:
The name Coca-Cola in China was first rendered as Ke-kou-ke-la. Unfortunately, the Coke company did not discover until after thousands of signs had been printed that the phrase means “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax” depending on the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 Chinese characters and found a close phonetic equivalent, ko-kou-ko-le, which can be loosely translated as “happiness in the mouth” (from Funny Translation Errors)
Google will also be known as Gu-Ge in China. No matter what people would say about the new name itself, Google seemed to have made the right move in terms of pursuing its long term goals in China. With its new Chinese name, Google wants to be as “culturally-friendly” as its major local competitors like Baidu, whose name was in fact also taken out of an ancient poem. And with this new name, Google manifested its strong hope for further development in the local market by the local ways. At least Google demonstrated its “intercultural” efforts, despite all other controversies. Its new Chinese name would certainly help it to take more roots among millions of the internet users and in the general public where not all are willing to learn English, and some perhaps even dislike it for reasons that it has “corrupted” the Chinese language. There are people who are still taking a closed view and simply feel uncomfortable with anything that is foreign.
Google might have learnt from the strategies of McDonald and KFC that localization of these two companies have both emphasised the importance of the cultrual impact to the extent that you can even buy noodles and Sichuan flavoured food at their local stores. It is perhaps right to say that in terms of marketing what matters is if it would eventually help to sell.Browsing the Google Chinese page, you will now see the two characters of the new name crouching below the big colorful Google logo. “Harvest Song” should really mean that only when users enjoy “fruitful and productive search experiences”, Google then could celebrate its harvest by singing pastoral poetry in the valleys!