Cultural Implications of Google’s New Chinese Name

Google_cn

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!

7 Comments

  • Thanks for the comments, China Law Blog, and I am looking forward to your post on trademarks.

  • Thank you very much for this interesting piece of intercultural news. We’ve actually used a bit of it for our last episode of our podcast “absolutely intercultural!”. The last episode focussed on China, so it came in very handy. :)

    I find your blog very interesting and maybe we could co-operate in some way for one of the next shows. We’d love to get a deeper understanding of China, and you just seem to be the right person for that job. So please go to http://www.absolutely-intercultural.com and get in touch with us.Well, that’s it for now.

    Viele Grüße aus Deutschland, und hoffentlich bis bald.

    (Greetings from Germany, and so long!)

  • Thanks you, absolutely-intercultural, and sure we will be in touch.

  • […] Here are some other perspectives on the Gu Ge brand name: China Snippets has Google’s promotional video about the new brand name, with English subtitles. The Journal of Intercultural Learning on theCultural Implications of Google’s New Chinese Name. Global Voices offers a roundup of comments from Chinese bloggers. Technorati Tags: Google, Gu Ge, China Posted by William Lozito at 06:05 PM Comments (0) | TrackBack (0) | Socialize This Posted to […]

  • Great post and great site. I will definitely be linking back to this on an upcoming post on trademarks. We always ask our clients about getting a Chinese name trademarked in addition to their English one and we always stress the need to do more than just a strict translation from English to Chinese.

  • […] I and many other Chinese Google users have been calling Google “Gou-Gou” which literally means Doggy (狗狗). However after reading Jin’s post at Intercultural Learning that analyzes the semantic implications of Google’s Chinese name, I think I may have to stop using that moniker. Google announced on April 12 that their exact Chinese name is “Gu-Ge” (谷歌), which literally and officially means “harvest song.” The new name has left many Chinese webbots mystified because Gu-Ge has no direct lexical meaning to internet searching. Jin talks about how Googleterpreters probably construe Gu-Ge 谷歌 as a romantic name that highlights the “fruitful and productive search experience, in a poetic Chinese way.” Well I think even that’s quite a semantic stretch. For Jin, he says Gu-Ge just as equally conjures up images of “slow and remote agricultural scenes.” For me, visions of many happy women in uniforms singing about collective farming productivity comes to my mind. […]

  • […] other day I came across an excellent post on the Journal Of Intercultural Learning, entitled “Cultural Implications of Google’s New Chinese Name.” The post examines Google’s new Chinese name, pronounced Gu-Ge, and in doing so, makes […]

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