Google's unpopular new Chinese name

Bruce Einhorn

For Google, nothing comes easy in China. The company had to fight in court against Microsoft just to hire the head of its China operation, former Microsoft executive Kai-Fu Lee. Google’s announcement that it would locate the servers for its Chinese-language search engine inside China – and censor itself to abide by Beijing’s rules – brought the company heaps of criticism in the U.S. And when Google then announced that it would post a notice alerting its Chinese users that it had indeed censored the results of their searches, the Chinese government was unamused and started making noises suggesting that Google was operating illegally in China.

Even picking a Chinese name is proving to be no picnic for Google. Chinese of course doesn’t have an alphabet. (Neither does Japanese, but at least in Japan companies can use katakana, the well-established system of spelling out foreign words phonetically.) In China, a foreign company needs to find some Chinese characters that sound similar to its English name, have a meaning similar to the English name, or translate into something that’s somewhat reflective of the company’s image. For instance, Microsoft’s name is Weiruan, which doesn’t sound anything like “Microsoft” but benefits from having two characters that literally mean “Micro” and “Soft.” Not bad. Yahoo does even better: Its name is Yahu, which not only sounds like its English name but also translates nicely, meaning “graceful tiger.” Apple and Cisco have good names, too: Apple has Pingguo, which not surprisingly means “Apple,” and Cisco has Sike (sih kuh), which means “thinking science.”

Now poor Google has just announced that henceforth its Chinese name is Guge (pronounced “goo” and “geh”) That sounds somewhat like Google, but translates as “Valley Song.” A bit dorky for a company as cool as Google. The new name has prompted a backlash, with 12,180 people signing an online petition at a new site called Noguge. (That compares to 329 people who have weighed in at the same site to say that they like the name.) The site is only in Chinese. At the top of the page is the familiar Google logo, with a red X blotting out the Guge name. (See above.) There's also this blurb: “The name Guge makes us sick! Moreover it makes us feel hopeless!” One suggested alternative: Gougou, which means "Dog Dog." But given the accusations that Google is cooperating too much with Beijing, it's wise for the company to stay clear of any references to dogs - be they poodles, lapdogs or running dogs. (Thanks to the UCLA Asia Institute’s website for picking up the story on Noguge.)

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