Transcription and transliteration

The whole world does not speak the same language or write in the same way. Transcription or transliteration in naming means localizing a brand name.

Other countries. Other writing systems.

Long ago, global consumer brands localized their brands in international markets. Many B2B brands have not yet taken this step in the process of internationalizing. But what do transliteration and transcription mean? When does it make sense to localize a brand name? And how does one go about doing it?

What is transliteration in naming?

We at the naming agency speak of transliteration in a broader sense during international naming projects when the assignment is to write a name in another writing system more or less according to the letters. Within all languages that are based more or less on Latin or Cyrillic letters; that is, an alphabet script or alphabet language, this is generally possible.

What is transcription in naming?

We talk about transcription when we discuss localizing a brand name from an alphabet language such as German or English into a logographic (or ideographic) language such as Chinese. In a more narrow sense, transcription mainly concerns a phonetic interpretation of the name, so that customers in the local markets somewhat correctly pronounce the name which was originally German or multilingual, or pronounce it similarly to the original. This happens on a fairly regular basis. The drawback: The brand name or company name sounds similar (to the original), but through the choice of logographs or characters, has no meaning whatsoever. This means that the brand name cannot be remembered well.

Transcription is more than phonetically translating

Therefore, we at the naming agency consider transcription from the Western alphabet languages to the eastern logographic languages to be a bit broader. It’s not just about phonetics! In many instances, it makes sense for strategic and conceptual reasons to create an entirely new brand name for a market. Likewise, it can make sense in a different case when the meaning of the brand name in the logographic language is conveyed and the phonetic similarity is disregarded.

The fine art is to transliterate a brand name based on an alphabet language both phonetically and also semantically into a logographic language. This is where the highest value arises, because the brand name sounds similar and interprets the brand message in the logograms in a fitting way.

This increases the ability of the brand name to be learned and remembered, making it easier on customers, partners, and the socially relevant environment. This is a “service” aspect that is still far too often forgotten during internationalization.


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