Google is struggling to become a verb in China

2007-11-15 — Good Characters (Leave a message)

Bloomberg has an article about Google’s Chinese name titled China Can’t Spell G-O-O-G-L-E as Search Engine Falters as Verb. Here are some points from the article and some comments:

“Google is struggling to become a verb in China.”

No matter how hard Google struggles, Google’s Chinese name will never become a verb in China. The Chinese translation of Google means “harvesting song.” It does not have verb potential.

“G-O-O-G-L-E is not of normal Chinese spelling and people don’t pronounce it right.”

This is not a factor because, as with any English term, the Chinese have to learn how to spell it. And it’s easy to remember the word Google.

“China, the world’s second-largest Internet market with 162 million users, may overtake the U.S. in three to five years.”

“Google last year acquired the ‘’ domain so users who misspell the company’s name still get directed to its Chinese-language Web site ‘Guge,’ or ‘harvesting song.’ The adoption of the name in 2006 prompted criticism that it was a song about something going downhill because ‘gu’ also means valley.” is one of the shortest domain names in the world.

“It’s a name that would appear to have been picked by someone who doesn’t know Chinese,” said Liu Bin, an analyst at Beijing-based researcher BDA China Ltd. “It hasn’t helped their marketing.”

I am sure the name has been reviewed and evaluated by many Chinese-speaking managers and engineers at Google before the final decision was reached. Being reviewed by Chinese doesn’t guarantee that the best name was chosen, however.

When you have a committee trying to make a decision on a name, the tendency is for the majority to pick a name that is safe and usual. That way, nobody gets fired because of a name. However, typically a name that will become engraved in a person’s mind is a name that is unusual, and may even be disliked. Most people say they want to have a great name, but they lack the guts to be bold for fear that the name may be too extreme. Instead, most people opt to follow the crowd with what is safe and, therefore, merely good, but not the best name.

The company will begin “some experimentation” for advertising in the next 30 days, Lee said. “In China, we need to do more. If people don’t know Google is a search engine, or if they can’t spell Google, they don’t know you are better.”

Some experimentation for advertising will surely cost more than if they had just adopt a better name such as Guge, Brother Gu, as suggested in my 2006 blog entry Danger: Google’s Lost in Translation … Try it. It’s better than singing a sad song in the valley. People can easily make “Wen Gu Ge” (ask Google) and “Zhao Gu Ge” (search Google) part of their daily language. You can’t ask a Song anything.

Related Links: