Day 106: Thursday, November 9, 2017


Do you like kimchi?


Back in 2005, the South Korean government made a request to China to use the new Chinese name for Seoul, 首爾 (shǒu ěr), instead of 漢城 (hàn chéng), which has been used since 1300s. The Chinese had different reactions about being told what to call Seoul, but eventually adopted the new name.


Chinese character: 首
Chinese character: 爾Simplified Chinese: 尔
Chinese character: 漢Simplified Chinese: 汉
Chinese character: 城


Then in November 2013, the Korean government wanted to trademark the new Chinese name 辛奇 (xīn qí) for kimchi in Greater China instead of the commonly used name 泡菜 (pào cài). This time things didn’t go so well. After six months, the Korean government went back to the original Chinese name for kimchi.


Chinese character: 辛
Chinese character: 奇
Chinese character: 泡
Chinese character: 菜
The lesson learned from the naming of Seoul is that you should take charge of your own Chinese name. It can be done even if people resist it in the beginning. It’s your name, so in the end they’ll have to respect it.


Many western authors and public figures don’t pay attention to their Chinese names. In particular, although China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan use one Chinese written language, use of the language in each locale is regulated under three different trademark jurisdictions. The result of not having your own official Chinese name is that each local book translator or reporter will come up with their own version of your transliterated Chinese name. It’s almost certain you’ll end up with at least two or three different Chinese names. This dilutes your brand.


The takeaway lesson from the case of kimchi is that you can’t force people to use a new name of something you don’t own. No one owns kimchi, so the Chinese are not obligated to change how they call it.


Know your limits, but also take charge of your name. It’s your brand.

The Naming of
Seoul vs. Kimchi

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