Dior, Chanel, Avon… Famous cosmetics brands all possess an elegant name, at least an appealing pronunciation, even if the word actually means nothing. That’s quite logical, because you cannot boost the sales of your beauty products with an ugly name in the age of branding. But how did brands adapt their names to the booming luxury market in Chine, the ancient Oriental dragon? I’d like to reveal the tricks of three western cosmetics brands translated in Chinese: LaMer, Estée Lauder and OLAY.


The seduction of mystery


As a pioneer in the use of seaweed, Crème de la Mer, Estée Lauder’s signature product was originally developed by NASA scientist Max Huber to treat his severe chemical burns. The brand is called “Hai Lan Zhi Mi” in Chinese, which literally means “the mystery of ocean bleu” and indicates the origin of its basic component: seaweed. This name evokes the boundless and magnificent blue color. Besides, the name stimulates immediately the feminine reflex to any beauty secret of perfecting their skin. The unknown is always more seductive. Besides, the name is composed of four words, adopting the same format of ancient Chinese proverbs, which reinforces its mysterious touch.


Eternal classic beauty


What about the parent company of LaMer “Estée Lauder”?  “Ya Shi Lan Dai”, a very wise transliteration as few names could be so odd and significant at the same time. “Ya Shi” means an elegant poetry, whereas   “Lan” refers to orchid, a flower which symbolizes purity, elegance and patriotism in the Chinese culture. The brand has chosen the right character for “Dai”, because it reminds us of “Lin Daiyu”, one of the principal characters of Cao Xueqin‘s classic Chinese novel “Dream of the Red Chamber. She is portrayed as an extremely sentimental, intelligent and beautiful young woman. Unfortunately, she had to separate with her love and cried herself to death, just like a fragile white orchid that faded away in a most poetic manner. The translation of Estée Lauder evokes elegance, purity and tenderness, the ideal incarnation of a Chinese beauty.



As beautiful as a flower


Estée Lauder is not the only western brand which has captured the charm of this flower. The Chinese name of OLAY also includes the character “Lan”.  “Yu Lan You”, literally means the oil of pure orchid. “Yu” is a noun which simply means jade, but it is also often applied as an adjective to describe the purity of a fresh young girl. Therefore, the combination of “Yu” and “Lan” forms the image of a snow-white orchid without the least imperfection. It should be noted that, contrary to western women, the Chinese appreciate white silky skin. Easy to remember, this name is the synonym of rich plant oil which could transform women into “Snow White”.


In a nutshell, successful Chinese translations are often associated with the notion of feminine beauty in harmony with the particular Chinese perception of beauty. It is also recommended to evoke the famous Chinese mythology, poem or legend related to the brand value.  How can you ignore the cultural influence of 5000 years of civilization while adapting your branding?