Please raise your hand if you’ve ever stopped in the street and laughed at a bizarre business name in Hong Kong. Perhaps ‘Fuk Fat Knitting’ or ‘Bong Huge Company’ caught your eye? Or maybe it was ‘Fu King Cold Meat’?
Recently, I needed to return a dehumidifier to its distributor – Many Profit Industrial Group – not a comforting name for a consumer (although their service was excellent, so no complaints there). It led me to think more about the philosophy behind Hong Kong’s weird and wonderful company names. What do they mean, and why do people choose them?
Over the last decade, in the English-speaking world we’ve seen a trend to creating new words for company names – just think of Google, Pinterest, and Facebook. In the pre-internet era, it would have been sufficient to have a unique name in your home country, whereas now the need for a unique domain name online and the preference for .com addresses means that new businesses need to consider company names across the globe, and to find ever more creative ways to name themselves.
In Chinese, however, it’s not possible to create new words in the same way. Chinese characters have fixed meanings and unless you’re the Mainland government or a Hong Kong gossip magazine, it’s basically impossible to create new characters (click here for a good article about creating new Chinese characters). This is especially true if you’re dealing with government agencies, like the Companies Registry, where the staff need to know how to input your company name using conventional characters before they can register your business.
So entrepreneurs are faced with a fixed selection of characters for their businesses. With over 50,000 Chinese characters to choose from, that ought not to be a problem, so what accounts for the abundance of names with words like Fuk in them?
Chinese people, and Hong Kongers in particular, like to give businesses names that express what they would like them to be or do – a name with positive connotations and aspirational meaning. This, remember, is a place obsessed with the number eight (baat) because of its similarity to the word for ‘getting rich’ (faat) – it’s reasonable to expect people to be particularly sensitive to word choice. As a friend of mine, co-founder of an art school, explained “I called our business Ngai Shing, because ‘ngai’ means art, and ‘shing’ means success, and who doesn’t want their new business to be a success?”
A cursory examination of the Companies Registry records shows just how popular certain words are. The English transliteration ‘fuk’ can mean rich, wealthy or abundant (in which case it’s written 富) or good fortune and happiness (when it’s written 福). Between them, these two characters can be found in 27,500 business names in Hong Kong alone. That sounds like a lot of Fuks, but the character for ‘gold’ features in an astonishing 34,000 business names. Even ‘dragon’ is just as popular as a more conventional term like ‘international’ – both with around 6,000 businesses using the words in their names.
So it turns out that the founders of Fu King Cold Meat hoped for wealth and prosperity from the cold meat business. I hope it’s working out for them!
What’s your favourite Chinese business name?