Does a rose, by any other name, smell just as good? The short answer, in the context of Chinese names for cars, is no.

For the uninformed, Chinese is a phonetic based language where hundreds of words with varying meanings share the same pronunciation. Do you know that ‘a good night’s sleep’ is pronounced exactly the same as something that is quite unprintable?

Therefore, on top of staying true to the original pronunciation, words have to be chosen carefully in order to not give the brand a bad name, literally. On the flipside, if the right words are picked, carmakers are rewarded with pleasant Chinese names that connote nice meanings which are absent in the original versions.

In an effort to introduce AutoBuzz.my’s Chinese sister site, AutoRepublic.my, here are some interesting facts about Chinese car names to impress your better half with. For once, her nods might even be genuine…2015-Mazda-MX-5-Review-56

Mazda – The Hiroshima-based car maker has been gaining accolades lately because of their spectacular results in emission tests, thanks to their brilliant Skyactiv technology. In fact, rather than having more horses under the hood, Mazda likes their horses to be in unity with the driver, based on the Jinba Ittai (人马一体) philosophy. Little wonder then, that Mazda’s Chinese name is 马自达 (ma zi da)- loosely translated as ‘arriving with the horse’.2016-jinba-ittai

BMW – The ‘W’ in the moniker of this Munich based car maker is quite difficult to be to be phonetised into Chinese, hence the brand has no official Chinese name (the carmaker’s China official site does not translate the name). However, most call BMW by its de-facto name of 宝马 (bao ma) which means ‘prized steed‘. I think, it sounds rather close to the unofficial name of ‘Beemer’. Quite fitting for a brand synonymous with driving pleasure.2015 Peugeot 508 THP (39)

Peugeot – Ah, my favourite Chinese car name. When Armand Peugeot started Société des Automobiles Peugeot 120 years ago, little did he know that his family name is given a magnificent Chinese translation – 标致 (biao zhi), which carries the meaning of exquisite and beautiful. Very apt for a French brand known for its styling finesse that has given us the achingly beautiful 406 Coupe and RCZ.

Alfa Romeo – Here’s one for Alfistis – when Alfa Romeo came up with the 164, they did not know their answer to the German trio means ‘dying all the way’ in Mandarin and Cantonese. Some might be aware that 4 is a taboo, but adding 16 to the 4 just made things much worse. The model was subsequently renamed 168 in certain Asian markets, which means ‘prosper all the way’, but it remains unknown whether Alfa was laughing all the way to the bank after the name change.

The 164 was subsequently replaced by the not so well received 166. Judging by Alfa’s nomenclature of using the second number for range, and third number for generation, would we see another Italian luxury mid-sized saloon by the name of 168 in the future? The current Italian (and the only one) in this segment is the Maserati Ghibli.

So there you go, a rose by any other name does NOT smell just as sweet, or at least in the case of cars, does not sell just as well. Sorry Shakespeare.


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YS Chung
Although he still feels that 3 pedals are less complicated than 2, but the increasing number of buttons and touchscreens in the modern automobile is gradually shifting him away from the stick shift.