Airbnb announced today that they are doubling down on China (in Chinese). They have introduced Trips, a service that gives travelers tips and ideas, is now live in Shanghai. In addition, Airbnb China has now been renamed 爱彼迎 (aibiying) which the company claims to mean “to welcome each other with love.” It could also mean “love to welcome you”, “a loving welcome”, or even “love mutual welcome”, if you’d like to get more literal.
Translating from Chinese to English (and vice versa) is not easy. However, when a company comes to China, choosing a name that not only sounds like the English name and accurately reflects their brand is even more difficult. Coca Cola went with 可口可乐(kekou kele). Both words (可口 and 可乐) sound like the English and have positive meanings in Chinese: 可口 roughly mean “delicious” and 可乐 roughly means “funny.” Uber’s name is similar: 优步 (youbu) sounds like the English and has positive meanings; 优 can mean “excellent” and 步 can mean “step” or “move.” Evernote, on the other hand, eschewed all transliteration with 印象笔记 (yinxiang biji, literally “impression notebook”).
While Coke’s name still gets some chuckles, people are now used to it. Uber, however, saw muted reaction with many not even raising an eyebrow. This has definitely not been the case for Airbnb. Almost immediately, China’s social networks lit up with people complaining about the name.
The most common reaction has been the fact that the Chinese name is actually quite awkward to say and just sounds plain weird. This has been accompanied by the inevitable “I could do it better,” with some actually good suggestions.
One great suggestion, as seen in the picture above, is 爱比邻 (aibilin, literally “love neighbor”). Not only is this easier to say, it also is reference to the idiom 海內存知己，天涯若比邻 (hainei cun zhiji, tianya ruo bilin), meaning “to feel a closeness to a friend or loved one despite being separated by a great distance.”
Airbnb’s choice of Chinese name does raise questions about how much testing they did before the announcement, but ultimately their success in the market will be determined by their ability to leverage local partnerships and provide services distinctly designed for their Chinese users. Unfortunately, their name may make it harder for users to take them seriously.