Understanding Chinese Web site names

Since coming to China nearly half a decade ago, and even more so since taking the reins here at The Tech Dynasty, I’ve become increasingly surrounded by the facinating world of Chinese Web sites. While the West has an ever-convoluted domain pool to deal with, the Chinese are not to be outdone. What follows is my modest attempt to explain the meaning behind some of China’s largest Web sites and their sometimes obscure domain names.

The portals

Tencent.com: “The name “Tencent” is derived from the Chinese phrase “??” (pinyin: sh f?n), while literally meaning “ten cents” (where one ? f?n is a one-hundredth subdivision of one yuan), is also used as a phrase for “very”, for example, “????” (sh f?n qing d) would translate to “very mighty”. (source)

QQ.com: “The original name of QQ was OICQ. The name was based on an already existing IMS (Internet Message Service), ICQ. ICQ was one of the first IMS programs. The acronym ICQ came from the fact that the letters sound like ‘I seek you’. OICQ stood for ‘Oriental ICQ’ [sic], but because of possible trademark infringement was changed to QQ.” (source). Update: DoubleLeaf points out in the comments that the “O” wasn’t for “Oriental” but for “Open”, which the Chinese Wikipedia page backs up.

Sina.com: One of the more obvious of the bunch, Sina is a distortion of “Sino”, a common prefix meaning “China” which is a carryover with Greek/Latin roots.

Sohu.com: (??/s?uh): Much like Yahoo, which it wouldn’t be a guess was its muse, Sohu.com is a search engine and Internet portal which literally translates to “search fox”. It’s short, it’s visual, and it aurally mimics the sound of the largest site in the world at the time, Yahoo.

163.com: The site largely takes its branding from its parent company, Netease (??/w?ngy, lit. “net” and “easy”). However, in times past people used something called “the dial-up” (presumably made of stone, or bronze) to connect to the Internet, and 163 was the dialing prefix used to connect to ChinaNet (China’s national ISP). (h/t Adam Schokora for pointing me to this answer).

126.com: A popular Chinese email service, 126.com also dips into nostalgia for its name–taking it from the now defunct paging industry. Back before everyone and his or her nainai (grandma) had a mobile, the hippest of Chinese would dial “126” to connect to China’s largest paging service. The site is also owned by Netease which seems to love 3-number sites. According to this post the name may also originate from the fact that 126 in Chinese is ???/y?o rli, which sounds like “let you be happy”, “want you to be happy”.

Search engines

Baidu.com (??/B?id): “Many people have asked about the meaning of our name. ‘Baidu’ was inspired by a poem written more than 800 years ago during the Song Dynasty. The poem compared the search for a retreating beauty amid chaotic glamor with the search for one’s dream while confronted by life’s many obstacles. ‘…hundreds and thousands of times, for her I searched in chaos, suddenly, I turned by chance, to where the lights were waning, and there she stood.’ Baidu, whose literal meaning is hundreds of times, represents persistent search for the ideal.” (source)

Sogou.com (??/S?ug?u): Translates literally to “search dog”–the slightly more domesticated brother of Sohu.com (“search fox”), which owns and operates Sogou.com.

Youdao.com (??/Y?uDo): Roughly translates as “there’s a way”.

Google.cn (??/G?g?): Literally translates as “valley song”, but is simply a slightly Sound of Music-esque transliteration of “Google”.

Video sharing

Tudou.com (???/T?du W?ng): “According to CEO [Gary] Wang, the name comes from the English idiom “couch potato”. He stated that his goal was to move couch potatoes from the television screen to the computer screen. (source)

Youku.com (??/y?uk): Lit. means “excellent” and “cool”. The “?/k” may also be a bit of an homage to Youku creator Victor Koo. Though the site’s Romanized similarity to “YouTube” is hard to miss, in Chinese “you” is pronounced more like the English “yo” (think Sly Stallone).

56.com (??/w?li): Sometimes you really have to squint your ears to figure out the meaning behind what otherwise seems like random numbers in domain names. Such is the case with 56.com which had me stumped until George Godula from Web2Asia explained that it sounds like ??/w?l–Chinese for “I happy”. Update: A few people have suggested that the actual meaning behind 56.com is ??/wlio, or “bored”, and it was George who again cleared things up–pointing us all to the site’s logo (here), which clearly says “??/w?l”.

BBS/Forums/SNS

Tieba.Baidu.com (????/b?id ti?b?): Baidu’s “Post Bar” uses the “pub” or “saloon” imagery for one of China’s largest user-generated gathering points where visitors can get virtually any topic on tap.

Xiaonei.com (??/xioni): Literally means “in school” or “on campus”, which fits the site’s heavy uni-student user base.

Kaixin001.com (??/k?ix?n): Literally means “to feel happy” or simply “happy”. I assume the “001” was simply added because at the time Kaixin.com wasn’t available. Kaixin.com (also meaning “happy”) was later purchased by the parent company of Kaixin001.com’s competitor, Xiaonei.com (see The Happy Wars–a battle for white-collar SNS in China).

51.com (??/w?y?o): According to Andy Yao, 51.com’s VP of Marketing, the name was chosen because it is short/easy to remember and sounds similar to “??/w? yo”–Chinese for “I want”.

Dianping.com (?????/dzhng di?npng w?ng): Literally translates to “People Review Net”, which is exactly what Dianping is–user-generated restaurant and city life reviews.

Online shopping

Taobao.com (??/tob?o): The two characters literally translate as “to clean out” and “treasure”, which is a rather euphemistic description of this eBay-like site where anyone can sell all the junk treasures they want free of charge.

Joyo (??/zhuyu): Though now branded with Amazon’s logo and domain, the site’s original Chinese moniker (which still graces the header) couldn’t be any more direct–its literal translation is “excellence” or “brilliant”.

Dangdang.com (??/d?ngd?ng): “Dangdang comes from the Chinese adjective ‘xiangdangdang’ (the clanging sound for fame). We wanted a name that would be easy for Chinese living [in China] and overseas to pronounce.”–Peggy Yu.” (source)


This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I’ve tried to include the largest sites in China. For any that I’ve missed, please leave a comment below.

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