Trumpchi, the car

« previous post | next post »

Now comes news of a Chinese car with an unusual name that is aiming to enter the American market:

"China to Export Trumpchi Cars to U.S., Maybe With a New Name", by Keith Bradsher, NYT (11/17/17).

GUANGZHOU, China — The cars are called Trumpchi (though their Chinese maker insists the name is just a coincidence).

Various models of Trumpchi cars have been motoring down Chinese roads for the past seven years. But even after the United States elected a real estate tycoon with a similar name as president, the world ignored them.

But if the distinctive Trumpchi name has nothing to do with that of our President, where in the world did it come from?

First, we have to determine how to pronounce the Chinese name of the car, 传祺:  it's Chuánqí, not Zhuànqí.  If we try to extract a meaning from chuánqí 传祺, it would be something like "pass / transmit / spread / convey felicity / luck / fortune".  So the Chinese name in and of itself is quite auspicious.  At the same time, chuánqí 传祺 evokes its exact homophone, chuánqí 传奇 ("legend"), which I think is paronomastically operative and makes for a very nice car name.  (I suppose that somewhere there is already a car named "Legend".)

That raises the question of why they didn't just go ahead and name it chuánqí 传奇 ("legend").  That brings us to the realms of government regulation and psychology in China.  A correspondent from China remarks:

First, I doubt that the name “chuánqí 传奇” ("legend") would be approved by the commerce sector of government (I don’t know the exact term, but I want to say the branch of government which regulates goods and markets) because it sounds too sketchy for a car. Also this name seems less reliable for a car from a customer’s point of view.

Second, the character “qí 奇” possibly makes people relate to terms such as “qíguài de 奇怪的" ("strange"), “qíxíngguàizhuàng de 奇形怪状的" ("weird-shaped"), and other negative phrases. It’s not a good word choice for a car. On the contrary, Benz (Bēnchí 奔驰 ["rush / hasten gallop / speed") did such a good job translating its name to Chinese. By looking at these two characters for Benz, I guess you would understand the importance of choosing the right word for a car’s Chinese name.

I also heard that the company combined “trumphi” or a suggestion of "triumph" and “cheerful” to make its name “trumpchi”.

Lots of speculations about the origins of the name "Trumpchi" out there, but we're not supposed to believe that it has anything to do with the US president.

As for Chinese transcriptions of Donald Trump's surname, see the following posts (with Mongolian transliterations as a bonus):

"Trump translated" (8/31/16) — about halfway down in the o.p.

"Transcription of "Barack Obama", "Hillary Clinton", and "Donald Trump" in the Sinosphere" (10/2/16)

"Chinese transcriptions of Donald Trump's surname" (11/23/16)

"Mongolian transliterations of Donald Trump's name" (4/13/17)

In case anyone is interested in the Mandarin word for car / auto(mobile), it is qìchē (sounds like "chee-chuh") 汽车, which literally means "steam vehicle".

[h.t. Nancy Friedman; thanks to Fangyi Cheng, Jinyi Cai, and Yixue Yang]


  1. Nancy Friedman said,

    November 19, 2017 @ 3:47 pm

    If they make a version for the Korean market, would it be called the Kimchi?

  2. Jonathan Silk said,

    November 19, 2017 @ 5:29 pm

    Yes Victor, the Acura Legend exists…

  3. Alyssa said,

    November 19, 2017 @ 8:18 pm

    I'm curious why “chuánqí 传奇” would be considered a sketchy name for a car – what connotation does that word carry in Chinese that implies the car would be unreliable?

  4. Victor Mair said,

    November 19, 2017 @ 9:08 pm


    Good question. I thought that someone might ask it.

    Chuanqi are Tang period (618-907) classical language tales of the fantastic and the supernatural, themes which have always been viewed with suspicion by mainstream Confucian thinkers.

  5. cliff arroyo said,

    November 20, 2017 @ 12:09 pm

    OT: I've just done the first two units or so of the Chinese course at Duolingo and it looks….. not well designed. Would be interested getting input from those with more experience.

  6. Kasey Chang said,

    November 20, 2017 @ 3:22 pm

    At least they didn't make fun of the Hongqi (deliberately mispronounced as Honky) this time.

  7. Victor Mair said,

    November 20, 2017 @ 7:34 pm

    @cliff arroyo

    I don't know why you posted your question to this thread, but I was actually thinking of writing a review of the Duolingo Mandarin course. Will try to do one within a day or two.

  8. cliff arroyo said,

    November 21, 2017 @ 1:16 am

    "I don't know why you posted your question to this thread"

    It looked like the most recent Chinese-themed thread.
    Looking forward to your review!

RSS feed for comments on this post