Breaking Down Chinese Company Names

Mycal Ford, Transnational Programs Team Analyst

Chinese company names and ID numbers contain a wealth of useful information on the companies and individuals they describe.

In particular, the name of a corporate entity registered in Mainland China not only serves as a unique identifier but also can provide valuable insight into its location, corporate type, corporate affiliations, and general scope of operations.

Uniqueness of Company Names

The names of companies registered in Mainland China are unique identifiers, just like identification numbers: no two companies can share the same exact name. After a company closes, its name cannot be reused for a period of three years.

Company Name Elements

According to the Regulations on the Registration and Management of Enterprise Names, administered by China’s State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC), the names of Chinese companies generally are comprised of four elements:

Registered location

The first two characters in an enterprise’s name indicate the administrative region where it was registered. The first two characters in “东鸿实业发展有限公司,” which is the name of a Chinese company designated by OFAC in 2016 for supporting North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction program, indicate it was registered in “丹东” or “Dandong”.

Occasionally, the third Chinese character specifies the administrative level of that region where the company was registered – provincial (省), municipal (市), county (县), or even town (镇). However, this is not always the case. The above example has no administrative marker; if it did, the subsequent characters would be “丹东市”, since Dandong is a city. Note that terms like “China” or “National”  or “International” that appear in the beginning of a Chinese enterprise’s name are reserved for companies approved by the State Council or other relevant organs and national companies.


Alphanumeric Code

The next element in a Chinese company’s name is the “alphanumeric code” (企业字号), perhaps better described as the brand name, or the element of the name selected by the company rather than determined by its location and operations.

This element comprises at least two characters, according to the Regulations on the Registration and Management of Enterprise Names. It may not contain figures, political parties, military organs; cause any harm to the interests of the State or society; or create misunderstanding to the public. For the example above, this brand name would be 鸿or “Hongxiang.


Industry

The third element describes the industry in which the Chinese entity operates, or basic characteristics of that industry. The listed industry should be in accordance with China’s Industrial Classification for National Economic Activities. This may include trade, apparel, technology, service, chemicals, etc. In our case, the characters 实业发indicate that this company is engaged in “Industrial Development.”


Company type

The final element indicates the corporate type — i.e., whether it is a limited liability company (有限任公司 or 有限公司), a company limited by shares (股份有限公司 or 股份公司), a partnership (合伙), or a corporation (总公司). In this case, our company contains the characters “有限公司in its name, most commonly translated as “Co Ltd.”

Order of Company Name Elements

A Chinese enterprise’s name is typically arranged as [registered location] [trade name] [industry] [company type]. Therefore, if we combine all of these elements and analyze the above example, it might look like this:

Location: 丹东/ / Dandong
Trade name: 鸿祥 / Hongxiang
Industry: 实业发展 / Industrial Development
Company type: 有限公司 / Co Ltd
Chinese name (English): Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development Co Ltd

There are exceptions, of course. For example, the administrative region where the company was registered may appear in the middle of a Chinese company’s name marked by a set of parentheses. This could take two forms:

[selected name] [industry] (registered location in parenthesis) [company type]
[selected name] (registered location in parenthesis) [industry] [company type]

Thus, the above company could have registered its name as:

Hongxiang (Dandong) Industrial Development Co Ltd
Hongxiang Industrial (Dandong) Development Co Ltd

Companies can and do register their names in any of these formats. In rare cases, a company could register its name without the location marker entirely; that, like all company names, would be subject to approval by SAIC.

Domestic and Foreign Branch Offices

Domestic branch companies (分公司) – that is, branch companies whose head office is a Chinese entity – and foreign branch offices (代表处), commonly called “representative offices,” have additional naming requirements.


Domestic Branch Offices

According to the Regulations on the Registration and Management of Enterprise Names, the name of a domestic branch company must contain not only all the above-mentioned elements but also its location and the Chinese marker for “branch office.”

The name follows this order: [parent company registered location] [parent company name] [parent company industry] [parent company type] [branch office location] [branch office marker].

For example: “天宝国物流有限公司中山区分公司

Parent Company Registered Location: / Dalian
Parent Company Name: 天宝 /Sun Moon Star
Parent Company Industry: 物流 / International Logistics
Parent Company Type: 有限公司 / Co Ltd
Branch office location: 中山区 / Zhongshan District
Branch office marker: 分公司 / Branch Office
Full Chinese Name (English): Dalian Sun Moon Star International Logistics Co Ltd Zhongshan District Branch Office

Dalian Sun Moon Star International Logistics Co., Ltd was designated by OFAC for facilitating illicit shipments to North Korea, including exports of alcohol and tobacco. Accordingly, its branch office is registered as Dalian Sun Moon Star International Logistics Co., Ltd Zhongshan District Branch.


Foreign Branch Offices

According to the Registration Regulations for Representative Offices of Foreign Enterprises (外国企业常驻代表机构登记管理条例), the names of foreign representative offices contain the name of the foreign country where the entity is headquartered, the parent company’s Chinese name, the parent company’s industry, parent company’s type, the registered location in China, and company type in China.

It follows this order: [foreign country headquarters] [parent company name] [parent company industry] [parent company type] [registered location in China] [company type in China].

For example: “金星易会社丹代表

Foreign Headquarters: / North Korea
Parent Company Selected Name: 金星 / Kumbyol
Parent Company Industry: / Trade
Parent Company type: 会社 / Company
Registered location in China: / Dandong
Company Type in China: 代表/ Representative Office
Full Chinese Name (English): Korea Kumbyol Trading Company Dandong Representative Office

This entity is a branch office of Korea Kumbyol Trading Company, a North Korean entity that was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury on November 21, 2017 for being linked to the government of North Korea.


The public records data that powered this research is available through Sayari Search. If you’re curious how this data could drive insights for your team, or for details on the specific individuals and companies discussed above, please reach out here.