Welcome to Sinonym

Welcome clients old and new! Although we’re launching the business today, this naming-focused consultancy, as many of you know, is the result of years of work in market research and in China. Today I want to tell you a bit about

  1. the background that has led us to this venture
  2. how our clients benefit from our partnership with Chinese language site Phonemica
  3. what we hope to bring you through our blog

The background: all research

My fellow founder Matthieu David, a methodical and process-oriented thinker, has worked in market research since he was a management student at Essec Business School. He has not only persisted in this work over the years, he’s done it in the kind of entrepreneurial way I admire greatly. Since graduating from Guanghua in 2010, he has started two businesses here in China, figuring that even failure would be a better learning experience than he might get in a big company back in France. As anyone who knows him might expect, though, he didn’t fail. He sold one business and has continued his research business, and is now adding this focused naming consultancy to his scope of work.

As for me, Steve Hansen, market research is also what brings me to naming. Research is what I’ve done for most of my career, some of it naturally involved with product and brand naming. My last official MNC job was as Director of Market Research at Thomson Reuters in beautiful Eagan, Minnesota. I quit that job in 2009 to pursue a Chinese dream, and in the years since I’ve had consulting clients, marketing clients, and market research clients come through sometimes-but-not-always-beautiful Beijing.

The passion: language & culture

While doing research, though, I have also been pursuing a deeper understanding of China through its many, many spoken languages. The culmination of that work is a social media platform I co-founded and launched in 2012, Phonemica.


The goal of Phonemica to collect recordings about the intimate home life of China — told in its thousands of hometown dialects (think Mandarin, Cantonese, Shanghainese, etc.). You can read more about it on the site.

Matthieu, too, has been busy studying Chinese since before he came here in 2008. His knowledge of China and Mandarin improved even more when working in Chinese and living in Beijing. He lives his life and runs his business in the language, shuttling between Shanghai and Beijing.

Language and culture, of course, are the keys to unlocking naming’s potential. That’s why Sinonym has an exclusive partnership with Phonemica.

Feedback from every Chinese dialect

Phonemica is a social media site where users contribute stories, anecdotes, histories etc., all in local Chinese dialects, building a public good freely available under Creative Commons licensing.

From this pool of users we have recruited a unique panel for naming feedback: Chinese speakers from many walks of life and speaking home languages as different as French and Portuguese (yes, “Sinitic languages” is truly a big bucket!). Through closed and open-ended questioning, we get a wide range of feedback on names that have been selected during our creative process. This ensures we don’t pick a name that sounds great in Beijing but means bad luck (or worse!) in Sichuan or Fujian.

And that’s a quick summary of the Sinonym undertaking. We hope through our research experience, our commitment to good process and people, and our unique assets, we can provide our clients with names that bring value in this multifaceted marketplace.

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