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August 30, 2006

Product Naming: Beware of Faux Amis

Eiffel TowerThe French have a term for words that look like cognates but aren’t: faux amis, or “.”

These words trip up language students - and sometimes marketers, as well.

  • Préservatif is French, not for “preservative,” but for “condom.”
  • Jalousie means “Venetian blind,” not “jealousy,” in German.
  • Parker PensEmbarazada means “pregnant” in Spanish - not "embarassed", although Parker Pens quite famously embarrassed itself with with the tagline, "Won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant."

Before you name your product or company, check to see whether your name candidate has another meaning in a foreign language. (A good place to do this is the ).

Microsoft ZuneCoining your own name doesn’t necessarily protect you, either - over whether “Zune” does or does not mean something rude in Hebrew. It was also that Zune may have been French-Canadian slang to describe parts of the male anatomy.

Faux amis don’t just make it difficult to learn a foreign language. In this era of globalization and Internet searches, they make it harder to come up with a brand name that won’t embarass you...or make you pregnant.

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Posted by Diane Prange at August 30, 2006 9:13 AM
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