August 30, 2006
Product Naming: Beware of Faux Amis
The French have a term for words that look like cognates but aren’t: faux amis, or “false friends.”
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.
- Embarazada means “pregnant” in Spanish - not "embarassed", although Parker Pens quite famously embarrassed itself with that mistake 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 LOGOS multilingual dictionary).
Coining your own name doesn’t necessarily protect you, either - look at the debate over whether “Zune” does or does not mean something rude in Hebrew. It was also reported 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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