the product naming blog

June 5, 2012

IKEA Product Naming Faces Challenges in Thailand

IkeaStorefront.jpgIKEA is running into a problem in Thailand that many global companies encounter - their product naming translates, well, poorly.

As The Wall Street Journal reports today, "Is Redalen a) a town in Norway b) a bed sold by Swedish furniture chain IKEA or c) something that sounds uncomfortably close to getting to third base in Thailand?"

"The answer, it turns out, is all three."

IKEA's fifth largest superstore is in Thailand and the locals are finding the Swedish sounding product names pretty crazy. In addition to the Redalen bed, there is the Jättebra plant pot which sounds like a crude term for sex in Thai.

Consequently, a team of Thai speakers has been hired to modify the product naming by evaluating each product name and carefully and slightly changing the names to avoid negative connotations.

The problem of global naming is of course, a subject I have written about before. In earlier blogs I noted that Mr. Muscle sounds like Mr. Chicken Meat in China, and Pepsi's "Come Alive With the Pepsi Generation" tagline translates to "Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead" in Taiwan.

And the list of naming faux pas goes on and on.

Interestingly, IKEA intentionally goes out of its way to create unusual names.

Chairs and desks are men's names, dining tables and chairs are Finnish place names, garden furniture is named after Swedish islands, and the list goes on.

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March 23, 2012

$2,000 Product Naming Scholarship for Undergraduate College Students

StudentsInLibrary.jpegAs you know, college expenses have been outpacing inflation for a number of years.

In the last 10 years, the inflation rate has gone up and average of 8% per year - meaning the cost of college doubles every 9 years.

We would like to make a small contribution to defraying some of the expenses of getting a higher education these days.

To that end, we are offering a $2,000 scholarship to full-time undergraduate college students majoring in Linguistics, English, Marketing or Mass Communications.

If you know of a student that qualifies, please pass this link along.

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January 19, 2012

Botany Naming Drops Latin After 400 Years

Botanist.pngIt looks like the Latin naming conventions that have ruled botany for the last four centuries are going to come to an end.

All of those double-barrelled Latin names are going to still be around, but botanists no longer have to describe new plants in the ancient language thanks to the recent introduction of the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature. This is party because botany is starting to be all about chemicals and molecules.

So the overworked plant guy will no longer have to write "Folia persistentia; laminae anisophyllae, foliis majoribus ellipticis" to describe Cordia koemarae. This, translated, means "The tree hangs on to its leaves, which vary by size. The bigger leaf blades are elliptical."

Dropping Latin makes sense because nobody speaks it anymore. Even plant experts struggle with the language.

The Latin naming conventions were put firmly into place in the 1700's when the study really exploded and more people read ancient languages.

Right now the full name of the plant refers to the family, genus species and variety names, with the most commonly used names referring to genus and species.

So, according to one botany blogger, the Montana flower Lewisia rediviva is named after Lewis, as in Lewis and Clark, and "rediviva" meaning "back to life."

Many may miss the clunky old Latin, but new naming conventions and language usage will allow for more plants to be introduced to the world at a quicker pace. Thousands await cataloging in museums and labs around the world.

Flower.pngBotanists can also use electronic journals to tell the scientific community about new plants, another streamlining of the subject.

Some even estimate that half of the plants on earth still need names, with about 200,000 names described to date.

Right now the world sits at a bottle neck of only 2,000 plants getting their official names and descriptions yearly. At this rate, it will be a century before the work is done!

All the while the threat of extinction hangs over as much as two-thirds of the known plants out there. A plant could go extinct between the time it is discovered and the time it is finally given Latin nomenclature.

As Cato the Elder might say, "Rem tene: verba sequentur." (Stick to the meaning and the words will follow).

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October 10, 2011

Naming and Branding in Chinglish - Now on Broadway

ChineseCharacter1.pngIf you're familiar with branding and naming faux pas, you won't be surprised to learn that Broadway's new play, Chinglish, about a American businessman who travels to China is a comedy.

That's because direct literal translation from one language to another can be a dangerous thing. Language, after all, is more than mere words, it has a syntactic and cultural component that one overlooks only at one's peril.

In the play, for example, translating a sign for Handicapped Restrooms to Deformed Man's Toilet has significant consequences.

Our experience in naming and branding products for clients in China is no less complex. Both Mandarin and Cantonese are tonal languages written in a Hanzi script filled with subtleties lying in wait to trap a non-native speaker. Depending on the tone, the same phoneme root can mean prestigious or crooked.


Even the internationally-savvy, like Coca-Cola, have tripped on this slippery slope. They took great care to get the phonetics correct in pronouncing Coca-Cola in Chinese.

However, the name manipulators forgot the meaning of the symbols they selected which was read as "ke-kou-ke-la," only to learn this meant "bite the wax tadpole" or "female horse stuffed with wax."

Coke then researched 40,000 characters to find a phonetic equivalent "ko-kou-ko-le," that means "happiness in the mouth."

As you can see, there's a lot more to it than

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October 7, 2011

Jokes About Apple's Siri Brand Naming Groundless


The Internet is abuzz about the name "Siri" that Apple has chosen for its new personal assistant app on the new iPhone 4S.

The app uses a female voice, and one would assume that the name refers to the Nordic goddess. It also means "beautiful victorious counselor" or "victory."

Unfortunately, news sources are reporting that the word is pronounced in Japan as "Shiri," which means "buttocks" or "ass" in Japanese. This is, to say the least, awkward. And not just for Tom Cruise's daughter who shares a similar name Suri.

The Wall Street Journal has even reported that there is much amusement about the name on Twitter along with jokes about people talking out of their you-know-what.

It gets worse. The word also seems to be the Georgian word for "penis."

The fact is, that this is really much ado about nothing. To begin with, Apple probably will not use the name in Japan and if they do they will write it out in Roman English letters. If that is the case, nobody in Japan will be confused by the name.

This is an issue of pronunciation. The actual word "Siri" in Japanese means nothing. As one blogger points out, "A line of Japanese text may look like this: Siriを使ってください!Or, "Please use Siri!" Brand names are almost always written with their proper alphabet." Note the English letters?

This is really Beavis and Butthead type humor when you think about it.

Lots of words in the English language sound like "ass" and we don't get upset about it. Like, for instance, the word "as." I am sure that if this were launched in Japan, the nuances of the language would allow for the brand name to exist without much mockery.

However, I have not read about what will happen in Georgia.

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