Naming Faux Pas
Many companies both in the U.S. and abroad have underestimated the importance of thoroughly investigating language differences when naming a new product, service or company. The resulting mistakes made by the companies are commonly called faux pas - naming mistakes. What follows is a list of common faux pas organized categorically:
- Slang Connotations
- Brand Contradictions
- Direct Translations
- Unfortunate Associations
- Domain Names
Slang is part of every language and often changes from region to region. It generally starts small with a subgroup of people and continues to evolve and grow. Since slang is ever evolving and differs based on region and culture, it is easy for companies and products to stumble across unintended slang connotations. For example:
- Ford Caliente, meaning "hot" in Spanish, is also slang in many countries for "streetwalker"
- The Honda Fitta was renamed Jazz after discovering that fitta is Norwegian and Swedish slang for the female genitals
- The Mitsubishi Pajero, a four-wheel-drive utility wagon, was re-named in Spain to Montero, which means "mountain warrior," because a pajero is defined as one who masturbates in colloquial Spanish
- The Buick LaCrosse was changed to Buick Allure in Canada because LaCrosse was a synonym for masturbation in Quebecois slang
- A Spanish potato chip brand called Bum did not sell well in the United States due to the negative connotations that it carried that are obvious to English speakers
- Bimbo is a Mexican baking conglomerate with a name that makes American consumers snicker
- Schwan's Food Company named its beef and bean burrito a Burrada. Big mistake. In Spanish, it refers to a "stupid act or nonsense," but can also allude to a "drove of donkeys or asses"
- Irish Mist introduced its drink brand in Germany without knowing that mist is German slang for "manure"
- Estee Lauder's liquid makeup, Country Mist, was ready to export to Germany when the German managers noted that mist is slang for "manure" in German. Estee Lauder had Country Mist changed to Country Moist in Germany
- The soft drink Fresca, when translated to Spanish, turned out to be slang for "lesbian"
- Hair products company, Clairol, introduced the Mist Stick curling iron in Germany to later find out that mist is slang for "manure." Not too many people had use for the manure stick
- Not to be outdone, in Germany, when Puffs tissues tried to introduce its product, they learned that Puff in German is a colloquial term for "whorehouse"
- Japan's leading brand of coffee creamer is named Creap
- Parker Pens has a model called the Jotter. This confused consumers in several South American countries, where Jotter is slang for "jockstrap"
- In Iran, the Paxan company has a line of soaps, shampoo and cleaning solutions named Barf, which in Persian means "snow"
- One Finnish firm tried to sell a de-icer in the United States by the name Super-Piss. Super has the same meaning in Finland as it does in the U.S., but the Piss part of the name was named after the jets where the windshield fluid comes from, which are called pissapoika in Finnish
Brand names that contradict the essence of a product or service offering can confuse and deter customers. Marketers should always ensure its name accurately fits its identity after translation. Some contradictions that occurred in product naming are:
- Nissan sought to sell a high testosterone sports car in the United States in the early 1970s called Fair Lady. It later sold better as the 240Z
- The Chevy Nova was introduced in Latin America but "no va" means, "it doesn't go" in Spanish. However, Urban Legend has blown this faux pas out of proportion, because the real translation into Spanish of no go is "no functiona"
- In Japan, the car named Esso translated to read, "stalled car"
- The Ford Pinto, named after a color of horse, was changed to Corcel since pinto is Brazilian slang for "tiny male genitals"
- Bland choices can be just as deadly. Remember Like cola, the beverage launched by 7UP in 1982? It was like calling it 'Not Really' cola
- The Ford truck Fiera model when translated in Spanish meant "ugly old woman"
- Bacardi concocted a fruity drink with the name Pavia to suggest French chic but unfortunately for Bacardi pavian means "baboon" in German
Mispronunciation, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is "incorrect or inaccurate pronunciation." A product or company name should be checked with native speakers to ensure pronunciation doesn't affect how it is perceived. Often times the pronunciation may sound similar to other words that are unrelated or inappropriate for a product or service offering. Here are some pronunciation examples that may not have been thoroughly checked before introduction:
- When French speakers pronounce the Toyota MR-2 product name, it sounds like "merdeux," which is a profane word equivalent to the English "shitty"
- Kellogg's "All-Bran Buds" sounds like "burned farmer" in Swedish
- RC Cola was popular among Latin Americans in the U.S., but it was hard for them to pronounce phonetically. The name was changed to ARCI Cola in Mexico, keeping the same phonetic sound as the English name
- Coca-Cola 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"
- There is a drink in Japan called Calpis, that when pronounced in English sounds exactly like "cow piss." The product is marketed in North America under the Calpico brand
- When Vicks first introduced its cough drops on the German market, they were chagrined to learn that the German pronunciation of "v" is "f" - which makes "Vicks" in German the phonetic equivalent of "sexual penetration"
- When Gulf Oil wanted to introduce its No-Nox gasoline in Indonesia, they found out it sounded like the Malay word "nonok," which is slang for "female genitals"
- Pschitt, a French soda by Perrier, was named after the sound of a Perrier bottle when it opens, however, it sounds like the English swear word "shit"
- The General Electric Company (GEC) and Plessey combined to create a new telecommunications giant, named GPT for GEC-Plessey Telecommunications. GPT is pronounced in French as "J'ai pete" or "I've farted"
- Kagome, a large Japanese manufacturer of tomato-based foods and fruit and vegetable juices, unfortunately sounds like the phrase "I shit myself" in Portuguese
Often times when expanding into new markets, many companies have found that translating their company's or product's name or tagline from one language to another is a difficult task. Languages are complex and don't always have exact equivalents with one another. Therefore, considering a translated name or tagline that is consistent phonetically and semantically in meaning as well as fitting similar cultural connotations may be more appropriate than using a direct translation. Here are some examples that had issues due to direct translations:
- Matador has a glamorous image to Americans as the powerful figure in the bull-fighting arena. When American Motors put the name on one of their cars the good people of Puerto Rico were reluctant to buy them. The reason, in Spanish, Matador means "killer"
- Big Mac was originally marketed in France under the name Gros Mec, which translates in French to "Pimp Great"
- In Chinese, the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan, "finger-lickin' good" initially came out as "eat your fingers off"
- Chicken magnate Frank Perdue's line, "It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken," sounds much more interesting in Spanish: "It takes a sexually stimulated man to make chicken affectionate"
- Coors put its slogan, "Turn in loose," into Spanish, where it was read as "Suffer from diarrhea"
- The Dairy folks who came up with the "Got Milk" slogan translated it into Spanish where it became, "Are You Lactating?"
- In Italy, a campaign for Schweppes Tonic Water required translation of the product name into Italian. Unfortunately, their first try in Italian, "Schweppes Toilet Water" had to be changed quickly. It just didn't sell
- Starbucks released a tea beverage called "Tiazzi," which translates into "my ass" in some Arabic dialects
- When American Airlines wanted to advertise its "Fly in Leather" campaign for its new First Class cabin in the Mexican market, it was translated literally. Unfortunately, "Vuela en Cuero" translated "to fly naked"
- When Parker Pens marketed a ballpoint pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to have read, "It won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you." The company thought that the word "embarazar" (to impregnate) meant to embarrass, so the ad read: "It won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant"
- The American slogan for Salem cigarettes, "Salem - Feeling Free," got translated in the Japanese market into "When smoking Salem, you feel so refreshed that your mind seems to be free and empty"
- When Va Bene, an expensive Italian restaurant, opened in Shanghai, local residents chuckled. In Italian the restaurant's name means "it goes well" but in Shanghainese it sounds like the phrase for "not cheap"
- Gerber is the French word for vomiting. Gerber is therefore not sold in France
- In 1985, numerous callers pointed out that Enteron is the medical term for the canal through which people excrete solid waste. Three weeks later, the company name was changed to Enron
- When a large Japanese tourist company started entering English-speaking markets, it started getting requests for unusual sex tours. Its name was Kinki Nippon Tourist
Names can often have unrelated associations that companies are unaware of. It is important to consider other products or services with similar names that exist, or have existed in the past, in order to avoid negative associations. Here are some company and product naming missteps due to previous associations:
- Reebok named a women's sneaker Incubus. In medieval folklore, an incubus was a demon who ravished women in their sleep. Reebok discontinued the shoe shortly after its release
- Golden Circle, a New Zealand company, used to share its root beer flavor drink name with SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). The drink originally was named by shortening one of its major ingredients, sarsaparilla
- Hoover, the well-known manufacturer of vacuum cleaners, sells a model on the European market, including Germany, called the Zyklon. Zyklon is the German word for Cyclone, so it is a seemingly sensible choice for a powerful vacuum. However, Zyklon B was the lethal gas used by Nazis in concentration camps
- British shoemaker Umbro also used the name Zyklon for a running shoe and was criticized for being insensitive as it is the name of the lethal gas used in Nazi extermination camps during the Second World War
- Colgate introduced a toothpaste in France called Cue, which is the name of a notorious porno magazine in France
- Ayds was a popular diet candy brand but due to the public awareness of the disease AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), the product was eventually taken off the market
- The Monticello Drug Company makes a cold medicine brand called 666. Unfortunately the number 666 is often associated to the Devil because of a reference in the Bible
After a company name has been created, a common next step is to secure the domain name. However, one must be particularly careful with domain names since spaces and stylized work marks are not utilized. It may lead to some unfortunate misunderstandings if the URL is read incorrectly, for example:
- Powergen Italia once used the web address www.PowerGenitalia.com, which may read as power genitalia. They have now changed its web address to http://www.batterychargerpowergen.it
- Who Represents, a site that tells you which agent represents a celebrity, is at www.WhorePresents.com
- Pen Island, where you can get custom made pens is at www.PenisLand.net
- If you want to find a therapist, use Therapist Finder which was at www.TheRapistFinder.com and is now www.counselingcalifornia.com
- Do you want to plan a trip to Lake Tahoe North? Its tourism website is www.GotaHoeNorth.com
- Big Al's On-Line aquarium store is http://www.BiGalsOnline.com/
- Odds Extractor, a gambling resources website used to be www.OddSexTractor.com but is now BetAngel.com
- Children's Wear, a UK company that specializes in formal wear for children is at www.ChildrenSwear.co.uk
- Information on where to stay and what to see around New York's Canals are all at www.NycAnal.com
- The small town of Winters, California has a newspaper called Winters Express which can be read online at www.WinterSexPress.com
- If you have a business in the Cook Islands, consider that the top-level domain for the country is .ck, and that .co is used for commercial domains. Thus, an entity such as Cook Island News has the address: http://www.cinews.Co.ck
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