The cost of going to market in a foreign country can be enormous and it’s just money down the drain if your name is a turn off.

If you follow the marketing and branding news at all you’d be hard pressed to go more than a couple of weeks without reading about the latest brand name that happens to mean something rude or inappropriate in another language. Some unfortunate examples from recent years are ‘Mondelez’ from Kraft that means ‘oral sex’ in Russian and ‘Siri’ which is very close to the word for ‘bottom/ass’ in Japanese and is apparently a slang term for ‘penis’ in Georgia. Gone are the days when naming specialists had to cling to the urban legend of the Chevy Nova not selling in Spain because it literally translated to ‘No Go’ to prove a point about checking your names carefully. There are a whole load of real examples coming along for us to hold up as cautionary tales.

That a product name happens to mean something rude in another language should be no surprise. You will always find that a name, no matter how random you make it, will sound like something rude somewhere. Using the Siri example, it doesn’t literally translate as ‘bottom/ass’ in Japanese, it’s just kind of close to ‘shiri’ which apparently does. If you have a name that is not a real word, people will always look for other words close to it. Often they’ll manage to find a rude one that is close enough to bring up and get a laugh from.

It is difficult to know where to draw the line in terms of what is acceptable and what isn’t. Many brand managers will say that they don’t care that their product name means something rude in Azerbaijan because it isn’t and never will be a relevant market for them. Fair enough. People are always bringing back products from their holidays that have funny names in English. These products will never be sold in the UK so who cares if the name is bizarre for an English product? Its’s completely understandable though that in the tiny world we live in due to Google, Twitter and Facebook, some brand managers might still get a bit jumpy at the prospect of some ridicule.

Ultimately the decision on what is and isn’t a problem in another language comes down to the culture in the company releasing the product. Is there anything that you should avoid like the proverbial plague? Absolutely:

  1. Anything that actually is a rude/inappropriate word in a language market you will be launching in. This is pretty obvious. It doesn’t have to be a swear word. Clearly if you’re going to release a sofa in China and it means ‘drop kick’ in Mandarin you need to have a re-think.
  2. Anything that is confusingly (or legally!) close to a competitor’s product in another language. Your legal checking should pick these up but a simple linguistic based check done first could save you quite a bit of money on legal fees.
  3. Anything that you are told by several people in a country has a horrible sound. Every language has them and even if you don’t see it yourself you might need to accept that a name really is the equivalent of ‘Splurg’ in another country.

The list above seems pretty short but don’t be fooled. Any of those problems has the potential to be catastrophic both in terms of brand reputation and finances. The cost of going to market in a foreign country can be enormous and it’s just money down the drain if your name is a turn off. You might never recover from the damage to your product’s reputation.

It is ALWAYS recommended to carry out some sort of linguistic test in all languages and countries that you want to launch in. Yes it can add to the overall cost of a project but the benefits are immense. Not only do you get the peace of mind that your name isn’t inappropriate, the ability to tailor your launch to aid any language difficulties and the confidence that your name will be understood; but you might even get to learn a few new foreign swear words!

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