30 June 2013

, , , ,

5 Company Names That Translate With Bizarre Consequences

For global companies, naming their brand and products doesn’t come without its problems. With more than 150 languages spoken by at least a million people each, it’s a difficult task to make sure that the names chosen are not going to cause a problem when translated – the last thing you want is to offend your potential customers. However, inevitably some names slip through the net and it is not until after they have been launched that the problems with the name become clear. [...]

For global companies, naming their brand and products doesn’t come without its problems. With more than 150 languages spoken by at least a million people each, it’s a difficult task to make sure that the names chosen are not going to cause a problem when translated – the last thing you want is to offend your potential customers. However, inevitably some names slip through the net and it is not until after they have been launched that the problems with the name become clear.

Syfy


When the Sci-Fi Channel changed its name to syfy in 2009, its main aim had been to do so to allow it to trademark this name, which the channel was unable to do with the word sci-fi. They also viewed this as a more up-to-date version of their name, having been informed by those in the under 35 age group that syfy is how the name would be spelled out in a text message. Longstanding fans weren’t exactly happy with the name change, but it gets worse. It’s unfortunate that the abbreviation syfy is also the slang used to refer to syphilis in many countries; being linked with an STD is never going to be good for business.

Colgate


Colgate ran into some difficulties when it marketed itself in certain countries where Spanish is the language. In a colloquial form of Spanish, the word can mean “hang yourself”, which is not something you want to think about each time you brush your teeth. However, in Spain itself and some of those countries in South America, as the name is firmly associated with selling toothpaste, this is what people identify the word with when they hear or see it. It also depends on the pronunciation, as if spoken as intended for the brand, there is no doubt that what is being referred to is a make of toothpaste.

Gerber


The American baby food company, Gerber, which is now a subsidiary of Nestlé, would probably rather not think about the fact that in French their name means “vomit”. While some people might argue that’s a fairly good description of what the contents of their jars looks like and that the expression of the baby’s face on their logo was indicative of this, this hasn’t stopped it becoming the most popular brand of baby food in the United States. Whether it has had any impact on sales of their product in French speaking countries is however unclear.

Mondelēz
When Kraft devised the new name Mondelēz for their global snack business, which they had dreamt up from the Latin for “world” and “delicious”, it seemed to sum up their business perfectly. However, there was a catch; in Russian the word is used to refer to oral sex. Admittedly, brands do sometimes take risks with their names, as after all, a bit of controversy is a good way to make your name known to people, which in the long term can drum up extra custom. However, for a company selling products such as chocolate bars and biscuits that appeal to children, this isn’t an association that you’d want to be made. Despite the concerns regarding misinterpretation raised when they tested out potential names with groups of consumers, Nestlé calculated it to be a low risk and decided to run with Mondelēz.

Coca-Cola


Finding the approximate sound for an English word in Chinese isn’t easy, as Coca-Cola found out when their brand name was translated phonetically in the 1920s when they introduced their soft drinks to China. The first name they went under (ke-ke-ken-la) was translated as either “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax”; this was not realised until lots of their marketing material had already been printed. Coca-Cola finally settled on ko-kou-ko-le, which is similar enough to the original sound made by the words in English and has a somewhat more relevant meaning; it is translatable to “happiness in the mouth”.


About Today's Contributor:
Claire writes business articles for a number of UK sites.


Related Articles