A great interview with Andy Chuang of Goodcharacters.com in Fresno, California. His company specializes in Chinese naming and linguistic evaluation. The interview was conducted by Steve Rivkin; here’s an excerpt:
For example, Toshiba once had a commercial song in China that sang, Toshiba, Toshiba However, it turned out that to-shi-ba sounded like let’s steal it (tou-chu-ba) in Mandarin Chinese. People really made fun of it.
Fortunately, Toshiba is a Japanese name and its corresponding characters, Dong-Ji, means the East and nobility. Now Toshiba uses Dong-Ji more and is careful when using the pronunciation of Toshiba.
Some brand names travel more easily than others. Here are a few common war stories of brands that didn’t fare so well abroad:
A food company named its giant burrito a BURRADA. Big mistake. The colloquial meaning of that word is “big mistake.”
Ford had a similar problem in Brazil when the PINTO flopped. The company found out that Pinto was Brazilian slang for “tiny male genitals.” Ford pried all the nameplates off and substituted the name Corcel, which means “horse.”
A leading brand of car de-icer in Finland will never make it in America. The brand name: SUPER PISS.