A Brand By Any Other Name

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.

Language is Power; Power is Language

According to a Sept. 28th article in the Economist, tensions between French and Dutch speakers in Belgium has been flaring up. Apparently, in the region around Brussels, French-speaking Walloons and Dutch-speaking Flemings live side by side. Dutch has long been the official language of the region despite the fact that most residents now speak French. So if you go to a town meeting, you have to speak Dutch and the officials have to speak Dutch, even if you can’t speak Dutch. Needless to say, translators are doing a nice business and the Walloons aren’t too happy about matters.

This struggle is not unique to Belgium. There are parts of the U.S. where Spanish speakers are the majority and yet the laws mandate the use of English. Language is power and if you don’t speak a certain language, you end up feeling powerless. But I don’t think the either/or solution works for either side.