Avoid Naming “Moo”stakes

Your Brand is Worth the Small Investment

Expanding firms at some point launch a product, service or their own company name in another country. And that process can cause huge gaffes if those names or logos are not screened properly in key target cultures. What sounds or looks fine in one country can have very different meanings to others.
For example:

  • When an Israeli soft-drink maker wrote its name in Hebrew, all was fine. The company even writes its English name in foreign markets such as Brazil and Japan where the locals probably don’t see a problem. But when the same English name is viewed by native English speakers, it does not sound very appetizing for soft drinks. After all,  “Calpis” sounds a lot like “bovine urine.”
  • The Mexican conglomerate Grupo Bimbo, which owns US bakeries such as Entenmann’s, Oroweat and Stroehmann, does not sound very professional in American English.
  • The California company Niku Software may be unaware that “Niku” is Japanese for “meat.”
  • The Clairol Mist Stick curling iron did not quite sell as well as expected in Germany. The word “Mist” in German is slang for manure.
  • Colgate introduced its Cue toothpaste in France, unaware that Cue was the also name of a hot French porno magazine.

Professional language agencies can screen groups of proposed names for all destination countries, evaluating, for example, whether:

  1. the pronunciation is easy or hard in each target language;
  2. the sound seems positive, negative or neutral;
  3. the name carries any negative connotation, evoking perhaps a disease, disgraced politician, porn star, gangster or something similar;
  4. the name sounds like the meaning of another word; or whether
  5. the name is slang for something unappealing.

The same principle holds for logos, colors, images and product descriptions; what speaks to one people may speak very differently or not at all to another. For example, a “tampon” is a “pad” in French but that’s not quite the best way to describe the absorbent pads under pre-packaged chickens.

It is also important to evaluate your selected company, brand and product names or your logo in other dialect markets of the same language such as:

  • Canada for French;
  • Mexico and Argentina for Spanish;
  • Switzerland for German;
  • Egypt for Arabic; and
  • Brazil for Portuguese.

English is no exception: an eraser in the US is a rubber in Britain, a fag in Britain is a cigarette in the US, and a robot in both countries is a traffic light in South Africa. If your company name incorporates those products, you could encounter “a spot of bother” abroad.

Chinese poses its own unique issues.  Since the written characters are not phonetic, they can be pronounced in hundreds of different ways, called dialects. The most commonly evaluated dialects for business are Mandarin and Cantonese. And since Mandarin is the official dialect of both China and Taiwan, names and logos should be evaluated for both countries since each has developed its own culture and writes characters differently. Please contact us to learn other considerations in rendering foreign names in China.


To avoid embarrassment and marketing problems, before you launch any name or logo abroad – even in other English-speaking countries – ask your language agency to evaluate each. This is particularly true in Chinese where one must consider the meaning of the name’s characters as well as their sound in various key dialects.

For this minor investment, you become armed with essential knowledge allowing you to decide whether to retain, change or modify your name — or logo — in other countries. It is also a minor price for this major security and peace of mind. After all, what is your name and image worth?