Naming Tip #9: Avoid negative international associations

By Mark Skoultchi

August 18, 2008

Linguistic and cultural appropriateness are important factors when launching a global brand. We all know about the Chevy Nova. Naming a car with a word which means “doesn’t go” in Spanish is probably not the best idea (although we’ll dispel this naming myth later.) But the point is valid: If you are launching a global brand, you will want to conduct some level of linguistic and cultural screening on your new name candidates.

Good naming firms have the ability to test names in any language globally, for linguistic AND cultural appropriateness. And really stellar naming specialists will be able to test names with native speakers who actually reside in the respective countries. This becomes particularly important when testing for current slang, recent cultural snafus, and coexisting brand names.

Which languages matter most? Make a list and rank the importance of various languages/countries where your brand will be marketed. You might ask yourself: “If my name is unpronounceable or has a negative meaning in Punjabi, but works great in all of my other target languages, would I still launch it?”

The most typical languages to test for linguistic and cultural appropriates include: UK English, French, Italian, German, Spanish; Japanese, Mandarin, and Cantonese. If you’re going by the sheer number of speakers, you could also include Arabic, Korean, Tagalog, and Hindi in the mix.

This is part nine in a ten-part CatchThis series. Check back every Monday morning for subsequent naming tips. Check out previous Naming Tips here.

For more on the on the Nova urban legend, keep reading.

Now, let us dispel the Chevy Nova myth for good. Legend says Chevy made a huge blunder by using a car name that could be translated as “doesn’t go” in Spanish speaking countries. The car flopped and Chevy had to change the name. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, that’s because it isn’t true. Chevy successfully sold the Nova in several Latin American countries for years, and was never forced to change the name because of a decrease in sales. Don’t believe us? Then check it out on Snopes.

“No Va” (Spanish meaning “doesn’t go”) is very different in the minds of Spanish speakers than the word “nova” (Latin for “new”). Speakers are adept at distinguishing between a foreign word and a similar word in their own language. What’s more, two separate words are easily recognized as different than a compound. For example, a furniture store called Notable Furniture would never be mistaken as “No Table.”

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