Linguistic & Cultural Evaluation

How will a name fare in different countries, languages, or cultures? If you are international, you’ve got to make sure a name is consistent with your brand in the languages your customers speak. Our highly structured linguistic and cultural evaluation system and network of native speakers probe the pluses and pitfalls of names under consideration. We’ll protect you from embarrassing missteps that could alienate your customers.


brand naming agency

And though your customers shouldn’t make your naming decisions for you, they can provide insight if approached correctly. When they hear the name Duncan, do your customers think Scottish king in Shakespeare or purveyor of tasty doughnuts? Our validation methodology for customer research combines focus groups and online surveys to ferret out associations evoked by different name candidates and identify strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities.

The last thing you need is to fall in love with a name that has inappropriate or negative connotations for some segment of your target audience. That’s why it’s absolutely critical to submit names headed outside the U.S. to a rigorous linguistic and cultural evaluation.

Catchword’s Global Performance Scorecard (GPS) is a highly structured analytic system for identifying the potential snags and strengths of your name candidates in your key markets. To give you an example, our GPS once saved a company from naming their new kids game the equivalent of “He Screwed Up” in Mexican Spanish. It also saved a global brand from calling itself “Vomit” in German. The cautionary tales abound.

More than a disaster check, the GPS assesses the strengths and weaknesses of name candidates across a variety of criteria. Besides probing for undesirable associations, we research whether a name is hard to say, sounds odd in a particular language—or resembles a competitor’s. We consider whether a name is appropriate for the brand and the culture in which it must live. And we assess how well a product name or company name delivers desired messages.

Of course, an evaluation is only as good as the evaluators. Catchword’s global linguistic team is the best in the industry. We have immediate access to language experts who speak virtually every language and dialect in the world. Even Canadian.

And unlike typical translation services, our network of specialists is comprised of native speakers who actually live in the countries in question. So they’re aware of cultural nuances that a translation service might miss. They’re also knowledgeable about branding and advertising, so they can evaluate names (as well as logos and taglines) from a marketing perspective. And they conduct probing interviews that go well beyond “person-in-the-street” reactions, to identify potential branding issues and cultural concerns.

We conduct linguistic testing in just about every spoken language on Earth, and have had some exposure to Klingon and Ewokese. Here are the ones we most commonly encounter:

North America
South America
Middle East
South Asia
East Asia

Customer Research

Customer research can be extremely useful for figuring out whether a new cereal tastes good to a lot of people, or a new mobile phone is easy to use. But should you use customer research to help evaluate naming candidates?

Well, it depends.

The open secret in the industry is that testing names is often an act of insecurity. If 51% of respondents select Dewey, Cheatem & Howe as the best name for a new law firm, it’s awfully tempting to hide behind that “hard data.” Especially when the name later ends up being a train wreck.

On the other hand, for some things, naming research can be truly useful. For instance, it can be an excellent way to

  • find out whether a name has damaging associations in slang or regional varieties of English
  • convince your CEO that certain name candidates are acceptable to your target audience
  • help determine what messages a name effectively communicates


We’ve learned that there’s a right way and a wrong way to use customer research in the naming process.

The wrong way is to show customers a list of names and expect them to tell you which one would be best for your brand. Customers don’t have the benefit of your vision or understanding. And without the marketing context in which they’re used to encountering brand names, it’s often the most familiar or literal (read: boring) names that do best in testing. Names like Apple and Google probably wouldn’t have made it through the gauntlet of much of today’s customer research.

The right way is to conduct qualitative research to tease out nuanced insights from customers. Over the past 18 years, we’ve developed a name validation methodology that uses focus groups and online software tools to help our clients anticipate implications of naming strategies, assess strengths and weaknesses, and leverage opportunities.

Selected Work



Hitachi Vantara

How can we

help you?


Developing a fantastic brand name is not easy, and not something most people—even seasoned marketing professionals—do very often. We’ve got you! Our two decades working and thinking about branding have yielded some wisdom, which we share below and in our Insights & Resources. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, reach out. We’re happy to chat.

Linguistic research, or name checking, is designed to ensure that names are pronounceable and free from negative associations in languages other than English. Customer research is concerned with things like fit to concept, believability of brand promise, color choices, and other subtle consumer preferences.

Catchword assembles a group of linguistic experts, three per language, who live in the target countries, speak the languages natively, and are also fluent in English. We present them with an objective survey about the name candidates, and then collate and analyze the data. The deliverable is an actionable report that allows you to quickly identify potential issues with names, along with our recommendation about which names are worth pursuing.

We typically ask respondents about the pronounceability of names, whether the names have any negative connotations in their culture, and whether they know of any existing brands or names that are similar to the names being tested. Of course, we can add questions as needed.

We can test in just about any country or language, and can provide lists of recommended languages. Depending on your target geographies, Catchword can recommend key languages, as well as important minority languages to consider. A good place to start is with the major languages of Europe (French, Italian, German, Spanish), and a selection of Asian languages (Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean). Remember, one country does not mean one language! China has hundreds of languages, some of which are not mutually intelligible.

You can, but you’re likely to get subjective responses that tell you little about how the names will fare generally, and much more about which names your employees like or dislike. Catchword’s linguistic analysis provides an objective look at names candidates, using information from linguistic experts.

The process usually takes two weeks from the start of the survey.

It’s surprisingly affordable. We price per language, using three respondents per language, and we can test up to 10 names for the same price.

We recommend linguistic analysis and/or customer research when you’ve settled on a small group of names that resonate, perhaps 7-10 names total. Vetting can take place concurrent with full legal screens.

Yes, if necessary.

Customer research can be done in person, via focus groups, or online, via internet surveys. Research can range from querying customers about negative associations with names to moderators leading a group through discussions around appropriateness of the names, consistency with the company’s brand, fit to product concept, and more. Data from any type of customer research is collated and analyzed; a topline report is then created, with detailed verbatims.

Customer research is valuable in identifying potential red flags or conflicts with name candidates before they go to market. It may also be helpful in ranking names according to how well they perform against the brand concept. But we feel strongly that research should not be used as the sole basis for choosing names; too often consumers reject exactly the type of names that make great brands, simply because they are unexpected and, well, creative.