Naming: the linguistic and cultural differences

Often in our work we are called upon to choose a name for a company, product or service. It is a difficult task, much more than we can imagine. Normally the first names that come to mind are already in use, the search is always done on a global scale even if perhaps the company or product is local, this complicates things badly. It is done both to avoid possible legal problems in using a name perhaps registered globally by some multinational company and to find a web domain name not yet in use. Another complication is cultural and linguistic differences; when moving internationally, one has to be careful that a name in Italian or English does not mean something different or negative in some other language or that it is a “false friend,” that is, it is similar to a word in Italian but actually means something else entirely. Today in Lugano, in the pharmacy, a display caught my attention. There were teas and herbal teas of various kinds with the brand name “Sidroga“. Here in Switzerland we are in a multi-language country so in all cantons this name will not say anything special but in Ticino I do not read “Sidroga” but “It drugs” in the sense of “yes to drugs” and in that of drug users. And for a company that makes products with herbs I think it is definitely an equivocal name! Then in Japan there is a company called ” “Kagata Corporation“; I hope for their sake that they will never decide to open a branch in Ticino or Italy… and what about the history of “Ayds” candy? the bad luck for them started in the 1980s when AIDS started terrorizing the world. After more than 50 years of history, they were withdrawn from the market because no one bought them anymore. In short, coming up with a name is really hard, so to do it right you have to take these points into consideration:
  • That its meaning or sound (in the case of a fancy word) has relevance to the target market and is original.
  • That it is not too long and therefore easily memorized.
  • That it is not already a registered trademark in Switzerland or other countries.
  • That there is one of the main domains free (.ch – .it – .com – .net).
  • That it is easy to pronounce in the countries where you want to operate. For example, a “gn” word in Anglo-Saxon countries is unpronounceable.
  • That it has no other meanings that might confuse, offend or make your potential foreign customers smile.
Each of these points requires careful and timely verification that can take a long time. It is worth it. A good name is already a great start.