Painful Lessons from
the "Oops" File
© Steve Rivkin 1988
Estee Lauder was set to export its Country Mist makeup line when German managers pointed out that in their language "mist" is slang for "manure." (The name became Country Moist in Germany.)
Apparently undaunted, another cosmetics company introduced the Mist Stick, a curling iron, into Germany. (Wonder how many fräuleins were interested in using a "manure stick?")
The meaning of Pledge in Dutch has nothing to do with promises. It means "piss," as the chagrined folks at Johnson's Wax found out when they sold the furniture polish in The Netherlands under its American name. (Heck of a way to spruce up your dining room table.)
The Guess jeans people placed the Japanese characters "ge" and "su" next to a model in Asian magazines, intending them to mean "Guess." But "gesu" actually translates to "vulgar," "low" class" or even "meanspirited" in Japanese. (Were they just targeting their sales?)
Japan's second-largest tourist office was mystified when it entered English-speaking markets and began receiving requests for unusual sex tours. (The owners of the Kinki Nippon Tourist Company promptly changed the name.)
Here's how to stay out of trouble when you cross language borders. Use these three multilingual checkpoints.
1. Is it acceptable? Your name should be evaluated by a native-born person fluent in the language and slang of each country where you expect to do business.
2. What about existing meanings? Ask whether your name has any similar or different meanings to what you intend.
3. What about negative connotations? Ask what your name could be confused with.
STEVE RIVKIN President, Rivkin & Associates, Inc; Editor, The Naming Newsletter, a quarterly report on the strategies and tactics of naming. Steve is a much sought-after speaker and has provided naming counsel and training workshops for such clients as Ameritech, BlueCross BlueShield, First Data Corp., Kraft Foods, Monsanto, Nynex, Outboard Marine Corp., Pharmaco, Sierra Instruments and Wendy's. Training workshop details, contact RAYMA Management Consultants Wendy Song at tel: (03) 7044-666, fax: (03) 7044-484 or e-mail: email@example.com