Choosing a foreign name for your product/company? Read this first!

It may seem like a good idea to give your product – or even your business – a foreign name or a slogan that uses words from a foreign language. Perhaps that’ll make it seem more exotic in your domestic market and help it resonate better with your target clients overseas. It may well be a great idea.

But can you pull it off and achieve the desired effect?

There are various pitfalls to steer clear of along the way, to avoid ending up with a costly embarrassment on your hands (and on your CV). So you need to execute it perfectly.

Does it make sense?

If your wording is a literal translation of something you thought of in a different language, then you need to ensure that the translation makes sense. The tagline “Come alive with Pepsi”, for instance, became “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead” in Chinese. The result? Hilarity, notoriety and confusion. As opposed to great sales.

Is it correct?Choosing a foreign name for your product - is it unambiguous?

English words are quite fashionable in Italian nowadays, but they are often used differently in the two languages. Call your tour company “Puglia in coach” and your English market will quietly snigger (as they choose one of your competitors). Of course, we say “by coach” not “in coach”, which simply isn’t correct English.

Does it have the right connotations?

When I was dreaming up a name for my own business, one of the alternatives I considered was “Resonant Translations”. The idea was that the translations would resonate, or strike a chord, with the readers. But the nearest Italian word, “risonante” just means “loud and booming”, not the association I was looking for at all. That’s why I binned that idea.

Does it have any unwanted double meanings?

Foreign languages can be a minefield; all language learners will have had the experience of making a foreigner laugh by unwittingly saying something funny or risqué. The Middle-Eastern cleaning product “Barf”, for example, would not sell well in the UK, “barf” being a slang word for vomit.

Does it look right as a web address or logo?

Website addresses have no gaps in the words – unless you add hyphens, which many web experts decry. That means that the words run together into a long string that can sometimes be interpreted in more than one way. If you called your firm Go Farther Tours, for instance, then the web address www.gofarthertours.com could be read as “go fart …” – not the most appropriate invitation for foreign guests.

A similar problem can apply with logos. Italian travel publication turismo.it currently still has the Twitter icon “T.it”, virtually identical, of course, to a slightly vulgar English word for ladies’ naughty bits.

Consult a professional

To avoid falling into these cringeworthy pitfalls, consult a professional translator who specialises in marketing. They will be able to advise you on your choice of name and come up with some alternative ideas to help inform your thinking.

That way, you can be sure to avoid the horrific realisation that something is wrong when it’s too late.

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