It is well-known that the Chevy Nova was a failure in Spanish-speaking markets because “nova” translates as “no-go”. That’s not the kind of message you want to transmit in a car name. It may be well-known, but it’s also untrue – the translation is inaccurate and, in any case, the car was a success. But that doesn’t mean that linguistic howlers don’t occur all the time.
There are three types of error to avoid. Firstly, the inadvertent use of words that have a rude or discordant meaning in another language. Thus, Spanish speakers might have had a strange view of Japanese car-makers as the Nissan “Moco” can be translated as “dried secretion”, while the Mitsubishi “Pajero” is a name that is a colloquialism for “masturbation”.
Secondly, errors might occur when transforming a brand name into a web address. “Choose Spain” might be a reasonable name for a travel company, but the ambiguous url “choosespain.com” may not be.
And thirdly, there is often a potential for confusion with similarly-named products in other countries, whether there is a trademark issue or not. This issue is a strategic one, with the brand owner having to decide whether their new product could be confused with the existing one.
In addition to avoiding errors, a linguistic screening (with our service Intercheck) can help you judge how well the name works in other languages – whether the name will be understood, and whether the right associations will be drawn from it.
Nomen can conduct thorough linguistic checks on a number of levels on any recommended names, using both automated databases and, crucially, the human judgment and linguistic expertise of its employees across an international network. Even if General Motors got away with it, Nomen doesn’t want your name to be a “no-go”.