When it comes to naming products, subjectivity comes up an awful lot. It is easy enough to rule out the name of your new international sofa range if it means ‘yoghurt’ in Italian and even easier if it happens to be a word used as an insult or sexual term in certain countries or cultures. What makes it a more difficult decision is when you are faced with someone telling you that they see certain words in your names that others do not. Someone saying that your new name ‘sounds a bit like’ a term for genitalia or has the first few letters of a word used for telling people to ‘go away’ can make the decision makers behind important brands very nervous. The question is though, where do you draw the line?

I imagine almost everyone in branding has at least one story of losing a favourite idea to what they perceived as crazy comments from a testing group. If one person in a group of a hundred says your name evokes sheep mutilation, should we ignore them or do we have to accept that others might think it and ditch the name?

There are obviously degrees to this. Take the word Juzu as an example and assume we want to use it for a product in the UK. Most people would say that it looks quite modern, was easy to pronounce and easy to spell. So far so good, but what if someone pointed out that ‘juzu’ is the name of Buddhist prayer beads? Suddenly we may have a problem. Most clients I’ve worked with have had religion on a list of evocations to definitely avoid so as to not offend anyone. Is this enough of a problem to not use the name? It’s not saying anything negative about Buddhism and if you were going to pick a religion that is viewed neutrally by most people Buddhism is probably it. So let’s assume our brand manager is feeling brave and says we can keep the name for now. We’re looking good until Mr. One in a Hundred points out that it evokes the holocaust. Erm, what? Even when I’ve just said that, most people reading this will look again and have no idea why. It’s a great looking word but say it out loud. Still no idea? Apologies if I’m boring those who figured this out at the beginning of the paragraph but when some people say this name out loud they hear as clear as anything that it sounds like ‘Jew Zoo’! I don’t yet have a scale of 1 to 10 on which to measure comfort levels of names but even without that I reckon I would know to put the brakes on this one.

This illustrates that sometimes the negative is so strong that, even though it will only be noticed by a small minority, we should nevertheless reject the name on that basis. However, we probably need to accept that no idea can truly be considered bullet proof and people will always find something negative to say if they look hard enough or think about it for long enough. Take the example of the Texan man who made headlines in 1997 for wanting to change the greeting ‘hello’ as it contained the word ‘hell’. I don’t want to upset anyone but I’d hope we can all agree that maybe that is taking it a bit too far!

Both hell and Auschwitz are clearly negative. But the difference is, having heard “Jew zoo”, it will be difficult to not hear it whenever you hear the name “juzu” again, whereas, having had the “hell” pointed out to you in “hello”, you are unlikely to be thinking of it the next time someone greets you.

Ultimately, the decision on whether to kill a name or save it is also a subjective one, but hopefully a degree of dispassionate common sense can be involved. So sadly I can’t give you a fool-proof rule to follow but would advise that if you hear someone’s problem with your name and recoil in horror you should probably scrap it but if you start laughing and questioning their sanity then it’s probably OK.