The Wrong Way to name a car: international branding blunders

Cars driving down Lombard St, San FranciscoProduct naming is an important part of branding and marketing, and one where international businesses can make costly mistakes if they fail to understand local language, slang, and all the connotations of a given word.

Here are a couple of potential branding disasters in the car industry, courtesy of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting’s Scottish network:

FITTA  This car was hastily rebranded the “Jazz” for the Scandinavian market after Honda discovered that “fitta” is a colloquial term for a woman’s private parts in no less than 3 Nordic languages.

PINTO  Car-maker Ford thought the better of this name in Brazil when it transpired that “Pinto” is Brazilian Portuguese slang for small male genitals. Not quite the image they were trying to promote! (The car was rebadged “Corcel”, which has a suitably manly meaning of “horse”)

PAJERO  This word is a colloquialism denoting masturbation in Spanish, so Mitsubishi saw the wisdom of renaming its “Pajero” SUV as the “Montero” in Spanish-speaking countries.

The New York Times recently published an article on the exotic names surfacing in China’s car industry: the Freedom Ship, the Beauty Leopard and the King Kong, for example, are models produced by the Geely company. I’m not sure I’d want to drive around in a King Kong. Or in a Roewe:

Shanghai Auto came up with Roewe, a Roverish name with Chinese characteristics. However, one can only assume that quiet consternation engulfed company headquarters when it was discovered that the Chinese version for Roewe — Rongwei — sounds close to English-language Wrong Way.

Oh dear.

Have you got any examples of branding or product-naming gone wrong? Let us know in the comments.

More about car-naming:

The car industry’s poet laureate, or what’s in a name.

The photo, courtesy of David Perez, shows cars zig-zagging down San Francisco’s Lombard Street.

By Marian Dougan

Published by Marian Dougan

Marian is a translator and editor (specialising in web content) currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. Marian previously lived in Italy for over 20 years, working as a language teacher, translator and policy analyst with the British Embassy in Rome. A qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and its Italian-language and ITI Scotnet networks, she is currently Scotnet's Convenor and Deputy Webmaster. From 2003 to 2006 Marian taught translation skills at the Italian Department of Glasgow University and now gives Master Classes as part of the new Masters in Translation Studies course. She also conducts web-writing and usability workshops to help people improve their websites and communicate more effectively with their readers, users and customers. In September 2014 Marian obtained User Experience Certification, with specialisation in Web Design, from the Nielsen Norman Group. She loves language, especially English, and is convinced that learning languages opens up people’s minds and horizons (and increases their brainpower!). To share her enthusiasm, she advises schools and educational authorities on language skills and enterprise. She gives talks to pupils on how to combine language studies with other subjects and so enhance their potential and increase their career options. Marian is an active member of organisations such as: Scottish Council Development and Industry (SCDI); Association of Scottish Businesswomen; Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Scotland. She also loves architecture, design, fashion (British Vogue!), cities and chocolate. She’s a great fan of Twitter and you can also find her on Linkedin.

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  1. The baby-food Gerber is one. “gerber”, in colloquial French, means “to puke”… I’ve still seen Gerber jars on the shelves in French supermarkets. 🙂

  2. Other examples (although these companies were wise enough not to market with that name in Spain) are Nissan Moco, “snot”, and Ford Nika, which sounds like the imperative form of “to fornicate”.

  3. Love the car ones – made me chuckle. Can’t think of car one but Pschitt fizzy drink didn’t tempt me, nor did Kick-self (self service Kickers store in France) and Grill-self for a motorway cafe!

    1. Oh yes, Pschitt – certainly not very appetising, although I can see the onomatopoeic (phew – spelling!) effect they’re aiming for. I hadn’t seen Kick-self or Grill-self — the latter would make an apt name for a tanning salon here in Glasgow.

  4. Well, one brand name I find amusing is Kadus for hair products… For Italian speakers it doesn’t seem to suggest the desired outcome (cadere = to fall) 😉

  5. Two car names that did not work very well in the Italian market were Musso, which in some northern Italian dialects means “donkey”, and Sorento, which looks like a spelling mistake of Sorrento.

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