Global naming, and the “no va” myth.

Posted on Aug 5, 2012

Naming for multinational markets demands you learn what the name suggests in multiple languages and cultures.  You don’t want to discover too late that your brand means “poop” in Punjabi, or “fraud” in Farsi. But which and how many languages?

The easy answer is, as many languages as are spoken where you market, now or in the future.

Another reasonable answer for global marketers is, test your name in the 10 languages spoken by at least 100 million people. If you're belt-and-suspenders cautious, add the 13 languages spoken by more than 50 million. The list:

1. Mandarin
2. English
3. Spanish
4. Hindi (and Urdu)
5. Arabic
6. Bengali
7. Portugese
8. Russian
9. Japanese
10. Punjabi
11. German
12. Javanese
13. Wu
14. Marathi
15. Telugu
16. Vietnamese
17. French
18. Korean
19. Tamil
20. Cantonese
21. Turkish
22. Pashto
23. Italian

The popular myth about the Chevy Nova being a disaster in Spanish-speaking countries because “no va” means “no go” doesn’t hold water. The car may not have succeeded, but it was the car’s fault, not the name: the Spanish word for “nova” (the exploding star) is, um, “nova.”

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