What makes trademarks strong or weak is essentially how unique they are. But beware, that unique name you just came up with might have an alternate meaning that is far less desirable.
Recently it occurred that businesses sometimes find, what they believe is a catchy name and then immediately do business under that name. In their rush, these businesses fail to have an appropriate trademark search performed. What many of the these businesses discovered, all to late, was that their newly formed companyâs name has a different meaning then the one they intended.
This sometimes occurs when there is an attempt to use English words in a foreign country and sometimes there is an alternate, slang, meaning for the companyâs name, which is anything but flattering.
The solution is to have a comprehensive Trademark search performed by a qualified attorney. To avoid the selection of a trademark that is both available and memorable but also carries with it an unintended meaning, a comprehensive search should be performed, including meanings in other languages.
There are many examples of businesses using names for their company or products which carried with it an unintended secondary meaning. The following are a few of my favorites.
A coffee shop chain in southeastern Massachusetts named Marylou's (known to some as "Hooters of the morning") has a featured drink called the "Funky Fanabla". Demangled into standard Italian, it comes out to "va fa Napoli", which means, more or less, "go to hell", and literally something along the lines of "go do it like they do in Naples". The drink itself is some kind of iced coffee something or other.
The company Bic changed its name from Bich (French pronunciation: [bik]) to prevent it from being mispronounced in English speaking countries as bitch.
Mitsubishi Pajero had to be renamed to Montero in Spain and Hispanic America, since pajero is a Spanish slang term for one who masturbates (with similar connotations as the British slang term wanker). Mitsubishi originally got the name Pajero from the pampas cat, Leopardus pajeros.
The Honda Fit was originally intended to be named the "Fitta", but the name was shortened and in some markets renamed completely upon discovering that in several Nordic languages, "fitta" is a vulgar word for the female genitalia.
Buick had to rename its Lacrosse to Allure in Canada, because it was a euphemism for masturbation in Quebec.
The SEAT MÃ¡laga was marketed in Greece as the Seat Gredos, because the word Malaga was considered very similar to Malaka, a common Greek swear word for one who masturbates.
The primarily-US fast food chain Taco Bell formerly sold a burrito called a chili-cheese burrito. Its name was changed when many people became aware that the original name, chilito, is used as a slang term for a small penis.
The Ford Maverick was intended to be marketed in Brazil as the Ford Pinto, but no one in Brazil would identify Pinto as a horse breed, since Pinto is a Brazilian informal term for âpenis.â
In Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro, NestlÃ© couldn't sell instant coffee called Kenjara because the name resembles Serbo-Croatian vulgar words related to defecation.
The Toyota MR2 sportscar is named MR in France, because a way of pronouncing it, "merdeux", sounds like the word for shitty in French.
The popular Vicks brand of over-the-counter cough medication was renamed Wick in Germany, to avoid too much a similarity with the German word "wichsen" meaning to wank.
Then there is the Lancia Dedra: this car sold poorly outside Italy, particularly in English-speaking markets, where research showed that people associated it with danger (apparently affected by the name's similarity to the word "dead")
In January 2005, McDonald's published banners proclaiming Double cheeseburger? I'd Hit It. In this obvious blunder, the copywriters mistook the strictly sexual slang expression for a term of general approval.
An advertising campaign for Kentucky Fried Chicken in China, attempting to translate the slogan Finger lickin' good! into Chinese failed miserably, proclaiming Eat your fingers off.
Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux sold products successfully in the United Kingdom using the slogan "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux."
Pepsi allegedly introduced their slogan into the Chinese market "Come alive with the Pepsi Generation" translated into Chinese it read "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave."
The name Coca-Cola rendered phonetically in Chinese can sound like the words for "bite the wax tadpole" or "female horse stuffed with wax". Before marketing in China, the company found a close phonetic equivalent, kekou kele, which roughly means "let your mouth rejoice." It was never marketed by the company using the other phrases, though individual merchants may have made such signs.
There is also the Chevrolet Nova automobile, which sold poorly in Latin America, as "no va" means "won't go" in Spanish. The same has been said of the Vauxhall Nova, which had to be sold as an Opel Corsa in Spain.
Finally there is, Doggie Style, a pet grooming business in Florida; Butt Drugs in Indiana; Toss-a-Salad Catering in Manhatten; and who could forget the Tea Bag Party (political party).
A comprehensive search at the beginning of these projects could have saved enormous sums of money in lost sales, rebranding or loss of reputation.