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Pencil Banner How to avoid using 'wrong' names around the world

Mark Gibbs | Aug. 24, 2015
You've got a great company, site, or product name but what does that word mean in other countries?

bad translation
Credit: Wikipedia

There are three daunting problems you face when you’re trying to find a name for a company or Web site; the first is finding a name that sounds right (represents your goals, product, or service). The second is finding a domain name that is either the name you’ve chosen or related to that name. The third is problem is making sure that the name isn’t either actually a crude word in another country or another language or a word that sounds similar to a crude word.

For example, let’s say you’re setting up a site for a fanfic blog about Hobbits. You think and think and finally decide that “Tales from the Shire” would be a good name and, wonder of wonders (and as of writing), is available! You register that domain as well as all of the similar variants (,, etc.) and start publishing. All is well until you start getting angry or mocking messages from Japanese readers of your blog. Why? Because in Japanese, “shire” is phonetically close to “shiri” which means “bottom” or, colloquially, “ass”.

OK, that’s a mild and perhaps over-reaching example so perhaps it wouldn’t cause that much of a problem but you get my point; words that translate either exactly or similarly into crude or misleading meanings in other languages can create serious branding problems (I had a much better example but we’re running a nice Web site here …).

Smart marketers dealing with international markets will use tools such as Google Translate to test words for explicit meanings in other languages (this is easily automated using the Google Translate API so a simple application using REST could crank out all variations through a simple script or application). There are, however, problems with this technique because it doesn’t address all of the “sound alike” variations and Google translate doesn’t always produce the expected results (for example, Google Translate thinks that the English “shiri” is “shuri” in Japanese and that “shuri” in Japanese is also “shuri” in English).

Another approach to avoiding the “dirty words” problem is provided  by a new Web site, checks your word against swear words and unwanted associations in 19 languages. We also do phonetic matching, so you can catch pronounciations that might be problematic. / currently has about 3000 words and phonetic variations in the following languages:   Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Persian (Farsi), Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish. /  This covers about 3.8 billion native speakers, and of course many more people who understand multiple languages.


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