New names play a big role in a brand’s growth and perception, but always check the international implications.
As automakers and suppliers change with the times, sometimes a company’s name must be put out to pasture. A new name is a great way to signify a company’s rejuvenation. With all the reinventing, pivoting and partnering with auto-tech startups nowadays, new names in the automotive industry are multiplying like rabbits. But before you hop into market looking for potential suitors, make sure your company’s new moniker doesn’t get lost in translation.
Consider these auto-tech startups that are doing great things: Nauto, Driversiti, Quanergy, Zendrive, nuTonomy, Nuro and Zoox. Whether you think they sound like Star Trek characters or not, I commend their attempt to stand out from the crowd. They’re quite different than the names you see in Automotive News Top 100 OEM Parts Supplier list, where only a few are memorable and evoke a forward-thinking positioning … companies like Visteon and Nexteer, for example.
Don’t trip on the last hurdle.
For a new name to ever see the light, it must run a gauntlet of obstacles: internal naming committees, board meetings, subjective reasoning, the boss’ whim, focus groups and legal searches for trademark availability. Last but not least, do not forget to cross-check a name’s meaning in other languages. It could land your company in hot water.
GM learned that lesson in the early 1980s with its launch of the Chevy Nova. The name seemed fine stateside, but not so fine in Mexico and Spain. “No va” in Spanish means “won’t go.” GM wouldn’t make the same mistake again, right? But it did. When GM named the replacement for the Buick Regal and Century, it chose the elegant name of LaCrosse. GM didn’t realize that in the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec, LaCrosse is a common slang term for masturbation. Hence, north of the border, the LaCrosse goes by the name of “Allure.”
That time when I tripped on the last hurdle.
In case you think I’m singling out GM, allow me to pick on myself. Years ago, we had a naming assignment for a new, cutting-edge motion control systems supplier under a tight deadline. We prepared a list of names and met with our client at their North American headquarters. A few key engineers listened in over the phone as we presented.
We went through our list, saving one of our favorite names, Moco, for last. Moco had everything. It was short, simple, friendly, memorable and descriptive—it stood for “motion control.” We unveiled the name and let its sheer brilliance sink in with the group. The people at the table seemed into it. Then, a voice over the phone said, “Moco in Spanish means mucus.” It was all downhill from there.
Never again will I skip the language cross-checking step. There are language translation companies out there that can help you out. Normally, we use Babel Linguistics and they’re great. We didn’t that time. There are no excuses not to. Set aside time for it. No matter how tight your deadline is, even if you set the stage beforehand with a disclaimer that you haven’t yet vetted these names, take it from me, you should. Not doing so would be completely loco.