Global Lingo Blog

Barack Obama’s code name doesn’t translate too well, how about your brand?

When a foreign dignitary visits the UK, it’s common practice for the police to give them a code name; supposedly this makes things easier when running security operations. But have Scotland Yard made a mistake this time?

The codename ‘Chalaque’ will be used to refer to the U.S. President for security reasons during his upcoming state visit to the United Kingdom in May.

The problem is that the code name in Hindi translates as ‘smart alec’, ‘sharp’ or ‘crafty’.

Not really the nicest way to describe the visit of the world’s most powerful man as he jets in to the UK to meet David Cameron and the Queen before attending the G8 Summit in France.

However, as with most things in linguistics, ‘Chalaque’ also means Cherokee in Portuguese, which makes far more sense. It seems that the British media feel it’s a far better story to feature the more offensive version, though.

Don’t get caught out with your brand translation

While I’m sure that the President and Scotland Yard will get past this translation issue, if you are in charge of marketing a brand, ensuring that your brand name translates properly is vital to ensuring your potential customers don’t think your company is ‘crafty’ or a ‘smart alec’.

Do you think the media would be kinder to you than they have been to Barack Obama?

Some of the biggest brands in the world have been famously caught out with branding that simply doesn’t translate the way they intended.

Kentucky Fried Chicken, KFC – The Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan “finger-lickin’ good” emerged in Chinese as “eat your fingers off”.

Vauxhall – Vauxhall spent a large sum launching their Nova model in the Spanish market – unfortunately in Spanish ‘no va’ means ‘won’t go’.

The only way to avoid this PR and marketing catastrophe is to refer to in-country professional translators who can review names, and give sensible feedback before you hit the publish button. Linguists will go over proposed names, taglines or brand proposals to give feedback on any possible issues.

So if you want to avoid looking like a ‘tricky’ company it’s best to check first!

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