From Nike to Nutella: Company names you have probably been mispronouncing your whole life
Global company names often get Anglicized or Americanized to the point where they’re unrecognizable, but brands could see some benefits if their names are pronounced correctly.
Hyundai UK’s latest TV advert focuses on how to pronounce the company’s name — and it’s not how most Brits have been saying it.
“Hyun-day” the main character in the advert says, correcting the commonly used “Hy-un-dai” pronunciation in the U.K.
“We are proudly Korean with real character and purpose,” Hyundai Motor UK Managing Director Ashley Andrew said in a press release, explaining why pronunciation has become the focus of the ad campaign.
“2023 is the perfect time for us to properly reflect this in the UK,” he added, as the advert tries to “encourage more people to learn about Hyundai.”
So that’s how to pronounce the name of South Korea’s car manufacturing giant, but what about other global companies?
“Adidas” is an abbreviation of its founder Adolf “Adi” Dassler’s name. The company was born from a feud between Adolf and his brother Rudolf, who founded Puma. It’s pronounced with an emphasis on the first syllable.
“Allianz” is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the German word for “alliance.” The company’s Germanic roots can also be seen in its logo, which is a simplified image of the eagle featured on the German coat of arms.
Bvlgari uses the Latin alphabet in its spelling, meaning the pronunciation is as if the second letter were a “u.” The emphasis is also put on the first syllable of the word, unlike typical Italian pronunciation which highlights the second syllable. Greek jeweler Sotirios Voulgaris founded Bvlgari in Rome in 1884.
Dr Oetker: doctor ert-ker
This German food company was named after its founder Dr August Oetker in 1981 and is still family-owned today.
Fjällräven: fi-ell rair-ven
Fjällräven is Swedish for “arctic fox,” which explains why the animal can be found on the company’s products.
Givenchy was founded in France in 1952 by Hubert de Givenchy and came under the luxury behemoth LVMH umbrella in 1988. LVMH became Europe’s first company to hit a market capitalization of 400 billion euros ($434 billion) on Jan. 17.
This French designer is named after its founder, Thierry Hermès. It isn’t pronounced like the ancient Greek herald of the gods, Hermes, unlike the U.K. delivery company of similar spelling.
Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei reportedly came up with the company name after seeing the phrase “zhonghua youwei,” which roughly translates as “China has promise,” written on a wall. The “h” sound at the front of Huawei is almost silent.
“Hublot” translates as “porthole” in French, which reflects the shape of the bezel of Hublot watches.
The word “Ikea” is made up of the initials of the founder Ingavar Kamprad, the farm on which he grew up, Elmtaryd, and the nearby village Agunnaryd.
It is widely believed that the name “Lancôme” was inspired by the ruins of a French castle, Le Château de Lancosme. The company logo, a rose, reflects the flowers growing in the region.
Moët & Chandon: mow-et ey shon-don
In contrast to typical French pronunciation, there is a hard “T” sound at the end of “Moët.” Founder of the world’s largest champagne maker, Claude Moët, was of Dutch heritage, which explains the anomalous pronunciation.
Nike chairman Phillip Knight confirmed the official pronunciation of the sportswear brand in a letter in 2014 after two fans asked him to circle the correct phonetic spelling of the word. The company name was inspired by Nike, the Greek goddess of victory.
Nutella announced the official pronunciation for its hazelnut spread a year after Nike, when the brand included a phonetic spelling in its website’s FAQs. The word is a combination of “nut” and the Latin suffix “ella,” which means sweet.
Brits typically ignore the “e” when saying “Porsche,” whereas Americans tend to pronounce the luxury carmaker’s name as its German founder intended, with an audible “e.” Porsche bears the name of its founder, Ferdinand Porsche.
Tag Heuer: tah-g hoy-ah
Despite the name of this watchmaker following German pronunciation rules, “Tag” stands for Techniques d’Avant Garde, which is French for “avant garde techniques.” Heuer is the last name of the company’s founder, Edouard Heuer.
“Volkswagen” translates from German to mean “the people’s car,” which reflects the company’s long-standing goal of being an everyday car for the masses.
What’s in a name?
Like Hyundai, more and more brands are focusing on their cultural heritage as a way to promote certain values, and a company’s name can be a way to highlight that.
But that’s not the only driving force behind excellent enunciation, according to Rachel Aldighieri, managing director at the U.K.’s Data & Marketing Association.
“More and more of us are getting our information through audio … So it’s important that you can recognize and understand a brand name from an advertising perspective as and when you hear it,” she told CNBC.
Research by DMA from 2020 found that 27% of regular podcast listeners surveyed agreed they discovered new brands through podcast advertising, which relies on listeners being able to recognize a company’s name.
Voice-assistant technology also plays a larger part in our lives than ever before, with the U.S. smart home market worth nearly $113 billion in 2021, up 20% from the year before, according to data firm IDC.
And even if an advert such as Hyundai’s doesn’t get people to change their pronunciation immediately, it does get people talking.
“People might start changing [their pronunciation],” Aldighieri said, “but what they will do is start talking to each other about it.”
“The whole talkability, word of mouth that comes from those kinds of campaigns actually adds more value than having people pronounce it correctly in many ways,” she added.
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