Monday, March 23, 2009

English Company Names in Japan

Ok in hindsight this sounds rather snide and ranty, but I still think it's a valid question... maybe I'm just a tad bitter lately, so just let me get it out of my system and I'll get back to talking about pretty flowers in no time. :P

So I'm sitting in my office, and listening to the guy next to me make a phone call - rather mundane occurrence, really. What stands out about this is that just about anytime someone from my current work environment introduces themselves as from our company they invariably have to repeat the name several times. Are our phones broken? Do I work in an office full of low-talkers? No, it's because our name is in English - not only that, but it also includes a 'v' in the name, which the majority of Japanese people can't even pronounce.

Actually since I'm in a venture capital office, we actually have 4 companies under the same roof, and all 4 of them are named in English - I have to bite my lip sometimes to keep from laughing when one guy sitting across from me calls people as his company name has the word 'primitive' in it... try getting your average salaryman to pronounce that one! I think his record was about 15 seconds trying to get the guy on the other end to understand this one word. At least the name of the one company has words that you can easily explain in Japanese (時のタイム, "time as in [time]"), but still how eschew is their logic that an English name that their clientele can't even pronounce is a good idea?

Don't get me wrong, I understand the general concept: English is cool because it's foreign and exotic. This concept has sold kanji t-shirts and tattoos in English-land, and holds equally as true for English in Japan as I'm sure a quick search of "Engrish" will tell you. So ok, anyone who gets a tattoo they can't read is an idiot, but at least with t-shirts I can understand that maybe appearance is more important to some people than clarity of message is. I mean afterall, it's just a watered down version of fashion, right?

But we're talking company names for a marketing firm here, which should be all about name recognition. That's all well and fine that you've got a nice, spiffy English name that looks all cool with it's Romanized characters and bold font, but how recognizable is a name that the majority of your customer base can't even pronounce? The sad thing here is that I'm not even totally sure that it does negatively effect their name recognition, would just boggle my mind even more. I'm sure many Japanese would think it's just as acceptable as a 5-year old girl wearing a shirt that reads "I'm a MILF", which I've also seen. And what makes it even funnier is that I guarantee you that the person who came up with the company name (in this isolated case, at least) couldn't pronounce the name and didn't know what it meant when he made the name as the only other 2 people I know of in the office that speak any English at all came here long afterwards - this one was obviously plucked out of a dictionary and picked because it sounded cool.

Yet another unfortunate case where oft times Japan falls into the trap of form before function.


Smipple said...

This is a common problem with foreign owned companies. They seem to completely ignore that they are in Japan when choosing names. My favorite example, though they do have some Japanese customers and employees, is a company called "Ultra Super New". What were they thinking when they chose that name?? Not only is it long in English but it becomes long and hard to pronounce in Japanese. Names with multiple words (where you have to separate the word when speaking) and ones with unpronouncable sylables are particularly hard.

darg said...

...and what would you say if I told you everyone here is Japanese?

You're right though, that's a colossal fail on a slightly broader issue - know your audience! Makes me think of how Apple wanted to bring in the iPhone without emoji. Genius, pure genius that.