Naming companies generally develop a "name safe" test to make sure that an anti-depressive does not sound too similar to a strong tranquilizer, or that the name does not get lost in the doctor's handwriting.
In addition with making sure that the product name does not sound similar to other brands, organizations such as the FDA, make sure that the name is not misleading or too similar to other pharmaceutical products.
It’s not always successful however. The list of names that sound similar in medicine (not to mention look similar in packaging) is long and causes concern among medical practitioners who may prescribe or administer a drug that sounds similar but is completely inappropriate for the symptoms. For example Endocet, a narcotic analgesic, is similar in sound to Indocid, which is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory; Kaletra, an antiretroviral, can be mistaken for Levitra, a genitourinary; Lexapro, an antidepressant, should not be prescribed in place of Loxapine, an antipsychotic, and so on.
Another potential landmine is translation or association issues across countries or regions.
Ford faced its share of culture clash when it had to change the name Pinto to Corcel in Brazil. The word literally means dick in Portuguese, which could result in giggles at best and off-putting to potential drivers at worse. "The concept of the car was very offending here in Brazil, and we were forced to change its name," says a company spokeswoman.
Losing a name though doesn’t necessarily mean that all of the brand equity is lost. It just takes more effort to make the association. In Belgium, telecommunications brand Orange lost its trademark to competitor Mobistar in a mismanagement maneuver. The company took months to re-brand itself with a different name (BASE), and with lots of advertising, managed to persuade its customers that it was running business as usual.
But perhaps the most famous example of language barriers is Coca-Cola’s apparent translation of "bite the wax tadpole" in China. According to a company spokeswoman the story is not entirely accurate. When Coca-Cola decided to launch itself in the Chinese market, it faced the problem that written language is not phonetic. After some time spent looking for all the different written characters in Mandarin that would sound similar, the company chose "to allow the mouth to be able to rejoice" (which sounds like Coca-Cola when spoken). However, when read, it can also take on many different meanings such as suggested in the urban legend.
Although Coke has to endure this oft-told tale, it has also, as the spokeswoman confirmed, so far been able to maintain the same brand name all over the world. (While we’re on the subject, the “No Go” Chevy Nova story is also apparently myth.)
"There is no magic formula for names,” says Paul Norman, Director of Nomen, a European naming company. “There are success factors: distinctive, flexible enough to allow the company to expand in other businesses, and it has to be legally robust."
Although the market of naming companies is not yet saturated, naming companies say that their main competitors lie within the company itself, which tries to name brands internally. After failing, they often approach a naming company.
"At the moment in the UK, there is often a distress purchase which is similar to buying a washing machine,” Norman explains, “Generally one buys a new washing machine because the other one has broken or is damaged. People often come to a brand naming company after they try to generate it internally and failed."