Is It Legal? - Indecent Naming With Tradition


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When Mitsubishi launched a new car with the name “Pajero" on the Spanish market, it became obvious very soon that the name chosen was not optimal because it immediately was the subject of jokes due to its homophony with a Spanish expression related to masturbation.

The same happened to Ford’s model “Pinto" (Portuguese for male genital) in Brazil where it was quickly renamed into “Corcel"(horse).

There is quite a long list of product names that give food to the dirty mind be they chosen accidentaly or deliberately. Obviously there seems to be a kind of tradition for this in the history of naming which originally started with place names.

Some of our ancestors obviously were too innocent to realize what burden they place on their offspring when naming places like Pratts Bottom (Kent), Brown Willy (Cornwall), Lickey End (near Birmingham), Booby Dingle (Powys), Great Cockup (Cumbria). Even places such as Thong (Kent) seem to have revealed far too much for not being the victim of lewd remarks.

The European continent, however, is also challenging the innocent mind of the English speaking travellers. In Southern Bavaria they will come across a village with the name of “Petting” and about eleven miles from there, in neighbouring Upper Austria, the shock might be inevitable when they enter the village of “Fucking”. Inspite of the fact that the inhabitants of Fucking have had enough with English-speaking tourists swiping their sign, they refuse to change their name. It goes back to the ancient Bavarian settlement and although this area was christianized by Irish and Scottish monks in the 9th and 10th century, an amendment of the name has never been deemed necessary.

No wonder that in many countries there are restrictions regarding the choice of a place name as a trademark for goods and services. One way around these restrictions is to distort the name so that it becomes indisputable but on a subliminal level takes advantage of the fact that sex sells. A recent example of successful distortion are the products of a British based fashion retailer called French Connection Group plc with the trademark FCUK. Linguists tell us that the power of a word depends on its context, and clearly the English word “fuck” falls into that category. To make it even more explicit, two new fragrances were launched named “FCUK Him” and “FCUK Her”.

On its website, FCUK demonstrates a clear picture of its marketing strategy. Whereas the linguistic allusions are close to Shakespeare’s bawdiness, the images remain subdued and innocent, which on the one hand is rather cynical but on the other hand tries to bridge the generation gap because most parents finance the quite conventional fashion attire that their children obtain from FCUK. Thus FCUK’s clients in each major market display a range of attitudes when confronted with the provocatively distorted four-letter mark. The American Family Association (AFA) promotes initiatives against FCUK such as prefabricated emails protesting against the exploitation of youngsters in such a manner.

Sex in marketing is bound to raise demand along with a few eyebrows which in addition either secure the necessary publicity or ban the product from the market. Branding an almost swear word in order to create a cash cow is, however, not restricted to fashion clothing and related products. On a recent visit to New Orleans I was surprised by the abundance of labels for their traditional hot pepper sauces. Besides the well known Tobasco, there are more spicy brand names such as “Burning rectum” or “Hot shit”.

It shows that name design must be ready to apply wit to anything that makes the blood boil and the label sell. Obviously this does not really work with other economic fields, for instance with tourism, because the places mentioned above are not among the hot spots that travel agents propagate in their catalogues.

About The Author

Wolfgang Nedobity is terminologist and CEO of NameDesigner. More info at


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