31 October 2011

Product naming in Europe, take #2

In December 2000, French defence electronics contractor Thomson-CSF, changed its name to Thales, leaving a large proportion of its English-language customers, and even many employees, with no idea how to pronounce the word.

To this day, thousands hesitate between /talɛs/, if they have heard of Thales of Miletus, /ˈθeɪliːz/, and other variants. Closer to home, a large proportion of French mother-tongue journalists write ‘Thalès’ to match head office’s pronuncation, but not its orthography or offical tradename. Note, the OHIM site only lists the all-caps form. OHIM eSearch Plus beta link.
To listen to a podcast about Thales /ˈθeɪliːz/ of Miletus (and hear the word pronounced several times) go to History of Philosophy.
The fact that this and other French companies have names, whether words or acronyms, ending in -s is also a handicap when working in English. Flash agencies that propose company and product names should learn that English speakers spontaneously avoid names ending in -s because they are problematic when it comes to pronouncing and writing the possessive form. Doesn't sound like a big deal at first glance, but there are situations when it seriously constrains the copywriter's freedom.

Scorpène is a wonderful name for a submarine, even if you don’t know that it’s one of the many common French names for the red lionfish, a venomous coral reef fish in the family Scorpænidæ, order Scorpæniformes. Fishbase link to Pterois volitans.
And in English, I'd suggest that it might have been a better idea to retain Scorpène rather than Scorpene.
It seems a pity that the only form of the registered tradename is SCORPENE (all caps, no accent), a serious constraint for graphic artists, marketing copywriters and translators. OHIM eSearch Plus beta link.

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