Suzuki had little idea that the name “Hustler” for its new, boxy minicar aimed at outdoorsy Japanese customers might cause mirth among English speakers for its association with an adult magazine - but it's not alone.
Plucking words from foreign dictionaries without checking how they might be received by native speakers appears to be a habit at Japanese companies, which have produced countless products with unintentionally unsavoury names.
The name Hustler was chosen to conjure the image of agility, as well as invite nostalgia from customers who remembered an off-road motorbike released in 1969 called the TS250 Hustler, said a Suzuki public relations officer.
Foreign visitors might instead recall the sexually explicit magazine started by porn magnate Larry Flynt as competition to Playboy, or associate the word with obtaining money through illegal activities or vice industries.
SOMETHING VERY RUDE IN SPANISH
The Hustler follows a string of other Japan-made cars to bemuse speakers of foreign languages, such as Daihatsu's 2000 Naked and the 1983 Isuzu Bighorn.
Spanish speakers were taken aback by the Mazda Laputa, a derogatory word for sex worker, while Mitsubishi sold its Pajero model as the Montero in Spanish-speaking countries after it discovered that the former is slang for sexual self-pleasure.
While many brand names around the world don't translate across borders - the Iranian washing powder Barf, which means snow in Farsi, or a Swedish chocolate bar called Plopp, for example - Japanese companies often use foreign words for how they sound, with little regard to their original meaning.
ISLAND NATION This is partly due to foreign words having an exotic ring, much like how Chinese characters are seen by Westerners as poetic or profound choices for tattoos even if the results don't make much sense to native speakers. But Japanese firms often fail to check if a name 'travels' because of historical reasons, marketers say.
Masamichi Nakamura, head of the Tokyo branch of global marketing firm Interbrand, explained: “Japan really is an island nation, and was historically closed for a long time. Also, the domestic market is so big that companies can be successful without thinking globally.”
But Japan is far from having a patent on unintentionally salacious brand names: websites such as Engrish.com revel in strange uses of English across Asia, including neighbouring South Korea's snack maker Lotte Confectionary’s Crunky Ball Nude. - Reuters