Naming a product for an international audience is harder than it looks. Exhibit A: the Hyundai KONA. The “subcompact crossover,” released last year in the UK, introduces a distinctive “rugged” and “funky” design. Unfortunately, however, the name “KONA” has unfortunate sound-alikes and double meanings that make it a translation fail in more than one European language.
Why did Hyundai choose the name “KONA,” anyway? Named after the Kona district in Hawaii, it’s meant to appeal to adventurous, highly-caffeinated female consumers looking for small SUVs. As a company spokesman explained in the Korea Herald,
“Images that come to mind when thinking of Kona are dynamic marine leisure sports and the mild aroma of Kona coffee, which also represents the customer base of small SUVs.”
Alas for Hyundai, those pleasant associations are not quite universal.
KONA in Polish: “Dying in Pain”
In Polish, the word “konać” means “to be dying.” Guess what the third person singular of “konać” is? That’s right, it’s “kona.” So, in Polish, “Hyundai KONA” can be read as “Hyundai is dying,” or even “Hyundai is dying in pain.”
Polish speakers represent a sizeable market, both within the UK and within the EU as a whole. There are over 55 million Polish speakers around the world, and it’s the sixth biggest language in the EU by number of native speakers. In the UK, 546,000 speak Polish, making it our most common immigrant language. “Hyundai is dying” is not exactly the message you want people to have, even in the back of their minds, when they’re car shopping.
KONA in Portuguese:
In Portuguese, the situation is even worse. As Carscoops points out, in Portuguese, the soundalike word “cona” is a rather crude term for a part of the female anatomy. And in fact, this isn’t even the first time an auto manufacturer has had this issue – Opel had to rename their “Ascona” in the Portuguese market for the same reason.
Fortunately, Hyundai has announced that the KONA will be marketed as the Hyundai Kauai in Portugal.
However, rebranding in Portugal may not be enough. “Cona” means the same thing in Galician as it does in Portuguese, so you can add Spain’s 2.4 million Galician speakers to the list of people who are likely to be some combination of amused, horrified, and offended.
Also, there are significant Portuguese immigrant communities in other EU countries, like Andorra, France, and Switzerland. And there are at least 107,000 Portuguese speakers living in the UK. All of those Portuguese speakers outside of Portugal will still be getting the full KONA experience. Read more