Naming a business is hard. Sometimes, it makes sense to look to other languages and cultures for inspiration. But beware: a poorly chosen trademark from another language can turn into a PR disaster later. A Chicago restaurant chain called Aloha Poke found that out the hard way earlier this month.
Here’s the controversy, in a nutshell:
The restaurant specialises in an Americanised version of a Hawaiian staple called “poke,” seasoned raw fish and rice bowls. The restaurant’s founder, Zach Friedlander, is not native Hawaiian in any sense of the word. He first discovered poke in Los Angeles. Aloha Poke has done well in Chicago and plans to expand nationwide.
So, its lawyers began sending out cease-and-desist letters to other restaurants that used the words “Aloha” and “poke” in their names. The targets included small family restaurants owned by native Hawaiians, some of which had been in business for years. Social media outrage ensued. So far, there have been protests, a threatened boycott, thousands of one-star Yelp reviews and a threatened lawsuit.
If you’re considering giving your business or product a name in a foreign language, here are four questions to ask yourself first.
Has the culture you’re taking inspiration from been historically marginalised or oppressed?
If you’re a cultural outsider, you need to be aware of the history of the culture that inspires your business. A little bit of research would have shown that native Hawaiians have historical reasons to be sensitive to and angry about exploitation from the mainland. Read more