If there’s one thing that the economic ups and downs have reminded the world of, it’s that Germany is an industrious, productive nation which supplies companies and consumers across the planet with everything from Mercedes and BMWs to the screws for those little hinges on the door of your mini beer-fridge. And given that Germany is so creative when it comes to making products, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that they’re very good at making product names to match.

control_center_140There are, essentially, two strategies that German companies can use when making names to suit world markets: names that remind people of “typically German” characteristics, or names that are catchy but nationally neutral.

English and American companies, producers, and designers often just stick with the names of the people that founded them: think names like Ford, Johnson and Johnson or Paul Smith. That works fine for many companies as the English-speaking market is large enough on its own and English is, of course, a world language, carrying both a high recognition factor and cultural cachet.

German companies working within Germany often stick to surnames: Müller, for example, a Southern German chain of drugstores, or Leibniz, a popular brand of biscuit. Yet while a few traditional German surnames have gone international – Beck (as in Beck’s beer), Schlecker (until insolvency), or Schenker (the logistics company now owned by DB Deutsche Bahn) – the many really successful brands have more creative names.

Neutral and international

word_factory_140Some of the names are so creative that it’s hard to tell where they come from, which in turn helps in marketing products as if they are part of the domestic landscape. Classically, they are portmanteau names – Germans love a combination of two or more syllables from several words to make just one: ALDI, for example, actually short for “Albrecht Diskont” – or “Albrecht’s Discount”; then there’s Haribo – from Mr. Hans Riegel of Bonn. This creative way of making names turns local soil into international gold by coming up with names that are easy to pronounce and could come from anywhere.

While some British and American companies also use this strategy (“Tesco” from T. E. S. Company, in terms of supermarkets), it has a far longer tradition in German: the most popular chocolate from Britain is called Cadbury’s, America loves it’s Hershey’s, but Switzerland and Germany exports tonnes and tonnes of Milka – a portmanteau of Milch and Kakao, milk and cocoa.

There are plenty of other creative ways of making German names international: the founder of Audi was called Horch and translated his surname into Latin! Meanwhile, the Bayerische Motoren-Werke went for BMW: there’s nothing more international than an acronym as, outside of the car industry, AEG and BASF (both German industrial giants) have found out.

Consciously German

namero_daumen_200Then again, precisely in areas such as heavy industry, a German name can be more of a help to internationalisation than a hindrance: look at Siemens, for example, or Bosch, both obviously German names. People across the world associate Germany with industrial ingenuity, competence, and reliability, so in precisely these areas, a Teutonic surname can inspire confidence.

Even in some unexpected sectors, a German name is an advantage. Just look at fashion: although many people abroad might associate German fashion more with socks and sandals than anything else, especially high-end products also benefit from the country’s reputation for flawless industrial design and reliable quality: just ask Wolfang Joop and Jill Sander – but not Calvin Klein, who is of course American.

Then again, as German companies have long understood, the name is only half the story – filling it with positive associations is the other half. Sometimes, even very unlikely names become global brands: who doesn’t like a piece of Bauknecht machinery? Even if you can’t pronounce it…

About the author

brianBrian Melican has been responsible for translating all of NameRobot's website content and texts in English. He is a British journalist, author and translator, living in Germany since 2008. Brian also uses the multi-media brand Lost in Deutschland to talk about his experiences as a British person in Germany.

Find more information about Brian on his website.

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