Tata Motors would have lots to say in reply to William Shakespeare’s 16th-century poser “What’s in a name?” (Romeo and Juliet). The Zika virus epidemic, that first surfaced in South America and is now threatening the US, has ensured that India’s leading car-maker had to re-brand its new hatchback, Zica—obviously homophonic with the virus. The re-christening comes after the company launched a high-voltage promotion on social media after revealing the car’s name in November last year. By January, however, the virus, which is linked to microcephaly (abnormally small head) in newborns, was grabbing headlines.
While Tata Motors cites “empathy” with those battling the epidemic, many companies have had less illustrious reasons to re-brand products. Mitsubishi, for instance, had to rename its popular SUV, Pajero, for Spanish-speaking Latin American countries and Spain because, in Spanish, pajero is a term of abuse. Nokia’s Lumia phones, too, wouldn’t do well in Spain and other Spanish speaking nations, considering lumia in that language means a sex-worker. Ford’s Pinto, notwithstanding the fact that it is widely considered as “one of the worst cars ever” and was dogged by safety-related controversies, would have done poorly in Brazil, given pinto is a slang for a part of the male anatomy in the variant of Portuguese spoken in Brazil.