The Newcastle of the Pope: Why CACC is not a Good Name for a Company and Yes, There Really is a Place Called Pukeberg

Some places have names that are romantic or glamorous: think Hollywood, Saint Tropez or Timbuktu. Others are not so fortunate: Dusseldorf in Germany, Pittsburgh in the USA and Pukeberg, Sweden come to mind. For the English the town of Newcastle is firmly in the second category. Not exactly England’s Beverly Hills, it was long famous as the place coal came from though these days it is perhaps more famous because of a brand of beer called Newcastle Brown Ale.

That’s why to English people “The Newcastle of the Pope” is such an incongruous and faintly absurd expression, yet that is the literal meaning of a wine that’s made just a short way from here in the Avignon area – a wine called Chateauneuf du Pape. To the French guy who coined this name it probably had a very literal meaning in the sense of a castle that is new that was built by the Pope, but through use it acquires a value of its own – a process recognized in trademark law. So, for example, the Sharp brand for consumer electronics was originally from a mechanical pencil called “Ever Sharp” but over the years has lost its association with sharpness, so it was accepted as a trademark for TVs even though you could consider it descriptive, something not permitted by trademark law.

And in fact this is an important principle to remember when you name a product, a service or a company. When you ask focus groups they will tell you that the name sounds “funny” or merely laugh at it. But these are the same people who laughed at “Walkman”, “iPod” and pretty much any other globally successful brand. The fact of the matter is that any name sounds funny until it builds that association with the product that gives it a meaning and life of its own. When your parents first heard “walkman” they were probably thinking of the component words “walk” and “man”, but today the word makes you think of an old time personal cassette tape player and the brand was so successful that it came dangerously close to being a generic term – the nightmare of trademark lawyers.

I can see the value of running potential names for products past a few potential users, but only to identify unexpected problems – associations that maybe you hadn’t considered, or confusion with other products. For example, I would recommend to the authorities in China to reconsider using the name Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China – CACC – because it has an unfortunate resonance in some languages. But when people say that a new name just sounds “funny” in the sense of funny-peculiar then ignore them, because everything sounds funny at first. I am sure that many generations ago the wine drinkers of the Rhone valley scoffed when the local “cave au vins” labeled a tasty new red “Newcastle of the Pope”. Sometimes when I am in the area I can imagine the people muttering “...but it sounds funny”, in French of course.

And yes, there really is a place called Pukeberg Sweden, though the locals pronounce it like “Pooka-Barry” and not like you think. It’s in the south east, in an area famous for its glass blowing works, where you can become the proud owner of genuine Pukeberg glassware and send your friends a postcard saying “Greetings from Pukeberg”.
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Andrew Hennigan said…
Since this was written CACC has adopted the more sensible acronym COMAC. Very wise decision!

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