The snickering started as soon as Kraft Foods revealed it planned to name its new global snack business Mondelez, a mashup of the Latin words for "world" and "delicious."
One blogger teased that she would've been "stifling giggles" if she'd been in meetings to determine the name. A Forbes contributor suggested a trick for remembering how to say it: "Just think Bush Administration Secretary of State. You know, Mon-de-leza Rice." Crain's Business Chicago tittered that it bears close resemblance to a vulgar Russian term for a sexual act.
Michael Mitchell, a Kraft spokesman, said executives took all the joking in stride, and he's quick to point out why the Crain's observation didn't alarm the company: "The name has to be mispronounced to get that unfortunate meaning."
On Wednesday, Kraft shareholders will decide whether to approve the made-up moniker, pronounced "mon-dah-LEEZ." The four-month odyssey of how it was picked illustrates the pains companies take to come up with powerful names for their businesses, products and services.
After Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft decided to split into two publicly traded companies -- one for its North American grocery business that makes products such as Oscar Mayer and Miracle Whip; the other a bigger company to focus on selling snack brands such as Oreo and Cadbury worldwide -- the company solicited suggestions from its 126,000 employees.
More than 1,000 employees submitted more than 1,700 entries.
Discarded names ranged from the cultivated ("Panvoro," Latin for eating) to the not-so-cultivated ("tfark," which is Kraft spelled backward).
A London branding firm was hired; top contenders were picked. The names were tested on native speakers in 28 different languages. "Mondelez" didn't raise any big red flags.
But consumer testers flagged the possible misinterpretation of "Mondelez" for the vulgar Russian term. The issue was referred to Kraft's Russian business unit, which deemed it to be "low-risk." So the name got a thumbs-up.
It's not unusual for companies to take a calculated risk with names. In the 1970s, there was the classic example of Chevrolet's Nova -- which means "no go" in Spanish. Despite urban legend, a Chevy spokesman said the model sold well in Latin America because the term is pronounced differently there.
Nik Contis, global director of naming at Siegel+Gale, is predicting similar success if shareholders vote in favor of the name Mondelez. "The sound and structure rolls off the tongue like a delicious treat," he said.
It appears Kraft is confident Mondelez will pass muster; the company has reserved the ticker symbol "MDLZ" and website mondelez.com.