Nike launches AF1 Low in honour of Greek goddess by victoriously insulting her in the process
origin: Greek Νίκη, pronounced: (/níː. kɛː/), "nee-keh"
meaning: the Winged Goddess of Victory or
from νίκη meaning victory
Most people know who Nike is and what they do. Everyone has seen the logo paying tribute to the wings of the Greek goddess Nike of Samothrace housed in Louvre, Paris, attracting millions of visitors from around the world, every year.
Nike, the American multinational corporation, has fans all around the world. People who put their running shoes on every morning, thinking ‘just do it’. Go for that run. Hit the gym. Play that tennis match. Run that marathon. You got this.
Well, Nike really didn’t get this, at all. Not this time.
The launch of the new Air Force 1 Low white sneaker pays tribute to the brand’s essence: the goddess herself, sporting Greek letter stitching at the back of the shoe. While the idea was to replace the brand name Nike using any Greek letter resembling the English letters for Nike, the fact is, those Greek letters have sound, meaning, and connotation to those who read Greek. They belong to a different alphabet, a different language, a different culture, heritage, and history altogether.
And that’s when things become tragical or comical. It’s hard to decide. The Greek letters in Greek read like ΠΙΚΣ. To anyone who can read Greek, this sounds like Peex. The first letter used as a replacement for the English N, is the Greek letter Π (P). The second and third letters remain the same. The fourth letter used to replace the English letter E is the Greek letter Σ (S).
If you are confused, you should be. That’s what happens when you randomly decide to use the letters of a different alphabet to serve the purpose of design and aesthetics only, forgetting that symbols actually mean something.
And while, yes, perhaps, to anyone else who doesn’t speak or read Greek, ΠΙΚΣ still somewhat resembles the brand’s name Nike, when your brand is so deeply rooted in a culture, its mythology, history, and language, and you, as a brand, admit so yourself, why not try and get it right?
This does not come across as nonsensical and confusing only to Greeks. This is equally baffling to anyone who reads and understands Greek or has an appreciation for the Greek culture, its history and major artistic and cultural contribution to the rest of the world.
What is more, the sound Peex, which is what’s written on the shoe, instead of Nike, can be associated with the Ancient Greek word πυξ, meaning punch or fist and all of a sudden things are turning violent. I’m sure this is not the intention of the shoe unless it was designed for…boxing.
To complicate things further, when transliterated, ΠΙΚΣ, can be written as piks, which in English means ‘payments in kind’. OK. Make what you wish of that.
The associations are endless, but we need to draw the line here. This is not acceptable. It’s time big brands stop monetising aspects of cultures without understanding or respecting those cultures, to begin with.
Before writing this, I had just submitted a long linguistic analysis report to a client. And so this is perfect timing. What is a linguistic analysis I hear you ask? It is the analysis of potential product names in a language, to give the client the chance to assess them rigorously, prior to launching the new product, to avoid precisely this type of Ancient Greek tragedies.
As part of my analysis, I was asked to rate the pronounceability of the product names, potential existing meaning in the target language, bad connotations, existing product names of other brands that sound similar or even worse are the same.
And while I cannot tell you who the client is, I can tell you this: they are a far smaller organisation than Nike.
So, just do it?
Maybe just think about it first.
Vasiliki is a translator, interpreter, transcreator, blogger, consultant and director of Greek to Me Translations Ltd. She works with English and Greek and specialises in legal, creative, and psychometrics. She is a Chartered Linguist, member of CIoL, ITI and PEM and she is registered with the Greek Consulate as a certified translator and interpreter. She holds a BA in English and Masters in Business Translation and Interpreting. She is a Steering Group Member of the CIOL Translating Division and CIOL Business, Professions and Government Division. She is an Associate Lecturer in Legal Translation at London Metropolitan University, a public speaker and writer for industry magazines. Her mission is to help you achieve your goals through the power of words. You can follow her on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.