Richi Jennings

How should we pronounce "Nokia" anyway?

February 11, 2011 8:43 AM EST

Nokia CEO Stephen Elop can't pronounce the name of his own company, much to the annoyance of his Finnish employees. But Steve Ballmer can, mostly. What's the right way to say "Nokia" and does it even matter?
By Richi Jennings. February 11, 2011.

Old Nokia logoSo this morning, I made a crack about how Nokia CEO Stephen Elop doesn't even know how to correctly say his own company name. Seems like not everyone agrees with me. Let's have a pointless, Friday debate, in The Long View...

Here's what I tweeted earlier, after curating this morning's IT Blogwatch... 

Notice how Nokia CEO Stephen Elop can't pronounce

Suffice to say, not everyone agrees with me. Much of the flameage I received isn't suitable for family viewing.

So which is it? No-kya or knock-ya? Or is it no-key-ah, as others say it? When I pondered this very question a few years ago. I emailed a Finnish friend at Nokia, who replied with this oh-so-helpful text:

We pronounce Nokia as "Nokia"

Oh, ha-ha... *facepalm* -- there's your famous Finnish sense of humor, right there, friends.

Let me say right up front: I am not a native Finnish speaker -- if you know anything about language acquisition and phonological development, you'll know that non-native speakers' perception of other language's phonemes can be pretty misleading. However, I think I can tell the difference between "no" and "knock".

Update: I was asked, "So what? Why does it matter to you how Elop pronounces it?" Well, it doesn't exactly matter to me, but you'd better believe it matters a whole lot to Nokia employees in Finland. The ones I've spoken to are continually annoyed by foreigners saying it "wrong". Doesn't this demonstrate how little Elop cares about morale in Nokia's Espoo HQ? 

So how do native Finnish speakers say the name of their favorite cellphone company? Here are two examples, culled from Nokia's own YouTube channel:

First, a Finn speaking Finnish:

Second, a Finn speaking English:

So, knock-ya it is then? Of course, that's just an approximation. For the full effect, we could turn to the consensus decision of the Wikipedia denizens. Suffice it to say, they've had their own heated debate on the topic and come up with /'n?ki?/ -- that's how it's rendered in the international phonetic alphabet. Basically, knock-kya, or perhaps gnaw-kya (but certainly not Elop's no-kya).

But the fact remains that many Nokia employees in the U.S. pronounce it "wrong" -- not just Elop. This reminds me of a few other companies that have names often pronounced differently in different countries:

McAfee: founded by John McAfee, who, I'm reliably informed, pronounced his name mah-ca-fee (mah as in pants), with the stress on the first syllable. However, people working at McAfee UK pronounce it muh-kah-fee (muh as in murder) and stress the second syllable.
[Disclosure: McAfee is a client.]

Hewlett-Packard: in the days before Carly Fiorina's Stasi-esque branding police insisted that the company founders' names should be reduced to an abbreviation, Dave Packard pronounced his name pack-uhd. But UK employees -- I was one -- would usually pronounce it pack-ahhd (ahhd as in hard).

Braun: pronounced at its German HQ as brown, but elsewhere as brawn.

And don't get me started on how to pronounce Linux...

 

 
How do you say it? Leave a comment below...
 


Richi Jennings, blogger at large   Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and security. A cross-functional IT geek since 1985, you can follow him as @richi on Twitter, pretend to be richij's friend on Facebook, or just use good old email: TLV@richij.com.
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