November 12, 2007

a dream job for linguists -- or not

One of my dream jobs has always been to be chef namer at IKEA. There must be people who get paid to invent names for articles you can buy at IKEA. The closest I ever got to meet one of them - surely the are all trained linguists? -- was to meet the person who translated the IKEA catalog from Swedish into Hungarian. Can you imagine it? Klippan meets Csárdás.

Well, it seems that there's a lot less creativity involved than I had thought. Somebody pointed me to this Wikipedia entry today, which is based on an article in the German magazine Der Stern. According to the article, the naming is done by only two employees (it doesn't say that they are linguists). They don't invent the names at all, they use existing words from Scandinavian languages, following clear guidelines:
Most of the names are either Swedish, Danish, Finnish or Norwegian in origin. Although there are some notable exceptions, most product names are based on a special naming system developed by IKEA.
  • Upholstered furniture, coffee tables, rattan furniture, bookshelves, media storage, doorknobs: Swedish placenames (for example: Klippan)
  • Beds, wardrobes, hall furniture: Norwegian place names
  • Dining tables and chairs: Finnish place names
  • Bookcase ranges: Occupations
  • Bathroom articles: Scandinavian lakes, rivers and bays
  • Kitchens: grammatical terms, sometimes also other names
  • Chairs, desks: men's names
  • Materials, curtains: women's names
  • Garden furniture: Swedish islands
  • Carpets: Danish place names

A notable exception is the IVAR shelving system, which dates back to the early 1970s. This item is named after the item's designer.

Not such a dream job after all. It's like naming your kitchen "subjunctive" and your bed "Dakota".

By the way, the name IKEA itself is an acronym: Founder Ingvar Kamprad grew up on a farm called Elmtaryd in a village called Agunnaryd.

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