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Branding Our Community: Norooz vs. Nowruz

By Noosheen Hashemi, The Hand Foundation

“Genius is the ability to reduce the complicated to the simple" - C.W. Ceran

Photo of Haftseen spread for Norooz, created by Noosheen Hashemi

Iranian-Americans are a nascent diaspora, most of us having immigrated only in the past four decades.  We are coming to our own, lifting our heads from the business grindstone and beginning to establish ourselves in other realms of diaspora influence and acceptance such as politics, philanthropy and culture. By doing so, we are promoting our beautiful arts and culture by sharing our rituals and festivals. The most uniting, revered and unanimous of these is Persian New Year or Norooz.  ‘No’ means ‘new’ and ‘rooz’ means ‘day,’ perfectly apt since Persian New Year coincides literally with the Vernal Equinox, the very instance that spring season commences in the northern hemisphere. Norooz is the most enduring of all Iranian institutions: it has survived 2500 years, changes of religion and government, and the post-Islamic-Revolution exodus abroad.

The early civil society abroad took shape in the form of dance, music and language lessons and the small mom and pop shops began celebrating Norooz. As the diaspora became larger, its desire to take care of its elderly and connect its youth to its culture grew exponentially. Through many efforts, community centers began to emerge, Iranian studies were set up in universities (PARSA Community Foundation alone helped initiate or grow 12 such programs), and sizable Norooz celebrations were launched in schools and city halls, museums and parks, and most recently, the White House.

The term used for these events was Norooz and occasionally Norouz (The French had cultural influence in Iran for decades and many Iranians spell the ‘oo’ sound as ‘ou’). Iranian Alliances Across Borders, NIPOC, NIAC, Tirgan, Iran Heritage Foundation, in other words, the most prevalent organizations in the U.S. and Europe, used one of these. NIAC, the largest grassroots Iranian American organization with supporters in all 50 states, still uses the Norooz spelling. Iranian Alumni of Stanford University and the Alborz Farsi School, which celebrated annually at Quinlin Community Center, use Norooz. and, two of the most popular information sites use Norooz. The popular website 7rooz, which means seven days, uses rooz as the spelling for day. Roozonline is another popular site about human rights and political reforms. Roozvideo shows Iranian videos 24/7. Iranian Chamber of Commerce uses No-Rooz. There are books with rooz used for the word day, and so on.

A few years ago, in the search to choose one term between Norooz and Norouz, some folks introduced a third term, Nowruz. This was the spelling used in Encyclopedia Iranica, a body of work that uses transliteration, a process of translation that is not concerned with sound, phonetics, or pronunciation, rather, by a literal translations of individual letters in a word, using diacritics. This source spells Norooz as Nowruz. Wikipedia notes: “Transliteration is not concerned with representing the sounds of the original” while “conversely, transcription notes the sounds but not necessarily the spelling.” First, 'now' does not sound anything like 'no' and secondly, the macron above 'u' is not used in common daily language. Even if it were, it would indicate a long 'u' which would be read like cute, not coot. Academics have questioned Encyclopedia's decision to use transliteration methodology, however patriarchy and politeness (tarof and roo-dar-bayesti), which dominate Persian culture, have precluded them from challenging the mandate. No one can find the spelling of ‘ruz’ to represent ‘day’ anywhere except the Encyclopedia Iranica.

It was a great milestone when the United Nations, U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate recognized Persian New Year, regrettably though, it was with the complicated Nowruz spelling.

Several years later, we have not seen unification, rather a division around the usage of Norooz. All of this flies in the face of the KISS principle which is so vital to picking a name and building a strong brand. Regrettably, this change only confused recognition of our nascent community, not helped it.

The explanations given for this new term have included:

  • Those who are academic know that they need to read the word Nowruz while imagining a line above the letter ‘u’ making it an ‘oo’ sound;
  • The Encyclopedia Iranica knows best;
  • We do not want to use the negative word “no” in the beginning of our New Year as it is negative; and
  • There are people outside of Iran, in Tajikistan, Afghanistan, etc., who celebrate Norooz and hence we need to take their pronunciations into consideration.

The plain facts are:  

  • Most of the world is not academic. Also, only Iranian academia, who is already familiar with the word for Persian New Year, reads Nowruz as Norooz.  Others read it as now-ruz, which can rhyme with cow-buzz.
  • Encyclopedia Iranica is a priceless body of academic work. And yet its transliteration methodology can at times distort pronunciations of Persian words, which is not conducive to spreading one's brand;
  • I would normally agree that starting a word with “no” can be a branding challenge and yet we’re not creating a brand new word here. We’re constrained by the original word, which, in earnest, starts with no.
  • While we respect all the people in the world that celebrate Norooz, from Albania to India and elsewhere, we are the Iranian community of North America.  The United States President and the Canadian Prime Minister - who represent 365 million people - being able to say Norooz, without training, for their New Year messages might be a good tradeoff for the local variations in Albania and India.  Aiming for a universal word in vastly different local languages and dialects is impractical.

As members of diaspora, we all want acceptance and influence.  We want to infuse our culture and rituals in the mainstream consciousness. So why is it that we take the common names associated with our culture, like the name of our country of heritage, the name of our language and the name of our new year so haphazardly? How we self-identify matters most.  Is it Iran or iRan, Persian or Farsi, Norooz or Nowruz?

If we follow smart branding principles, the right answer would probably in the following principles:

  • Picking a spelling that is pronounced by non-Iranians the same way that it is uttered by Iranians, without necessitating unscrambling, decrypting and guesswork;
  • Avoiding spellings that can easily be mispronounced; and
  • Making it memorable which means consolidating the brand instead of diffusing it.

American Companies spend an average of 10.4% of their revenue budget on branding and marketing- some as high as 30%. Large companies spend billions of dollars by having focus groups and A/B testing to get just the right name and building just the right brand for drugs, cars and cosmetics. Countries hire their own branding and marketing companies to help build affinity and encourage tourism. In a recent Steve Jobs biography, it said that he picked the name Apple because it sounded “fun, spirited and not intimidating.” In 2010, the Y.M.C.A changed its name just to ‘The Y’ in order to simplify their branding to become warmer and more welcoming. I am sure you have come across other examples.

The festive Norooz season is just 8 weeks away. Literally millions of greetings will be exchanged among people, governments, nonprofits and businesses.  We need to take immediate action to make 2016 Norooz as powerful and impactful as it can. This presidential year, when the Iranian diaspora is under attack and the visa waiver program threatens our free movement and prosperity of our businesses, we need to act with a sense of urgency and resolve.
Here is what you can do:

  • Use Norooz spelling for your greetings, invitations, social media posts, etc.
  • Use Norooz for events that you plan yourself or for which you volunteer.
  • Request organizations you support to use the easy spelling of Norooz.
  • Let your friends know to do the same!

Thank you and Noroozetan Pirooz!!

Susan Akbarpour
Ahmad Anvari
Nima Asgharbeygi
Christina Ashtary
Bruce Bahmani
Borhan Chi
Nobar Elmi Golhar
Shahri Estakhry
Noosheen Hashemi
Mohammad Hekmat
Beeta Jahedi
Persis Karim
Ali Kashani
Gita Kashani
Nazy Kaviani
Pedram Keyani
Ahmad Kiarostami
Alidad Mafinezam
Jahhandad Memarian
Ali Moayedian
Yalda Modabber
Rezvan Moghadam
Dr. Shokooh Miry
Moji Momeni
Delfarib Naimi
Farzad Naimi
Steve Nasiri
Zohreh Niknia
Shanna Nisiri
Fariba Nejat
Neda Nobari
Khatereh Kate Nowrouzi
Pejman Nozad
Shabnam Parang
Touraj Parang
Trita Parsi
Ali Partovi
Pirooz Parvarandeh
Julia Rasooly
Mostafa Ronaghi
Lily Sarafan
Shiva Sarram
Roya Soleimani
Ahmad Tabrizi

Noosheen Hashemi
is a business builder, angel investor, and advisor with a focus on disruptive ideas and platforms, Noosheen has more than three decades of experience building the leadership and execution capabilities of early stage companies to deliver growth and profitability on a global scale. As a private investor in more than 20 start-ups that are pushing the boundaries of mobile, productivity, convenience, travel, and beauty, Noosheen takes an active role in fundraising, talent acquisition, operations, and business development. A seasoned veteran of high growth, technology-driven, founder-led companies, Noosheen spent the early part of her career at Oracle Corporation where, as Vice President of Finance and Administration, she built the critical sales and administrative capacity that allowed the company to scale revenue from $26 million in 1985, to $3 billion in 1995 and a market cap of $19 billion.

A philanthropist and outspoken advocate on behalf of the vulnerable and disenfranchised, Noosheen is also the co-founder and President of HAND, a family foundation that provides financial, advisory, and advocacy support to hundreds of organizations and dozens of scholars and social entrepreneurs. Noosheen serves on the advisory boards of SIEPR, Ploughshares Fund and Eurasia Foundation. She holds a B.S. in Economics from San Jose State University and an M.S. in Management from Stanford University's Graduate School of Business.

... Payvand News - 02/23/16 ... --

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