Former Tennis world no.1 Naomi Osaka is facing bitter backlash over the name of the new media company she has launched with LeBron James – after it was revealed the brand name ‘Hana Kuma’ has a very explicit meaning in Swahili.
Osaka, 24, who became the world’s highest paid female athlete in 2020, earning $37million, announced the launch of her new media production company – which will be part-funded by billionaire James, 37 – on Tuesday, describing it as a ‘media platform focused on stories that are culturally specific but universal’.
Sharing the news of her venture on Instagram, Osaka – who was born in Japan and raised in the US – revealed that she has called it Hana Kuma, which translates to ‘flower bear’ in Japanese.
However, the reveal of her new business was quickly met with fierce criticism after it was revealed that the brand name has a much more explicit meaning in Swahili, in which it translates to: ‘a woman with no vagina’.
Naomi Osaka is under fire over her new venture with LeBron James, after it was revealed the company name, Hana Kuma, translates to a very explicit phrase in Swahili
Swahili is an East African language spoken across 14 countries like Kenya and Tanzania by millions of people. Swahili is listed in the world’s top 10 most spoken languages and more than 200 million people speak the tongue.
Now, many people are calling for Osaka to change the name of her company in a show of respect to her East African fans and supporters.
‘If you speak Swahili you felt the shock when you saw this,’ one person commented on Osaka’s Instagram post announcing the company name, while another added: ‘This concept would never get approved in Tanzania.’
‘Great noble idea although am not sure if you are aware what the name you came up with means in Swahili,’ a third chimed in. ‘Your R&D team def slept on this one!’
‘If you keep the name ‘#hanakuma, the name will override the news and the stories you wish to share,’ one Twitter user warned.
‘The name of the brand is already news! I suggest a change and also, just being a bit respectful to global culture. It’s not overthinking here, it’s protecting a brand!’
‘This means something terrible in Swahili,’ another person noted. ‘It might be too late but I think it’s worth considering to change the brand name.’
Osaka has yet to publicly comment on the controversy surrounding her new brand name, however she shared a cryptic tweet on Wednesday about ‘overthinking’, writing: ‘Prayers for all my overthinkers. We be going through it.’
Osaka (pictured in 2019), 24, announced the launch of Hana Kuma – a new media platform – on Tuesday, revealing the name translates to ‘flower bear’ in Japanese
As the backlash continues online, the company is already forging ahead with its first project – a documentary made in collaboration with the New York Times, which will focus on the first woman of color to be sworn into Congress: Patsy Mink.
‘What excites me is being able to inspire people and tell new stories, particularly ones that I would have wanted to see when I was a kid. I always wanted to kind of see someone like me,’ four-time Grand Slam champion Osaka, who has a Haitian father and Japanese mother, told the New York Times.
James’ company The SpringHill, which he launched with sports marketing executive Maverick Carter, will serve as financing, operations and producing partner for Hana Kuma, the paper said.
Her new company launch marks yet another initiative turned from idea to invention with Osaka’s agent Stuart Duguid.
Osaka and Duguid burst onto the sports business scene with the rise of Evolve, a sports management platform that helps professional athletes communicate with brand partnerships and investments.
Aussie tennis hothead Nick Kyrgios was the first star to join the company, with Osaka praising the Canberran player’s ability to transcend their sport, thanks to his unique style, passion and personality.
Meanwhile, four-time finals MVP and champion James has become the second NBA player to amass a net worth of $1billion.