Québec’s language watchdog, The Office Québécois de la Langue Française, wants retailers to change their signs to either give themselves a generic French name or add a slogan or explanation that reflects what it is they’re selling.
The law hasn’t changed but retailers are now being forced to comply with a new interpretation of an old law.
So Walmart, Costco, Best Buy, Gap, Old Navy and Guess are taking the matter to court.
According to Section 63 of Quebec’s French Language Charter, the name of a business must be in French. However, it hasn’t generally been applied to trademarked names so several retailers like Walmart and Best Buy have set up shop under the same name that appears elsewhere in the world.
Others, like Starbucks have adopted the bilingual name ‘Café Starbucks Coffee’.
The recently opened Crate and Barrel store at Place Laval is called ‘Crate & Barrel maison’.
It’s a new twist on an old debate. One that has made Québec a very unique place for retailers. And an expensive one. Case in point: ExxonMobil uses the name ‘On the Run’ untranslated on all its convenience stores all over the world. In Québec, however, it was forced to keep the name ‘Marché Express’ following a public outcry when it tried to change its name to align with the rest of its operations.
This is happening at a time when several U.S. retailers are entering the Québec market. Only time will tell if Victoria’s Secret will become Le Secret de Victoria.