New media company Naomi Osaka with LeBron James mocks ‘vulgar’ name

She failed this one.

Four-time Grand Slam tennis champion Naomi Osaka is hit with unintended – or clueless, depending on who you ask – backlash over the offensive name of her new media company, Hana Kuma.

The Japanese-born sports superstar told The New York Times on Tuesday that hana kuma means “flower bear” in Japanese – but Twitter users were quick to note that it had a much more explicit meaning in Swahili, where it translates to “woman without a vagina”.

The translation loss controversy began on Twitter in several African countries, with dozens of users urging Osaka, 24, to change the name of the company, which she founded in partnership with the NBA legend LeBron James, 37.

“Naomi Osaka has teamed up with LeBron James to create a media company called Hana Kuma. Well, that name ‘Hana Kuma’ means something different in Swahili. I won’t say it” Ugandan journalist Daniel Kibet tweeted.

“Did they do a comprehensive search on the meaning of the name? another asked. “She should have been well advised [that] it has a very vulgar meaning in Swahili which is spoken by many people.

The tennis ace excitedly announced his new venture earlier this week. The company will produce television shows, documentaries and branded content.
AFP via Getty Images

A third puff: “Incredible the lack of research. Lots of money but this brand won’t fly in Africa. Let him stay in America and Japan. It’s offensive. Do you even have any idea what that means? Get rid of your ego and change your name. God forgive your ignorance.

Another also urged Osaka to consider a name change, saying: “If you keep the #hanakuma name, the name will replace the news and stories you want to share. The brand name is already relevant! I suggest a change and also, just be a little respectful of global culture. Here, it’s not about exaggerating, it’s about protecting a brand!

Others invariably described the name as “immoral” and “explicit.”

It is estimated that Swahili is spoken by approximately 200 million people worldwide, with a majority of speakers concentrated in East Africa. Osaka has yet to respond to the controversy, but she shared a cryptic tweet on Wednesday night, writing, “Prayers for all my overthinkers. We will cross it.

Osaka told The Times that she hopes Hana Kuma will become one of Hollywood’s leading media companies that produces TV shows, documentaries and branded content. The company was founded in partnership with SpringHill, a marketing company co-founded by James.

Osaka and James are pictured together in 2019. The couple - who have teamed up for the new venture - are two of the most influential athletes in the world.
Osaka and James are pictured together in 2019. The couple – who have teamed up for the new venture – are two of the most influential athletes in the world.
NBAE via Getty Images

Osaka – who was born to a Japanese mother and Haitian father – said the company will emphasize diverse storytelling.

“What excites me is being able to inspire people and tell new stories, especially ones that I wish I had seen when I was a kid,” she said. “I always wanted to see someone like me.”

The tennis ace is currently the highest-paid female athlete in the world, earning $57 million last year.

Much of Osaka’s income comes from endorsement deals, with the savvy star striking lucrative partnerships with brands including Nike and Louis Vuitton.

Earlier this week, the former world No. 1 announced that she was withdrawing from the upcoming Wimbledon tournament due to an Achilles tendon injury.

Osaka - who was born to a Japanese mother and Haitian father - says the company will emphasize diverse storytelling.
Osaka – who was born to a Japanese mother and Haitian father – said the company will emphasize diverse storytelling.
ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images

Cathy W. Howerton