Ikea and loathing: What's in a product name?

Is there a chauvinistic sub-text to the product names at the world's most famous self-assembly furniture store? Claire Soares investigates a saga of doormats and wounded national pride

Once you've resigned yourself to navigating the obstacle course that is any Ikea store and got your tongue around the Scandinavian vowels, purchasing the Oresund lavatory seat is an annoying but pretty inoffensive experience.

Unless, that is, you're Danish.

Like every product in cosy Ikea-land, this £6.99 throne – available in a natural birch wood finish or with an antique stain – is known by a chummy name rather than a randomly generated stock number. Only this less-than-salubrious product has been named after the strait of water separating Sweden from Denmark, the scene of much territorial tussling between the two Scandinavian rivals over the centuries. Oops.

"What's in a name?" the Swedish furniture designers might counter. But it seems that this is not the only example of alleged neo-imperialism lurking within the pages of the seemingly anodyne home furnishings bible.

In fact, an anthropologist browsing through the Ikea catalogue might well conclude that Danes are – at least in the minds of the Swedes – the doormats of Scandinavia. From the Niva lining to the striped Strib rug to the beige Sindal coir mat, most of Ikea's floor coverings derive their names from places in Denmark.

The Ikea names are nothing new. The 583 million customers who visit its 273 stores worldwide have been struggling to pronounce them for years. But Denmark now seems to have woken up to its humble place on the home furnishings pecking order. "Is Ikea bullying Denmark?" blared the Danish freesheet Nyhedsavisen on its front page recently.

Naturally, Swedish names grace the more prestigious products – the sleek leather sofas called Stockholm .... ("Super-fancy quality for everyone," reads the billing for the range on the Ikea website.) And it's not hard to see why the Danes might feel like they're being trampled underfoot when Norway gets sleek black bedroom furniture like Mandal (Pictured below, with 'Stockholm), Finland gets solid wood dining tables and chairs, but they get mats to wipe your feet on.

The Danish paper's editor, Simon Andersen, is the first to admit that there was a strong element of tongue-in-cheek to the headline. "It was mostly meant as a joke. It's funny that there are these fancy, delightful and good-looking things named after Swedish places and we get these lousy carpets," he said yesterday. "The Swedes are so perfect at everything, so when we got the chance to poke fun and get our own back we did."

No one is suggesting there will be a repeat of the Scandinavian Seven Years' War that had Sweden and Denmark at each other's throats in the 16th century. Nor are the cobbled-stone alleys of Copenhagen likely to erupt in an orgy of blue and yellow flag burning. Danes joke that they could stage a boycott of Ikea stores, except for the fact that there's nowhere else as affordable to furnish one's home. Others have suggested that the Danish brewer Carlsberg start calling their light beer after a Swedish town in retaliation.

Del3105508

Troels Mylenberg, a communications expert at the University of Southern Denmark, explained: "There's always been conflict between the Nordic countries as to who's the brightest, the funniest, the sportiest. In the past we were killing each other; now it's brotherly teasing. The Danes see themselves as more charming and funnier than the Swedes. If someone is being dull, you might quip, 'Stop being so Swedish!' In return, the Swedes give toilet seats and door mats Danish names."

The final irony, of course, is that had history taken a different course, Ikea could have ended up a Danish company. Its founder, Ingvar Kamprad, grew up in the village of Agunnaryd in Scania. That region used to belong to Denmark until 350 years ago, when Swedish troops invaded the provinces of Halland, Skane and Blekinge, and conquered them for King Karl X. Even today, right-wing Danish populists still want to see the region across the other side of the Oresund strait reunited with Denmark.

When asked whether sinister motives lurk behind Ikea's choice of chirpy product names, Klaus Kjoller, a professor at the Institute of Nordic Studies at the University of Copenhagen, says: "It's 350 years ago that the Swedes took away regions of our country, so I suppose today you could say we're seeing a kind of cultural imperialism, with them giving things of low value to us. Really, it's not a big issue."

And that's how Ikea wants to see it, too. The company freely admits its doormats are named after Danish places, in the same way that garden furniture is named after Swedish islands. "We have done that to make it easier for the customers so they don't have to remember a long stock number," said Charlotte Lindgren, a spokeswoman at Ikea headquarters.

In fact, she says: "If I were a Dane, I would be very proud because a carpet gives a space that something extra. It is the jewel of the room."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Account Manager - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing, ambitious, en...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future
Berlusconi's world of sleaze: The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM

Berlusconi's world of sleaze

The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM
Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

Films and theme parks are just the beginning. Disney believes its control of the now decades-old franchise can bring in merchandise and marketing millions for years to come
Could the golden age of the gaming arcade ever be revived in the era of the Xbox?

Could gaming arcades be revived?

The days when coin-ops were the only way to play the latest video games are gone. But a small band of enthusiasts are keeping the button-pushing dream alive
Edinburgh Fringe 2015: The 'tampon tax' has inspired a new wave of female comedians to reclaim period jokes

Heard the one about menstruation?

Yes, if you have been at the Fringe, where period pieces are taking centre stage